Girl Talk Goes Viral with Lulu App

College friends shared this story in the New York Times about the Lulu App which is essentially a girls-only, mobile application, used in conjunction with Facebook, for profiling men they know either as friends or as previous dates or boyfriends, so that other women can make informed decisions about a guy before dating or sleeping with him. I sent the article to two women under 30, and both responded with words like “gross” and “awful,” and I was about to write a somewhat cynical piece on the subject, but further reading reveals the Lulu app to be more thoughtful and tasteful than the Times article suggests or than one might assume from an outsider’s view.

There are apps and online services tailored to people of all ages seeking casual sex or long-term relationships or something in between these oft-blurred lines in the complex dynamics of dating.  And I’m the last guy who would so much as imply any kind of moral judgment regarding any non-harmful behavior in the diverse mosaic of human desires, passions, or romantic entanglements.

The Lulu app seems to be very popular on college campuses, and while it’s easy to wonder whether or not there is much value in technologically expanding what amounts to old-school “girl talk,” I suspect that particularly at a large university, a resource like Lulu is a net positive for young women.  In a landscape that includes date rape, revenge porn, and other misogynistic trends that have actually been exacerbated in many ways by social media, it’s hard not to conclude that an app like Lulu does seem to empower single women in a way that is uniquely possible and necessary in the digital age. Let’s be honest, women have historically talked among themselves more openly than men do with one another about relationships and sex, and this kind of app brings some of that discussion into the open, even allowing men to be part of it to an extent. Moreover, Lulu’s designers have been thoughtful about trying to mitigate malicious use by the ex-girlfriend or rejected suitor who wants to slander a guy.  For instance, a man profiled has to be 1) at least Facebook friends with the women doing the rating; and 2) agree to have their profiles made available at all.

So, one positive aspect of an app like Lulu might be that it could demystify to an extent what it is women value and what they share with one another. This could ameliorate a measure of low self-esteem among men, which is often the source of their worst behaviors as boyfriends and lovers.  A male college friend who saw the post joked that Lulu is essentially a technological expansion of what used to be the Ladies Room wall at our local bar. He isn’t wrong, and, maybe there’s something to be said for men being privy (no pun intended) to what’s on the Ladies Room wall.  Of course, it should also be noted, as it was by my female contemporaries on the same thread, that a men-only version of this app rating women in a similar fashion would likely ignite a brush fire of feminist outrage.

One thing I do notice about Lulu is that its messaging seems a little bi-polar.  Founder Alexandra Chong is quoted in the Times as describing her users thus:  “You want to know if mothers like him. Does he have good manners? Is he sweet?” This suggests a measure of depth and human connection being sought, whereas the images and video used to promote the app online depict a pretty shallow portrait of the world’s single people. All the models featured look like headliners for MTV’s old Spring Break series, and it’s not that there’s anything wrong per se with the Greek Life, party-school thing, only that this is a rather narrow view of “dating,” even at college. In order to limit potential abuse, Lulu doesn’t allow original comments, but instead offers multiple-choice selections in the form of hashtags.  We see an example of this in the online promo video set in a party scene. A young guy with a perfect body dances shirtless, archetypal plastic, red Dixie cup full of intoxicant in hand, and the sexy, young woman using the Lulu app checks him out to discover that he #OwnsCrocs. This suggests to me a faddish and slightly insipid quality to Lulu. If this same adonis in the freeze-frame were instead tagged #ComparativeLitMajor and #OwnsCrocs, or maybe someone else in the scene who looks slightly more like regular folks had the tag #RudeToWaiters, one might get a sense that Lulu’s users are interested in something other than just turning the tables on raw objectification.

I don’t judge.  If Lulu can empower women in some way that makes dating more enjoyable, or at least safer, so be it.  If it’s just another tool for one-night-stands, that’s fine too.  If it ultimately becomes the latter, though, women should not be surprised to find that new technologies sometimes just help us make the same old mistakes a little faster.

© 2013, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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12 comments

  • .. or it could just be yet another way, according to one of the last lines of the linked article to:
    “…even if no one reads it, you feel like you have gotten back at the guy.”

    At the end of the day, it’s another data mining operation with the guise of gossip. Is nothing sacred anymore?

  • To be clear, If one thinks about it:
    A) a girlfriend in an Existing Relationship is probably not going to ‘review’ her boyfriend for perfect strangers to size up her man. Knowing what i know about the fairer sex, they tend to be pretty guarded when it comes to ‘sharing’, if you know what i mean.
    B) this leads to only one thing: ‘break-up ratings’… and in the case of messy break-ups.. revenge.

    Like was said, there would be a fire-storm if the male equivalent (i’ll claim the title as “MuMu”) rated ladies in such a public manner. I don’t see how this would be more useful than a background check. The romantic in me wishes there to be a bit of mystery to new relationships… what #hashtag should i use for this?

  • The bottom line is the men being reviewed are being violated according to Facebook policy. The makers of the app have left the women users subject to prosecution not the makers themselves. It’s a very mean spirited app stop trying to candy coat it as something else.

    • I’m not sure, Bill, whether you mean I’m candy coating it or someone else, but from my limited, non-user’s perspective, it doesn’t seem mean spirited in its limited context. The app may prove to be shallow and dumb, but if all the players, both men and women, who volunteer to be in the petri dish are shallow and dumb, then it seems like no harm/no foul to me.

      • David you just hit the nail on the head the men on lulu most of them anyway have no idea they are on the app and have not “Volunteered” at all. Their profile is pulled in from their Female Facebook friends without consent and can’t even see what’s being said about them or defend themselves. I agree if everyone is a willing participant then as you say no harm/ no foul.

      • If what you’re saying is true, it’s a violation of Lulu’s own statements. I’d have no problem writing a follow-up or something, if I have proof of that violation. Thanks.

  • Hi David thanks for responding here is a link that better describes the issue more than I could. As I said if everyone was a willing participant then that would be up to them.

    http://www.consumerprivacy.us/privacy/lulu-privacy

  • Ok thanks I just can’t believe how some in the media find this acceptable and I think it would be just as wrong for a male version. How about nobody rate anyone and treat people how you would wish to be treated. I’m sure when the male version comes out there will burning in the streets and the media will be condemning 100% and rightfully so. Also doing it anonymously is pretty cowardly.

    • As mentioned in the post, I was close to being very critical of the app on those and other grounds, but it can be tough to criticize something one cannot experience directly, and the tone on the Lulu FB page is better than expected. I personally agree with you, as do other women I know, etc., but I do think it’s necessary to avoid too much cultural bias at times. For instance, I have general disdain for the whole Greek Life thing at colleges and find many of those people moronic, but if nobody is actually getting hurt, who am I or anyone to comment on how people party or hook up or whatever? By the same token, if Lulu is just a shallow girl’s plaything, protesting about it too much starts to sound a bit silly and prudish. At the point at which it becomes transformative rather than faddish, is when I begin to pay more serious attention. As for the media finding it acceptable, all I can say is sex is good for generating traffic. Will still review your link carefully today. It has the vaguest hint of trying to sell me something, but I will review. Thanks.

  • Thanks but the part that all should be concerned with is the taking of someone’s profile unbeknownst to them and posting anonymous comments about them that may/may not be true and barring that person from even seeing them or defending themselves. This is a form of cyber bullying that nobody should accept as harmless fun. Again it violates Facebook’s policy and can’t understand why Facebook has allowed this to continue for almost a year now.

    • On this point we are absolutely agreed, but I need to find time to dig into whether or not this is truly occurring and to what extent.

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