A frantic text from a male friend read, “Are you familiar with Lulu… Can you try checking Lulu on me? If something is on there, can you snapshot and send it to me?”
Since its launch in February 2013, Lulu, the mobile dating app for women to anonymously review guys and their romantic capacities (or shortcomings), has sent a panicked chill through many a man.
By logging in through Facebook, women suddenly had access to profiles of their ex-boyfriends, best friends, and one-night stands. On Lulu, they could review them on a scale of one to ten and select any number of hashtags to describe them, including #ObsessedWithHisMom, #SleepsOnTheWetSpot, and #GoneByMorning. The good and the bad memories could be released in one fun cyber-klatch that felt more like venting to girlfriends over drinks than writing sketchy rants in Reddit groups (like the other gender has been known to do). More importantly—though perhaps less cathartic—women could read what their sisters-in-arms had to say about a potential love interest.
Men, unsurprisingly, tend to resent Lulu, and often hypocritically so, considering the ample revenge porn sites and other online groups devoted to objectifying and shaming former girlfriends via social media. And they were pretty successful at going after Lulu, too. While only two states in America can pull together revenge porn laws, in Brazil, one man successfully sued Lulu, and the app was subsequently blocked in the country.
It may either be a legal snafu or a general backlash that has led Lulu to make a major change to how the app operates. On Feb. 27, Lulu switched to an opt-in policy where men have to actively sign up rather than go out of their way to be taken down from the site. Lulu’s official statement is “We’ve decided to be the better woman and only have guys on Lulu who are open to feedback.”
The new opt-in policy for men is a significant step forward for Lulu. The company is setting a praiseworthy precedent for other sex and dating-rating apps, let alone the legally murky and ethically egregious revenge porn sites. (Disclosure note: IAC, the parent company of The Daily Beast, owns the dating app Tinder.)
But do you know what would be better? No rating sites and apps at all. Period.
Admittedly, it is a little late to stop evaluating and commenting on each other’s behavior online. While the Internet has provided a fantastic way to share reviews and personal experiences that can help us hold businesses and institutions accountable, when it comes to personal relationships, especially romantic ones, there are severe drawbacks—not only for those being reviewed but also the ones writing them.
Lulu was marketed as the “Yelp for Men.” Why would we think it’s good to choose boyfriends the same way we choose Italian restaurants? Yelp is great for sharing and searching out objective experiences about businesses and other professionally-related ratings. Lulu is about rating each other in our most vulnerable, intimate capacities as (physical and emotional) lovers. Not only is this arguably cruel, the objectivity that makes Yelp great for business reviews is completely lost.
Lulu claims on its site that it is a way to “unleash the value of girl talk and to empower girls to make smarter decisions.” More knowledge doesn’t always lead to smarter decisions, especially when you consider the sources. Since Lulu reviews are arguably far more subjective than any write-up about, say, a restaurant or a nail salon, from a purely pragmatic standpoint, they are far less useful. No one thinks a laundromat gets a bad rating because the reviewer has an ax to grind after the laundromat never called her back or was really selfish in bed.
In fact, these sorts of apps have the power to make the ones seeking out reviews feel more paranoid than empowered. We all make mistakes in dating that leave us completely ashamed or embarrassed in the aftermath. If women are bombarded with a prospective beau’s crappy sex and dating history, would they ever want to give him a chance—even if he actually now deserves one? On the other hand, if a guy had a lot of overly rosy reviews, how will we know he didn’t just put his friends, sisters, and cousins up to it? (Remember, any girl can enter ratings.)
But it’s more than the fact that ratings apps may not be as helpful to women as it seems in theory. They actually contribute to a toxic dating environment for both sexes. Some commentators initially commended Lulu for giving women a venue to objectify and rate men and thereby take back the power in the online dating game. But, a Cold War-style arms race between the sexes to amp who can be more skeevy and objectifying online isn’t going to improve the world of dating, no matter how fun it may initially seem.
Then there’s the issue of why men are bothering to opt in to apps like Lulu in the first place. According to Lulu’s press statement, it’s because “they want to get feedback from the Lulu community.” More likely, they’re terrified that if they don’t sign up, women will assume they are misogynistic creeps, and terrible in bed to boot. In this, they’re bowing to the pressure of anonymous female commentators. But no one would ever tell a victim of revenge porn to “get feedback from” those who comment on her video—so why should we expect men to follow advice that is often just a mask for maliciousness?
There’s no good reason to encourage men and women to scrutinize their ability to love and be loved based on the guidance of nameless commentators. Sometimes, too many cooks spoil the broth. Or the boyfriend.