It was the great Louis C.K. who recently asked, “How do women still go out with guys, when you consider the fact that there is no greater threat to women than men?” A hyperbolic statement to be sure (the greatest threat is actually heart disease), but he makes a fair point: the rise of violent “revenge porn” and Internet anonymity have made an entire generation of women more vulnerable to unwanted attention than ever before. That’s what a female economics student had in mind when she developed Lulu, an app which allows its female-only users to rate and assign men a score based on a multiple choice quiz.
The process is very cloak-and-dagger: Lulu assures you that it will “NEVER post to Facebook” on your behalf, though it seems to have access to so much of your personal information that such reassurance seems superfluous, considering the privacy you’re already giving up. Locate the guy you’re looking to rate, and the experience becomes some sort of like a warped crossover between Yelp and Twitter. Daniel Stern, a Northwestern sophomore and my friend, asked me to download the app so he could see the hashtag-based evaluations and numerical rankings that girls had evidently been assigning him.
“In some ways, it’s cool – it’s nice to know what girls are thinking about me,” he said when I asked him how the rankings made him feel (he’s got a good average score, an 8.4). “But a lot of it is just subjective, and it’s scary that others could be judging me for something that is mostly out of my control.”
In fact, the app is a tornado of biased subjectivity, starting with with the concept of the app as a girls-only club where the wronged get the chance to lash out against those who did the wronging. Allowing girls a space to commit the same kind of passive social crimes committed by decades of hollering men in lawn chairs isn’t even footing, it’s the problem mirrored back on itself. “I guess it’s empowering women, which is good,” continued Stern. “But on the other hand, if men had an app like this for women, it would be a huge controversy. I think the point of feminism is equality, and the app doesn’t necessarily promote that.”
Plus, hello, this is 2013 — most of us have grasped by now that people don’t fit snugly into traditionally heterosexual male and female boxes, they never have and they never will. Giving a straight girl the chance to scroll through old hookups on her iPhone is social reduction under the guise of universality; that notion of “we’re all fighting the same battle.”
Need another example? The choices of “good” and “bad” hashtags range from goofy to just plain sexist. Highlight a guy’s best qualities with gems such as #PlaysHouse, #AlwaysPays and (my personal favorite) #MrDarcy, or condemn him to a bad rating with #NotTheSharpestKnife or #CheaperThanABigMac. How is this any better than gossipping boys admiring a girl’s ass? It isn’t. It’s sneakier, in that it’s wrapped up in a velvet bow of female “solidarity.”
With the arrival of the 21st century Burn Book, it appears that some of us could do with a second (okay, fifteenth) viewing of Tina Fey’s timeless classic: “Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter. Ruining someone’s life won’t make yours any better.” The only thing that we can try to do is to solve the problem in front of us, but when the problem is the alluring pull of technology, it’s going to become harder and harder for us to resist.