New App ‘Lulu’ Rates Men and Angers Some

John* was sitting in class one day when a fellow student told him that he should look at his profile on Lulu. John, who had heard about the app a few weeks before but hadn’t made too much of it, tapped his profile–pulled from Facebook automatically by the app–and was stunned to see every facet of his personality, physical attractiveness, and sexual prowess rated on a 1 to 10 scale, accompanied by a host of hashtags describing everything from John’s financial status to his cuddling abilities.

Lulu, a rapidly growing new app that allows women to anonymously review men, says that its vision is to become the social destination for women around the world, and markets itself as “the first database of men, built by women, for women.” Through the app, users can read and write reviews of men, created through a variety of tools and questionnaires. The reviews show numerical scores across a number of categories, “putting the emphasis on collective wisdom,” according to the app. Lulu has received substantial coverage from major tech and news publications, including Wired, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Glamour, and Cosmo.

“Lulu takes its cues from the real world: we meet a guy and think he’s cute, but want to know if he’s the charmer he appears or really a wolf in sheep’s clothing. So we ask our girlfriends, and look him up on Facebook and Google. It’s a private, fun ritual we all indulge in, often complicated by the fact that we don’t want the guy to know we’re checking out his creds,” reads the app’s “About” section.

Paige Willey ’16, who heard about the app from one of her friends, logs on to Lulu strictly in a joking fashion. “I use the app exclusively to amuse myself and my friends in the vicinity,” Willey said. The only reviews Willey provides have been for her close male friends, either to jokingly make them seem undesirable by selecting unflattering descriptions (a few of Lulu’s many options include #HygenicallyChallenged, #ForgotHisWallet, or #FuckedAndChuckedMe) or to give her friends an ego boost by selecting the more kind hashtags (#NotADick, #RespectsWomen, and #NerdyButILikeIt are some of the nicer ones).

Willey says she doesn’t view Lulu as the vital database it claims to be, and doesn’t think that the app has much worth beyond trivial amusement. This could be due to the fact that many users are like Willey, who tends not to make personal decisions about whether or not to hook up with or date someone based on anonymous reviews.

“Honestly, I’m glad that people I know at Swat have mostly been using it as a joke, because the types of interactions you’re asked to share information about are pretty personal,” Willey said. She added that she likes her privacy to be respected, and thus usually does not discuss details about someone with whom she had been more than friends, let alone upload these details to a public database. “I see it as a little disrespectful and pointless,” Willey said. “I think people have a right to keep their personal lives personal.”

The app’s website claims that the vast majority of its rules are positive, and that Lulu is not a place to trash-talk. “At the end of the day, Lulu is all about encouraging good, gentlemanly behavior, and providing a platform that makes girls’ research easier and more fun,” the site says.

For John, this slogan is the antithesis of what Lulu actually does.

“It provides an opportunity for people to anonymously comment, often cruel, insensitive things about people without repercussions, because their name is not attached to it,” John said. Anonymity has its place, and Lulu, for John, is not it. “The majority of the comments, positive or negative, are not things the people posting would be willing to say directly, or possibly even to their own friends,” John added.

Nothing on John’s profile hurt him deeply, he said, but he still finds the anonymity of the app harmful, because it encourages and permits assumptions. One of John’s hashtags is related to his family’s financial status and attempts to make it clear that John comes from extreme wealth. “I’m actually a financial aid student, so not only is the comment somewhat offensive, it’s blatantly wrong, and makes assumptions about me as a person based on whatever reasons that are inherently untrue,” John explained.

He added that he knew of other students who had received much more hurtful and offensive reviews on the app, and believes that a medium for anonymous cruelty is exactly what Swarthmore doesn’t need in the wake of a politically and personally tense semester. “Positive discussion and dialogue is difficult when people feel the need, or have the tools, to backstab like this,” John said.

The app’s “About” section concludes: “Ultimately, we see Lulu as a private network dedicated to women and relationships, providing an online extension and enhancement of the kind of information and support that women provide each other in real life.” Joan Huang ’15 believes that claims such as these about Lulu, or suggestions that Lulu helps to invert the male gaze by digitizing a type of rating system men have used on women for decades, are invalid.

“That’s the opposite of how you subvert systems,” Huang said. Additionally, Huang thinks that the app, limited to female reviews of men, privileges heterosexual interaction over any other type of relationship.

Huang also believes that Lulu makes enormous assumptions about the desires of women through creating descriptions made only out of numbers and stereotypical hashtags. “You can’t quantify humans like data. You can’t rate people on a 1-10 scale…it doesn’t get at the complexity of people,” she said. This rating system, claiming to give women power, actually hands the agency to men, perpetuating the outdated and harmful idea that women are only interested in the potential mate-ness of their sexual or romantic partners, Huang added.

In terms of hashtags, Huang thinks that these archetypical descriptions also enforce existing societal structures, rather than subverting or changing anything. “It places the gender difference at the center of structures of power and doesn’t account for how different gender stereotypes are raced or classed,” Huang said. “If I tell you that someone’s a trust funder, you think of a white guy wearing pink shorts and a polo shirt.”

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