Photo: Courtesy of Bek Andersen
Last month, the New York Times penned a piece about the new woman-designed app, Lulu, painting it as a sort of girls’ club started by founders Alison Schwartz and Alexandra Chong. We’ve covered it before, discussing the immediate basics: The app is meant for women only and taps into their existing Facebook network by using a gal’s pre-existing log-in to draw in the profiles who have identified as male. There, you can see each individual’s basics, including a profile picture, the network he belongs to, and his relationship status. And, here is where things, for me, get a bit morally iffy:
A Lulu user can then check out the ratings of the guys’ profiles in which she is associated. However, even more interesting, is that the lady can choose to “rate” the guy…anonymously. In order to let your opinion be known, you have to indicate how you know this dude: “Friends”, “Crush”, “Hooked Up”, “Ex-boyfriend”, “Together”, or perhaps the weirdest, “Relative.” (You know, in case you want to weigh in on your brother’s love life.) Then you get to answer a series of multiple choice questions, mostly about his manners, looks, physical chemistry, and commitment level. Lastly, you get to “hashtag” each dude you rate with both positive and negative hashtags (you must choose at least one of each). The hashtags try to be both cheeky and descriptive. Think “#EpicSmile”, “#BedroomEyes”, “#QuestionableSearchHistory”, and perhaps the most uncomfortable, “#ProcreatedAndThenEvaporated” — which I sadly saw a family member had received. (Yes, really.) You enter your honest (and remember, totally unidentifiable) review, and then the guy is given a score for any other Lulu user to view.
Though the app isn’t supposed to maintain a dishing-on-guys purpose — its founders want it to grow into work, beauty, careers, and so on — both Alexandra and Alison knew that women would react most strongly to relationships. “We know that endorsements from our girlfriends are incredibly powerful, but there's no place for women to do this at scale online or on mobile,” explains Alison. “That’s what we set out to build.” Of course, app-friendly Millennials have scooped the service up quickly, with the initial user group belonging to colleges. But, Alison explains that isn’t always going to be the case. “We're seeing our fastest growth in cities like New York, which Lulu has grown 600% in the last six months,” she says. Which doubly proves something any woman might easily guess: Women want to know what other women think, and when given the chance to have free dirt on a potential partner, the average person won’t pass at the opportunity.
Photo: Courtesy of Lulu
As much as I wish I could deny my inherent curiosity, the Lulu gals have tapped into something most people unwittingly crave: the dish. I first became interested in the application when a coworker showed me a mutual acquaintance's Lulu score. I didn’t want to look, but I couldn’t help it. After downloading it, playing around, and getting over the ick factor of seeing my dad on the site, I showed the program to a staunchly feminist, incredibly politically correct friend. “Oh, I don’t like this one bit,” she told me. But, when I told her I could see her boyfriend’s score, she couldn’t resist. And, who could? Knowing how your crush/current flame/ex stacks up with other people is just too enticing to pass up. (Note: He wasn't reviewed.) Yet, both she and I were concerned for our platonic buddies, as we have both coached and comforted just as many guy friends as girls through awful romantic entanglements. We didn’t want our dudes to have anonymous, spiteful dirt flung at them.
Fortunately, Lulu has taken major steps to ensure that this isn’t going to be used as a revenge mechanism. As I browsed, I noticed that no one got too harsh — which was never the intention of the founders. “We created Lulu as a safe and positive space for girls to come and recommend the great guys in their life — friends, brothers, ex-boyfriends,” Alison says. “Women tell us every day that they want Lulu to be positive and not mean or negative.” It’s true: The lowest score is a 4.0, and you have to be pretty darn mean to rate a guy that poorly. Alison adds, “You can see that in the average score, which is 7.5, and in the most popular hashtags, which are #EpicSmile and #WillActSilly.” In fact, it is impossible to add demeaning hashtags, meaning you can only work with the Lulu-approved descriptors.
Photo: Courtesy of Lulu
Strangely, this choice made Lulu both more acceptable and problematic for me. On one hand, it is clear that this isn’t a man-trashing or rep-ruining application. But, conversely, it puts into impossibly basic terms what women are looking for and also limits honesty. (I’ve struggled with the latter part of this because I do think there may be some use for women to freely and openly indicate uncool behavior, like #CheatsALot or #TrueMisogony, or even #AbusiveRedFlagRunAwayRunAway. Yet, having unfettered, anonymous bashing — even if it is legitimately warranted — sounds like a tremendous recipe for danger.) So, it is the simplistic, super-traditional descriptors that make Lulu feel, well, less empowering. As my aforementioned pal and I browsed the app, it became clear that it wasn’t as useful to us gals over the age of 25 as it might have been to our younger collegiate selves. Questions like, “If he asked for a letter of rec, his teacher would say…” have answers like, “You’re in my class?” and hashtags include, “#4.0GPA” and “#OnlyWearsFratTanks.” Alison acknowledges the young-leaning aspect of the app: “Our vision is for Lulu to appeal to women of all ages, and we're excited that we're growing quickly among women in their 20s and 30s. “
Yet, it wasn’t just feeling like I was too old for the app that put me off; it was the idea that women want the same 20 things out of their partner. For instance, lifestyle choices like “#420” and “#PlaysTheDidgeridoo” are both ranked in the negative, which might make my Burning Man-loving friends irritated. Nowhere are choices like, “#KillerGuitarist” (or, conversely, “#OverlyAttachedToHisGuitar”), “#BookWorm,” or “#CoolestJob.” Similarly, it assumes we all want the same thing: a committed relationship with a super-devoted traditional guy. (Note: There is no option to review girls, but Schwartz says they are working on options.) For a service that touts itself as the “First-Ever App For Girls,” it is sad to have it feel so one-dimensional.
When we spoke to cofounder Schwartz, she was very clear that this is not supposed to be the only purpose of Lulu, and that growth, expansion, and nuance is imminent. (Remember, Facebook started out as a similar service when it first hit the ground at Harvard.) “We started with relationships because we know its an incredibly important area, but our vision is to expand into all areas that women care about, including careers, health, and beauty,” she told us. Of course, there are plenty of services out there that allow women to rate beauty products or doctors, and having someone be a Facebook friend as a requisite to “review” them is difficult to replicate in the career sector. Yet, Schwartz’s idea for a women-only community for feedback and discussion makes a tremendous amount of sense — as the rapidly increasing popularity of Lulu proves. Yet, as both my friend and I both discovered, nothing is quite as exciting as morbid curiosity.