Giggle CEO and founder Sall Grover is no stranger to misogyny.
She left Australia for Los Angeles aged 24, determined to be a screen writer. Initially it was a successful venture but when her friend and female co-writer left, Sall found herself subject to an astonishing catalogue of ‘harassment, abuse, and assaults’ before leaving LA herself, eight years later.
“I had men grope me in meetings, at work drinks, leverage sex, call me unprofessional when I wouldn’t deliver on a spec after an assault; say I was hysterical.’
Sall and her mum came up with the idea of giggle (with a small ‘g’) when Grover returned to Australia after her time in New York.
“We wanted a place where women could connect with each other to talk freely and in a safe and private environment. It’s a place where women can connect to find room mates, freelance work, activism, emotional support… it’s completely apolitical.”
Created ‘by women, for women’ the giggle app was launched at the end of 2019.
” I want there to be a place where every girl can go, free from the male gaze and the judgment we simply cope with on an average day.” Grover told writer MK Fain in February 2020.
“I created Giggle because I wanted women to have a “refuge” away from misogyny.” tweeted Grover, later that year. “I’d spent years in Hollywood being sexually abused. I knew my life would be better with an easily accessible female support network. I needed one. I knew I wasn’t the only one. So I created one.”
The inevitable misogyny ensued. Both Sall & giggle were met with fury from – yes, you guessed it- men, who challenged her ability to run a company, purely on the grounds that she was a woman. One critic even wrote to her father, suggesting he needed to find a way to ‘manage Sall’.
I have to say, I am not drawn to the plethora of pink. It reminds me of the time I had to stitch 200 salmon pink fleece hats in 48 hours, in a freezing basement with no heating. After that, salmon pink has always been a big no-no in Lilyland.
The woman/keyhole character is clever, but why the name? Well, a ‘giggle’ is evidently the collective noun for a group of girls. Like Grover, I eye-rolled when I first discovered that. But Sall is on a mission to reclaim the concept of giggling girls.
“In reality, a giggle of girls can do a lot of things” she told Mamedamey. “The girls of 2020 are where we are because of the giggles before us.”
While I’m unconvinced by the name, or the choice of colour- or the frequent use of the word ‘girls’ to refer to adult human females- I can’t help imagining what a great idea this could be for women- especially younger women- if it really takes off.
It seems like it well might. Sall Grover certainly knows her stuff and giggle now has over 10,000 monthly users in 88 countries.
And what an ethos!
A man-free zone
Men are banned from giggle.
“But not all men!” I hear you cry, to which I reply with a firm and cheery voice, “Yes, all men.”
Yes, you heard me right. Giggle does not welcome men to its platform.
Men are not allowed to join.
No, it doesn’t matter how they identify.
“Calling all lesbians: on Giggle Social, you’ll find what what could be “dating categories”. Find someone to take to dinner or a drink, keep it super casual & create a group to go to bar trivia or see a movie & make out[disclaimer: Giggle is FEMALE ONLY & will stay that way”
giggle twitter, August 2020
The first time I’d heard of giggle was a few days ago, when ‘giggle social’, used by many as a dating app, was being discussed on Twitter.
I’ve heard many times that ostensibly women-only dating apps are what one disgruntled lesbian referred to as “full of men LARPing as women”. Five o’clock shadow and hairy chests abound, so I’m told, girdled by she/her pronoun declarations.
This is especially disturbing for lesbian women. In the words of the inimitable Jo Bartosh, “If there is one thing that unites lesbians aside from loving women and liking IKEA, it is their dislike of cock.”
Jo recently talked to lesbian women about their experience of meeting ‘transbians’ on women-only dating sites. One woman, Lucy, was banned from the app after stating that she was only interested in ‘biological females’. Another woman observed, “It is bizarre that I can filter based on someone’s height or star sign but not on sex which is fundamental to my sexual orientation.”
You can read Bartosh’s article here.
I was involved on the fringes of this Twitter discussion few days ago. Someone said that, in the small print, giggle said they did admit trans-identified men aka transwomen. Someone else said they thought they used to but they didn’t anymore.
While not perusing the market for same-sex dating apps, I shot off a quick email to giggle, asking if it was true that they didn’t allow any boys or men on the site, however they identified – and received this reply.
So how do they do it?
It’s a tall order, trying to keep men out of a space. In order to help them do this, giggle now makes use of an artificial intelligence facial bone-structure recognition technology to determine the sex of users.
Under FAQ’s on their website, they explains how this works:
“Each time a new user attempts to register on the app, they are asked to take a “selfie.” This image is then sent via an API call to their partner, Kairos, a face-recognition AI company, “with an ethical approach to verification, that reflects our globally diverse communities”.
Kairos analyses this image, determines the likelihood of it being male or female in less than a second, and reports back to giggle, whose ‘image confidence level’ is set at 95% for a female. The algorithm even detects pixel-level patterns so can tell if a potential user is taking a photo of a photo. (Tip, don’t take your giggle photo with a white background.)
