How eHarmony Appeals to the Male Gaze

Online dating service eHarmony is not exactly known for pushing the envelope in its ad campaigns. The testimonial style commercials – featuring happy couples who met through the service – carefully avoid showing interracial couples or any individual with any accent Americans would regard as “foreign”. One happy male member of a couple tells the story of how his beloved planted a big, sloppy kiss on him immediately upon meeting him – she acts horrifically embarrassed, like a nice girl would, and he corrects himself and calls the kiss a peck on the cheek.

Okay, so no question they’re going for a heartland, middle American, “nice girls don’t” sort of vibe. It’s exclusionary toward those who don’t fit that mold, or don’t care to, but on the other hand it doesn’t directly make fun of them. And at least they do feature some couples who aren’t white.

The new campaign comes a little closer to crossing that line, though. It shows discouraged men out on dates with women we’re supposed to interpret as crazy or obnoxious, because the text following our introduction to them asks if you’re “tired of bad dates”? Sure, who isn’t? Unfortunately, there is no commercial that shows a weary woman out on a date with Mr. “But Enough About Me, Let’s Talk About Me”, Mr. “Insurance Sales Is An Exciting Field”, Mr. “Have You Found the Love of Jesus Yet?”, or Mr. “I Hated Mama Because After Working 60 Hours a Week to Supplement Daddy’s Gambling Losses She Didn’t Always Have My Dinner On Time”. Either they don’t want my money, or they assume I’ll just set myself aside and relate to the man. After all, as a woman I’ve been conditioned to set myself aside for hundreds of years.

And what about these obnoxious crazy women? Unfortunately, I can’t find these ads online and I can’t recall every second by heart. I do remember that one of the women wanted to discuss a fun topic: magic! I guess being a Wiccan or pagan would be enough to qualify you as a “bad date” on such a red state kind of service. I can’t help but think it could just as easily have been, “But let’s talk about a fun topic: Jesus!” Except Wiccans are a safer group to make fun of: they don’t have armies of lawyers and press agents ready to fight their every perceived oppression at every turn.

Another ad features a chatterbox woman who farts at the dinner table, only to be ordered by her date to “get out of my house!”. Nice girls don’t fart: their inner purity somehow enables them to control that involuntary bodily function for your convenience. Naughty girls who do fart may be considered hostile invaders and ejected from your home. (To be clear, the woman is obnoxious – but somehow I think the Nice Girl rules eHarmony subscribes to would prevent them from showing a commercial in which a woman threw a man out of her house for farting. Nice girls don’t throw people out on the street.)

It’s far from the most unfair portrayal of women I’ve ever seen, but I find these commercials a good example of the male gaze. Of how marketing often relies on a woman’s willingness to see the world through male eyes and translate it to the female, rather than expecting the ad to speak directly to her needs. Of how “girls don’t”, or when they do we’re all supposed to lie about it (kissing a man on the first date) or feel entitled to get enraged (throwing out a woman who dares pass gas).


  1. says

    I do remember that one of the women wanted to discuss a fun topic: magic! I guess being a Wiccan or pagan would be enough to qualify you as a “bad date” on such a red state kind of service.

    Actually, I assumed she meant the “pull quarters out of his ears” kind of magic, which in stereotypes is often linked to nerdiness/geekiness.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    She was wearing black and had fairly funky hair a la Stevie Nicks. Looked like the Wiccan stereotype to me.

  3. Jamie Legaspi says

    I’ve been reading your articles for the past three hours, and it’s as addicting as Wikipedia. It’s getting close to 11PM, so I’ll make this short.

    I always hated those damn eHarmony commercials. They’re boring, I can count about one couple among my friends who have that sort of relationship, and even THEY (both being actors and possessed of immense knowledge and humor) are far less cheesy and trite.

    Except Wiccans are a safer group to make fun of: they don’t have armies of lawyers and press agents ready to fight their every perceived oppression at every turn.

    But they can’t spring lawsuits on Wiccans for saying that stupidity transcends religious barriers, because it’s just our opinion and we never actually said THEY were stupid. Most of us are as law-abiding and opposed to human sacrifice as another sane person would be. We certainly wouldn’t be stupid enough to ask about that in the open on a first date. Also, not every Wiccan is a witch–in fact, I’m Wiccan and I openly detest the thought of using magic, because it’s like you’re cheating your way through life.

    Stage magic, on the other hand, is AWESOME. I’d love it if someone like Neil Patrick Harris used magic tricks to get my attention.

    But my biggest question by far: Why the hell would you want to go on an online dating service when you can meet someone in real life? It saves time and there’s much less room for error–oh wait, I forgot that women need to make sure he’s interested in their personality first, otherwise they’ll NEVER EVER EVER get a date! And men are so desperate to keep their egos intact that they need to start a relationship online first, for fear of getting rejected IN PERSON.

    I like the Internet, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a time and place for it–and finding romance through online dating sights seems plain unnecessary. The entire fad smacks of how far our society’s drifting from real, face-to-face contact. It grates on my nerves that we’re becoming so cowardly in romance that we even need dating sites in the first place–if we never take chances, especially in love, we’ll never learn anything.

    As Dr. Kelso from Scrubs said: Nothing worth having in this life is easy.

  4. says

    I agree with all you said, Jamie, except I don’t think cowardice is the only reason people look online for dates. It’s really not that easy for all of us to meet people! If you work long hours, for example, or live in a place where there aren’t a lot of ways to meet people who share your interests. And then, some of us are just unusual personality types who have to meet a hundred or more people to find just one we have diddly in common with – in theory, at least, online dating could cut down on time wasted. (I actually think the entire “dating” system is broken beyond repair, offline and online, but that’s just my opinion.)

    But I would definitely encourage people to try a more broadminded site if they’re going to try internet dating at all.

  5. Jamie Legaspi says

    You do have a point, and I’m not condemning people who can’t spare time for face-to-face dating or have the ill fortune of not having common interests, but unfortunately the lazy/cowardly people tend to be more vocal than the people who’d genuinely need a dating site.

    • Robert Bailey says

      – “lazy/cowardly people tend to be more vocal than the people who’d genuinely need a dating site.”

      What?.. That makes no sense in the context of even the entire thread.

  6. The Other Patrick says

    As someone who had several dates and two girlfriends come about from internet “dating” sites (in a broad term), I dont think I’m too cowardly or lazy. I don’t like going to dance clubs, and I think going to dance clubs to meet someone whom you then have to tell you actually hate dance clubs defeats the point. I’m a student at a university full of commuters, and a student who went to university after several years of working, so students roughly my age often don’t live where I am. And I am a kinky bastard and ideally, my girlfriend should be down with that, too.

    As I said, I had two girlfriends come about from internet sites, and both were women I very likely would not have met otherwise – one, I had a single place in common with where I might have met her, the other one lived in a different town. Now, I have also met women in more typically social circumstances, but I have found this site to be a good way to break the barrier and get to know each other, or to find out about meetings and places to go and see what other like-minded people showed up.

    From what I gather, these kinds of sites get ever more normal as there are several couples I know (even non-kinky ones :)) who met online. When facebook is part of your social life, why not a site more specifically tailored to dating?

    • sbg says

      Isn’t it something like 1 in 5 relationships now start online? Of course, I think I’m pulling that stat from a commercial for an online dating site. 😉

    • Patrick McGraw says

      Most of the women I want to date are at home reading or on the internet, just like me. Are we all supposed to go to random public places and hope we run into each other?


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