by ANNA A. BRENNER and KAITLYN TIFFANY
Lulu, self-dubbed the “first-ever app for girls,” allows women to rate men that they know by syncing the app with their Facebook accounts and categorizing them as “ex-boyfriend, crush, together, hooked-up, friend, or relative.” In a multiple-choice quiz, women compartmentalize the dude in question by his sexual capability, appearance, personality, and a range of miscellany—from cooking skills to his sense of humor. The answers to these questions are amalgamated into a one-through-ten rating system. At the end of the quiz, girls can sort through an array of pre-written hashtags that range from complimentary (#4.0GPA) to sexual (#KinkyInTheRightWays), cautionary (#TotalF***ingDickhead) to random (#GrowsHisOwnVegetables).
Men can also add hashtags under the categories of “Turn Ons” and “Turn Offs,” allowing them to express their distaste for #OrangeTan, #ArmpitHair, and #LittleGirlVoice, or their fondness for #KillerBod, #HoldsHerLiquor, and #FreeSpirit. (More on this later.)
Founder Alexandra Chong, a graduate of the London School of Economics, has declared Lulu to be part of a “Take Back the Internet” moment for “young women who have come of age in an era of revenge porn and anonymous, possibly ominous suitors.” Chong told the New York Times that she got the idea for the app during a “boozy brunch with female friends.” “We were all sharing stories about guys, relationships, and sex,” Chong said. The group concluded that women should be able to find out more about a guy via the Internet than the pre-existing social media allowed. They needed a “Guygle.”
“When you Google a guy, you don’t want to know if he voted Republican or what he wrote a paper about in college. You want to know if mothers like him. Does he have good manners? Is he sweet? It’s just this gratifying thing that you know you can do. You have no control of whether a guy is great or a jerk and at the end of the experience, even if no one reads it, you feel like you have gotten back at the guy. You have taken a bit of control.”
In the interest of seeing how the women of Ithaca feel about Lulu, we asked Cornell students from various social groups, class years, and sexual identifications to share their thoughts on the app and on how Lulu, as well as other dating technologies, have factored into their experiences.
Anna Brenner: I first found Lulu through an article in New York Magazine and downloaded it immediately—as an experiment!—to see what it was about. I mean, it was a crazy idea, right? And I was just there to watch the crazies in action. It’s not like I actually cared to know what people were saying about my guy friends or past hookups. I mean, I’m not some boy-crazy Straight Girl. So it was okay that I was looking at the app, because I wasn’t looking at the app. Just seeing it. Uh-huh.
Kaitlyn Tiffany: The first time I looked at Lulu was last semester, when Anna and I were talking about writing this article, and I was simultaneously fascinated and repulsed. In my defense, there was wine involved, but it was kind of weirdly fun to look up a bunch of my male friends and see what women had been saying about them. It gave me this creepy diary-snooping type insight into the side of their lives we never really discussed. And of course, I looked up a few people I was marginally interested in. JUST TO SEE. Pandora’s fucking box.
A.B.: After semi-successfully shutting down those little warning bells ringing through my brain, I opened up the app, plugged in my Facebook info, and took a deep breath. Within seconds, my vision was assaulted with photos of guys off my friends list, from the “bro” I had just eaten lunch with, to the boy I went with to prom and hadn’t seen nor heard from since. And, underneath each photo, in bold white font, was a number, followed by an assortment of seemingly nonsensical, hot pink hashtags.
To put it simply, I felt creepy. And disgusting. And wrong. And yet…
K.T.: Curiosity kills the cat, every goddamn time. For one, once I was sober, the memory of my foray into Lulu was paired with an icky, hot shame. It’s a warped impression of female solidarity that believes that all women are looped together into some weird conspiracy to strategize about men. What’s my motivation to tell a stranger the best and worst parts of hooking up with a guy that I know? A magic bond mystically solidified with menstrual blood and mojitos and Ya-Ya Sisterhood self-mutilation rituals? Bitches are strangers. It’s a really nasty form of gender essentialism that says this is something girls should want to do, in order to “take back the Internet” and have agency in the dating world. It’s also presumptuously heteronormative—immediately categorizing all guys from my Facebook list as straight and verifying that my Facebook gender says “female” before I can post.
Shanti Kumar ’17: When I am casually hooking up with a guy, I like to rate his Lulu anonymously and then check his profile occasionally to see if any new anonymous ratings have showed up since mine. This could mean one of two things. Either a girl he used to hook up with found his Lulu and rated him, OR he recently hooked up with another girl and she rated him. I use it as a way to roughly gage how monogamous my hook-up relationships are.
K.T.: Obviously I looked up the dude I was interested in at the time, and absolutely terrified myself. He had pretty positive comments and a solid 9.0, but he also had close to 2,000 views (HE COULD HAVE ANYONE) and had inputted a lot of hashtags of his own about what he was interested in when looking for a lady. Cue mini-spiral of self-doubt. Do I #SpeakMyMind enough? Am I #Confident? Definitely don’t have a #KillerBod! And on the flip side, I prayed to God I wasn’t a #StageFiveClinger or any of the other myriad vague taboos he had listed (the turn-off #GrannyPanties had me at damn near existential crisis levels of worry). At the same time as these optional hashtags aren’t enough for guys to ably defend themselves against the things girls are writing about them, they’re also counteracting the “empowering” goal of the app—however misguided that goal may be. It’s a hot bed of neuroses.
S.K.: The person I used the first tactic on is a computer science major. He said he was “annoyed that girls had Lulu because if the same app had been made for guys to rate girls, the media push back would be tremendous.” I asked him if he wanted to code a new app that would do the same for guys to rate girls, just for gender equality. He shrugged and said it wasn’t worth it.
A.B.: I clicked through profile after profile. After profile after profile. I called my best friend in from the other room. And she called in another friend. And then we went down to dinner.
“Look what we’ve got!” we gloated, like five-year-olds showing off their new velcro, light-up sneakers. “You won’t believe this!”
We spent the entire dinner flipping through profiles. And, no matter how exploitative I felt, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this stuff was not meant for anyone to see—that, in a normal, rational world, this stuff shouldn’t even exist. I mean, if guys had tried to make an app that rated women—the original Facebook, anyone?—it would’ve gotten shut down in a hot second. The entire liberal establishment would’ve internally combusted in its rage. But somehow, when women go out and make a man-rating app, everything is awesome, nothing hurts, and someone, somewhere, is drunk-singing, “You Don’t Own Me.”
Lulu shouldn’t exist. But it does. So we looked. And looked.