Mobile phone apps encouraging women to 'train' their boyfriends like pets and rate unsuspecting men on their looks are on the rise: but is it offensive, or all just a bit of fun...?
As a white, straight, middle class, able-bodied male it's rare I get asked to write about whether I feel objectified or discriminated against by anything.
A good job really. After all, there is no sound as unpleasant as a privileged male trying to pull a 'poor me' when people of every other category on earth are still, on some level or another, embroiled in a fight for their rights.
But in recent weeks, three different phone apps have raised the perplexing question of whether men are being objectified by women - and not in that harmless, Diet Coke break, six-pack on a billboard, balancing-out-an-inherently-sexist-media kind of way, either.
These apps are more in line with lad's mag sites still peddling dated ideas about how women should behave, or worse, 'revenge porn' sites where women are held up to be shared, rated and criticised without even knowing.
To discover whether it's a problem worth taking to the streets about (well, Twitter at least), I took a look for myself.
The first app is 'Boyfriend Trainer', which encourages its users - anyone aged four or over - to electrocute, hit or mace their virtual boyfriend for misdemeanors ranging from being untidy to looking at other girls. You can also choose to keep him on leash. It's a sort of human male Tamagotchi for those who used to enjoy letting their pixilated cat die in a pile of its own pixilated shit.
"Crack that whip and teach your guy a thing or two about being the Perfect Boyfriend! When scolding doesn't work, just zap him, whack him and train him to be your ideal man!" says publisher Games2Win. Presumably there is an advanced difficulty level where users have to employ cold silences and a refusal to have sex to get their man to shape up.
Similar but more sophisticated is the app 'GoodBoy' which aims to improve not a virtual boyfriend, but your real one.
Downloaded to both you and your partner's phone, the app tracks the man's performance in all sorts of tasks from housekeeping to listening to personal hygiene, with the woman acting as a sort of bank manager handing out credits for good behaviour. According to the app's creators, the men can then cash the credits in for rewards like "watching the game all afternoon - with no arguments".
Are either of these apps 'offensive'? Well, no, not really. The stereotype they both employ of the 'useless man-child' who needs moulded into a grown up by a woman is annoying, but it has always existed, from Chaucer to any current TV advert about DIY or washing-up powder.
If anything, 'Boyfriend Trainer' sounds like it might, in a bizarre way, get the message through to young girls that they shouldn't be manipulated during their formative relationships, a common experience that holds more dangers now than ever before.
As for 'GoodBoy', the bit that most grates is the name. Beyond that it strikes me as just as offensive to women as it is to men to suggest that they need to distribute digital 'credits' to get their man to treat them with respect and affection. Just dump him and pick someone better, sister.
Which brings us to the last of the so-called anti-man apps, Lulu.
Lulu invites women (and only women) to sign up via Facebook, at which point all of their male friends are automatically sucked in and held up for appraisal by a community that, if reports are to believed, resembles one of those unhappy hen parties you sometimes see in nightclubs jeering bitterly at any bloke who happens to wander past with his WKD.
Every man pulled unwittingly into Lulu land is ascribed ratings based on their looks, spending habits, manners and ambition, along with helpful hashtags like #SexualPanther, #kinkyintherightways or #NapoleonComplex (the possibilities, I assume, are endless).
All very unedifying stuff of course (unless you happen to be #SexualPanther), but really, is the app doing anything more than recreating what we do in real life from time to time?
Men and women alike will sit with friends and discuss past and potential partners, evaluating them on everything from their bodies to the depths of their characters. And it's not exactly 'consensual' then, is it? At least this way we can't accidentally overhear it all on our way to the kitchen.
The uncomfortable aspect of it for me is that, if I were on Lulu, those judgments would potentially be made and shared by people I've never even met. No different, I suppose, to if you were famous - which let's face it is the primary illusion social media allows us to indulge in anyway.
In any case, this sort of thing has existed on the internet since the beginning. 'Hot Or Not' was a popular site when I was a young teen, only it involved people uploading their own best pics and sitting back to see what average score out of 10 they got, hoping for some kind of self-esteem boost. You'd rate others while you were waiting, but if you were anything like me never had the heart to give anyone less than a 7 anyway.
For some people, the ultimate test of whether a thing is sexist or in any other way discriminatory is to simply flip the victim with the perpetrator. If men were using an app that automatically shared their female Facebook friends with strangers, then sat rating them for pleasure, would it be objectifying?
Well yes, clearly. But it is nothing compared to what some men are actually doing women online without their consent.
On sites like Pink Meth, highlighted in a recent Telegraph blog, girls as young as 16 are being ritually humiliated as ex-boyfriends upload nude pictures of them sent in a past act of trust.
Not content with publishing the content, Pink Meth links it to the individual girl's social media information (name, age, address, etc.) and actively encourages its users to inform their victim's real life friends and family. It's dangerous in the worst possible ways, and the comments left beneath these girls are among the most depressing, inhumane and cruel you're ever likely to read. And what's worse is that it is all done legally.
All of which, of course, puts a few insulting or gossipy phone apps into perspective. Most men would be disgusted by sites like Pink Meth and revenge porn in general, but depressingly, plenty are clearly very much on board with it. My instinct is to believe that for women, stuff like Lulu is as far as they would go in getting kicks out of judging men without their consent. It's not a competition, of course, but I know which 'offends' me more - and which I think we should be campaigning to have removed.Suggest a correction