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03 May 2013

Watch That First Step; It's a Lulu!

I learned from several of my students last night that I am on Lulu. It was a bit of an old-man moment because I had never heard of it. The company describes it as "the first ever app for private reviews of guys," where "[w]hen you meet a new dude, [you can] check his Lulu profile, and find out everything you want to know!" It integrates Facebook profile information, and the company goes to great lengths to keep men from surreptitiously infiltrating the service by changing their gender or creating a fake account on Facebook. My students tell me that many men are not so happy with the app, claiming that it is reverse sexism or libelous. Sociologically, men's negative reactions should not be surprising. Men have been engaging in the same kind of systematic objectification in locker rooms and bars for generations. To be subjected to the same practices challenges the status that men enjoy over women.

Does that mean that Lulu is good for women? I think there are two perspectives here. Within the current social system, Lulu does indeed open social space for women that was once the sole purview of men. While men have been able to control physical spaces, restricting women formally and informally from places like locker rooms and bars, virtual spaces like a web-based app are much more difficult to control; technology is an equalizer in this way. From a broader perspective, however, Lulu only expands the dehumanizing practice of objectification. It arguably and unwittingly buttresses men's claims to women's bodies. ("Women do it, too!"  or "Women are just as bad as men.") Even if it does level the playing field, it does so by lowering the playing field. A more lofty goal would be to elevate both women and men's behavior, improving interpersonal relationships all around.

Oh, and all of this is incredibly heteronormative if I haven't mentioned that, yet.

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