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The most crass dating app ever?

By Peggy Drexler, Special to CNN
October 29, 2013 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
The Carrot app is all about bribery. You can offer
The Carrot app is all about bribery. You can offer "plastic surgery or a tank of gas," the press release says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New app lets you bribe a potential date with "plastic surgery or a tank of gas"
  • Peggy Drexler: Creator says "women like presents like dogs like treats"; is he serious?
  • Drexler: "Sugar daddy" creator's been accused of promoting prostitution with apps
  • Go inside the "sugar daddy" dating scene on CNN's "This is Life with Lisa Ling"

Editor's note: Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Go inside the "sugar daddy/sugar baby" dating trend on the premiere episode of "This is Life with Lisa Ling," Sunday, September 28 at 10p ET/PT.

(CNN) -- "There's only one method of manipulation that has stood the test of time," begins the press release issued by Carrot Dating, a new dating app developed by MIT grad Brandon Wade. "Bribery."

In fact, it's this alleged truism -- which, by the way, isn't true at all given that highly effective methods of manipulation such as lying, rationalization, denial and guilt are still very much going strong -- that inspired Carrot Dating, "the world's first bribe-for-a-date app."

This app lets users entice potential partners into romantic outings by offering them gifts such as "plastic surgery or a tank of gas," because "messaging may get her interested, but bribery will get you a date."

Good god.

Peggy Drexler
Peggy Drexler

It's pretty clear the founders of this app, not to mention the author of the press release, are actively courting outrage -- a quote from the founder reads, goadingly, "Women like presents like dog like treats." But the fact that this level of misogyny is being monetized and marketed and put into practice is disturbing.

Someone, after all, gave this guy the funds to build the app and its companion website; Wade told reporters Carrot already has 30,000 users of both genders signed up. And misogynistic it is: Although women can bribe men to go out with them, too, taglines that include "Dangle Your Carrot!" imply which scenario Carrot Dating is aiming at.

Perhaps Wade is just trying to be cheeky. This isn't, after all, the first time he's been called a misogynist or sought to monetize sexism.

Carrot is just the latest in a fleet of dating sites Wade has founded. They include SeekingArrangements.com, a "sugar daddy dating" site that pairs young women with rich, older men; WhatsYourPrice.com, where men bid on dates with women; and MissTravel.com, which links up "attractive" women with "generous" men who want a travel companion.

All three have been accused of promoting prostitution, or at least a prostitutory ethos, and that's become something of a go-to for Wade. He gets bolder, not to mention richer, with every launch and with every piece of corresponding publicity, even if it's negative -- and unsurprisingly, most of it is.

"At its core, Carrot reinforces the notion that women can, and should, be bought"
Peggy Drexler

Such misogyny, even if employed as part of a marketing strategy or a business shtick, has considerable effects, none of which should be taken lightly. Misogyny is a serious form of bullying directed explicitly at women. Over time, it affects the way women think about themselves.

By casting men as the chasers and women as the chased, the values and actions encouraged by Carrot Dating promote sexism, violence against women and other gender imbalances that men and women have worked for years to counter. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology even found that vicarious exposure to misogyny, just simply witnessing such hostility against others, can create lower well-being among those not directly harassed.

Carrot Dating claims to be performing a service; that is, motivating people to go on dates with those they otherwise might reject, thereby removing some of the existing barriers to romance and "opening minds." Wade says Carrot Dating is entirely modern, set to even the playing field in a world where, he says, women have the upper hand and their pick of men.

But his app seeks to do this by validating the notion that it's normal to expect something from a date other than, say, good conversation or pleasant company; that going on a date should only happen if there's something material in it for you. Not exactly a recipe for true love.

But, then, Carrot Dating isn't really about opening people's minds and expanding their options. Or about true love.

It's about stirring up controversy, with hapless Carrot Dating users. At the same time, what he's stirring up is not victimless controversy. At its core, Carrot reinforces the notion that women can, and should, be bought -- the same attitude, by the way, that has made human trafficking a $34 billion business.

The upside: One could argue that sites such as Carrot Dating satisfy a certain, very specific demographic and serve to connect only like-minded singles. The site may be crass, superficial and self-loathing, but then again so are many people. Why not let them mate? Or at least meet.

The more of these people who date each other using sites such as Carrot, the fewer of them remain among those who might be looking for more in a partner than a free haircut or a new nose. Those who are attracted to Carrot Dating, or sites like it, know what they're getting. As for everyone else, well, at least they know what they're not.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peggy Drexler.

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