Described by co-founder Alexandra Chong as a "Guygle" of sorts, Lulu acts as a search engine for single ladies who don't have time to go on dates only to discover half-way through that the guy they're with is #50ShadesOfF**ckedUp (or worse, #OwnsCrocs). Much like one might write a Yelp review telling diners that a restaurant's Pad Thai was decent but the service sucked, so too can women use Lulu to warn each other that a potential hookup #LovesBabies but is #ObsessedWithHisMom.
Women log in via Facebook, which lets the app verify their gender and gain access to all of the men in their social network in the process. They can then rate any male friend by answering multiple-choice questions about things like their appearance and sense of humor, and by selecting traits from a list of positive and negative hashtags. (Hashtags are pre-written to prevent things from getting too cruel. They're also pink, because this app is for ladies.) Lulu uses an algorithm to give the man a score from one to 10. The algorithm is secret, but we're sure it's highly scientific.
While men can't read their reviews, they can create accounts to find out how many women have looked at their profiles. Men with accounts can also choose their own hashtags to better represent themselves; for example, a man might want women to know that he's a #DogLover whose turn-ons include #Confident girls who #SmellLikeCookies, and whose turn-offs include #GrannyPanties and #HoBags. These show up in blue (naturally) and don't count towards a man's score.
If this all sounds sexist, that's because it is. But Lulu has clearly struck a chord with the instant gratification generation: A New York Times profile states that one in four college women have already downloaded the app, and nearly 500,000 men have requested to be reviewed by their female peers.
Perhaps more striking than these numbers is the fact that Lulu might literally be changing the way men treat women. Chong told the Times, "There's an element of behavior modification that we're hearing and seeing ... When we do sessions at colleges, we ask guys, 'Have any of you changed since Lulu launched?' Hands go up."
In a dating culture plagued by casual hookups, slut-shaming, and a noticeable lack of chivalry, Lulu would have us believe that it's giving power back to women in relationships. As one 24-year-old user told the Times, it "gives [girls] something to bond over ... even if no one reads it, you feel like you have gotten back at the guy. You have taken a bit of control."
But before we all run out to slander our exes in the spirit of gender solidarity, we should consider the implications of an app that essentially empowers women by turning them into vindictive gossips. Whereas an app like Hollaback (which lets women across the world report instances of street harassment on the spot) seeks to give women a sense of dignity and control in a situation they typically can't do much about, any control that Lulu grants is illusory. If anything, Lulu actually robs women of agency and sexual autonomy, as hashtags like #CallsOnTime and #F*ckedMeAndChuckedMe suggest that they're constantly at the mercy of a male partner's whims, rather than equal players in a relationship.
Others, like #AlwaysPays, #HotCar, #HandyMan, #OpensDoors, and #LadiesFirst speak to a desire for a #Man'sMan of a long-dead era. In fact, nearly all of the app's hashtag's look like they were torn from a 1950s Cosmo: Women just want #OneOfTheGoodOnes (rare, because men suck), who will deign to do a woman's work (#DoesDishes, #DoesHisOwnLaundry, #PlaysHouse), is in touch with his feminine side (#WillSeeRomComs), and doesn't treat them like shit (#NotADick).
But given that men are often philandering (#SketchyCallLog, #LiarLiarPantsOnFire), immature (#ManChild), sex-crazed (#OneTrackMind), jerks (#TotalF**ckingDickhead), we shouldn't get our hopes up. They also have a lot of #BitchyExes. So much for sisterhood.
The female traits implicit in all of these tags place women on an equally reductive pedestal: We are weak (#StrongHands), needy (#FlowersJustBecause), and suspicious (#QuestionableSearchHistory), as well as more mature (#ManChild) and prudish (#PornEducated) than the men we date.
Lulu embodies an insidious kind of sexism made all the more harmful by the fact that it so often goes unnoticed.
It goes without saying that if this were an app for rating women it would have been banned from the App Store. Then again, women are already ranked, dissected, and judged by a set of unattainable standards so often that Beyoncé made a music video about it. But since when is "an eye for an eye" a legitimate justification for anything?
Lulu embodies an insidious kind of sexism made all the more harmful by the fact that it so often goes unnoticed. Empowerment is not achieved through anonymous defamation. Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about Lulu, however, is the fact that it encourages users to think of #RespectsWomen as a major selling point. This suggests that to do so is noteworthy, rather than just expected — because women are, you know, #People.