In 2020 Grover reported that half of the applications were from men trying to get past the software detection, with one man trying an astonishing 48 times.
“They’re enjoying the verification selfie to see if they can get past it. They can’t. Giggle is boy-free.” Sall told Fain last year. She has faith in the software.
This week, she added on Twitter, “There are many males who claim to be on Giggle who, simply, are not. “
The giggle umbrella
During the development of giggle, Grover says she fought for transwomen to be able to use the app. “We created onboarding so they wouldn’t be misgendered; we really did everything we could to be as welcoming as possible”.
Initially, the Giggle umbrella encompassed transwomen, the FAQs section of Giggle’s website reading:
“Trans-girls are 100% welcome on giggle. Giggle’s “gender verification” onboarding process is a gatekeeper to stop men from getting on to the platform, not girls or those who identity as girls. If you are at all concerned with the possibility of being misgendered, you are welcome to contact giggle HQ for manual onboarding. Giggle both fully supports and recognises gender identity and will never discriminate.”
This policy didn’t stop transactivists from organising a pile-on.
The first ‘trans attack’ as Sal describes it, involved thousands of self-defined ‘transwomen’ creating profiles saying things like, ‘kill TERFs’ and ‘TERFs need to be raped”.
Fake reviews were left for the app and Grover was called names including transphobe, racist, bio-essentialist, eugenicist.
“Every horrible thing that you can imagine. So we very quickly sat around and educated ourselves about what was happening.”
“This girls-only app uses AI to screen a user’s gender” scoffed The Verge. “What could go wrong?”
Well, their reporting, for a start. It is not a user’s gender that the AI process detects – it is their sex.
After doing some research, Garner describes the resulting decision to make giggle a female only space as a “no-brainer.”
“I don’t have a choice in how misogyny is dealt to me. I can’t Self ID out of it.” tweeted Grover in July 2020.
Many people would have caved under the pressure, but Sall is not taking any shit from anyone. Far from shutting up, she has never been more vocal.
“I wish that there was no misogyny, no sexual harassment, no assault, no rape, no FGM, no murder, that every person in the world felt safe around each other, that women didn’t fear men and that men didn’t exert power over women. But that is just not the world we live in.”
In September 2020, Sall told Graham Linehan: “TERF is just the new version of bitch, slut, whore, any of that…we’ve survived those we’ll survive this one too… Single sex spaces will prevail. They will win. Women have been handed nothing, we’ve fought for everything we’ve got and we’re not giving up anything without a fight.”
“Us women are vagina-owners, we’re birthers, we’re pregnant people, vulva-havers, and any time I’ve reached out to anyone about this I’ve been told it’s to be inclusive. I don’t think it is.” she told Sky News Australia in February 2021. “TERF is a word that’s being used to scare women and to silence women. It’s a completely misogynistic word… there’s no word that’s been invented for, for example, heterosexual men who don’t date transwomen… people saying ‘shut up TERFS’: if you replaced the word ‘TERF’ with ‘woman’ they wouldn’t get away with it…. it’s a way to censor us and in a sense it’s working…. We want to be able to use to word woman, to have female-only spaces and female-only sport. We’re not asking for a crazy amount of stuff.”
Last week, Giggle launched “Giggle Talk,” a new social media feed in the style of Facebook or Twitter. It works with hashtags, grouping posts on topics such as #menopause, #periods or #cutepuppies. Users can post photos and create forums. This could be huge.
How it started, how it’s going.
To finish off this article, I thought I’d have a look at Sall’s most recent tweets.
“We’re told “misgendering” is “literal violence”.” she tweeted this morning. “This has been accepted as “fact” by many people. Then, when females tell of our need & want for female spaces, we receive actual threats of violence. These violent threats are often ignored or, even, celebrated by many people.”
Sall gives examples, screenshots of just some of the recent messages she has received.
“I have a slogan for your website Sall.” tweeted Osamafan 6ix9ine. “I think ‘put a TERF under the earth’ is both catchy & the right message for these troubled times. LMK if you like it.”
Maverick (they/them) messaged her: “Hey Sal, if you’re reading this, please end your own life as soon as possible. Thanks!”
Randomdog (he/him) added: “Important addendum: in the most painful way you can imagine. No easy ways out for the scumfucks please.”
On January 21st Sall penned an open letter to the media. Part of it is quoted below; you can read the whole thing here.
“Giggle is used in 88 countries around the world. We have users in countries where female rights are virtually non existent. All of these women, plus women in the USA, Australia, UK and Europe, use Giggle to connect in a safe, private and female environment.
Giggle is 100% inclusive of all females. We have users in their 60s and 70s. Grandmothers. We have users in their 20s. New mothers. Women who are not mothers. Domestic violence survivors. Lesbian women. Women who want friends for exercise together. Women looking for roommates. Women need support. Women of all different races, regions, religions. Women of every different political affiliation. The only thing our users have in common is… they are female.
To me, that is the story that should get attention. But it does not.”