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Boycott apps that commodify people: What’s wrong with the Lulu

Before going to a restaurant or watching a movie, we’ve all used an app like Yelp or Fandango to help us shop around and make an informed decision. But the new smartphone app Lulu is taking smartphone users beyond dinner and a flick.

Lulu allows women to score and review their male Facebook friends without their permission. After downloading the Lulu app, users are prompted to log in through Facebook and thereafter can view the profiles the app has created for every one of their male friends, as well as males nearby, complete with a profile picture, relationship status, university, and location listing. Women can rate men on a scale of 1-10, write reviews complete with hashtags, and specify their relation to the guy in question (friend, crush, hookup, etc.).

It’s not quite the burn book from “Mean Girls,” but the app and others like it clearly encroach upon individual freedom and privacy.

Founder Alexandra Chong calls Lulu “the first database of men, built by women, for women.” Chong believes that Lulu is “a place you can talk about the good and the bad” and believes such reviews can not only inform and aid women in their pursuits of the opposite sex but also encourage said subjects to “change their behavior” when they do “not do well in a particular category.”

If you are a male and have a Facebook profile, you already have a Lulu profile. Your uncle probably has a Lulu profile. And you are probably having a hard time recalling when, or even if, you signed up.

If the roles were reversed and the app allowed men to secretly appraise their female friends, obviously our culture would deem it misogynistic and voyeuristic. For millennia, men have objectified women and commodified their bodies. This app and others like it operate via the exact same mechanism but merely reverse the roles.

Lulu does what Chong promised it would: It allows women to publicly define, sexualize, and shame their male peers without permission.

Now it’s women who can shop around on the digital brothel and select a man based on the reviews by her peers. But no person should sit on a shelf, idle as a box of cereal at the grocery, while others peruse through the choices and finalize their selection.

Men have historically performed this exact sort of commodification on women, but giving women, or any person, the power to commodify in the way that men have does not make it right.

This app only perpetuates the unfortunate stereotype that women are catty and gossipy. Lulu pretends to empower women, but instead it allows women to defame men and conform to stereotypes in the process. Undoubtedly, Lulu is a form of cyberbullying. Those who have access to this app know that a lot of the content in these reviews can be interpreted as ironic, “harmless” attempts at parody (#Can’tBuildIKEAFurniture, #OwnsCrocs, #420). But some of the hashtags are unmistakably malicious and humiliating (#TotalF***ingDickHead, #ManSlut, #F***edMeAndChuckedMe). While more easily said than done, if you have a profile, try not to let comments by some anonymous coward on some silly gossip app define you.

In legitimate online dating services, users consent to being listed on the sites and can choose how much of their personal information to give out. But men listed on Lulu haven’t signed up, have not formally consented to Facebook divulging their information, and have no control over the gossip posted about them. In order to exist, Lulu needs us, college-aged students, to continue using the site, to keep it up-to-date, and to make it function at a higher level.

Lulu’s crowd-sourcing of its information from Facebook user profiles is where the app’s weakness lies. The most effective way that we — hormonal, flirtatious, 18- to 24-year olds — can hinder the growth of Lulu and its look-alikes is to simply to stop using them.

 

Reach opinion writers Sohrab Andaz and Atoosa Moinzadeh at opinion@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @SohrabAndaz and @amoinzadeh

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