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.
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