What is it about teenagers that compels them to make "lists" of girls? And with the advent of Facebook, are these lists getting worse?
The latest offense to make headlines is a Facebook page displaying photos of female students at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA, along with sexual comments about the girls. According to the Washington Post, the page has now been removed, but not before principal Suzanne Maxey went on the school PA system to ask kids not to read it, basically ensuring that they would. This is far from the first time high-schoolers have used lists to systematically slam girls — last year, a group of senior girls at a New Jersey high school made news for their "slut list" of incoming freshmen, a years-old tradition that "basically consists of a list of girls and little blurbs of something degrading." These lists aren't just for teenagers — employees at a Dublin branch of PriceWaterhouseCoopers caused a scandal when they emailed around a list of their "top 10" hottest female coworkers. And of course, the Duke Fuck List proves that girls can list guys too — but one reason it caused such an uproar is that reversing the gender roles is so uncommon. Getting reduced to a hotness (or sluttiness) ranking on a Facebook or notebook page has been a chick thing since time immemorial.
Or at least since 1998. It was sophomore year, if memory serves, that the boys at my high school made their list of girls. Each girl was categorized as "pretty," "average," or "ugly," and a few had supplementary comments like "big boobs," "bad teeth," or "is nice." We girls were incredibly excited to get a hold of the list when it was "accidentally" leaked to us, and the strange thing is, I don't remember any of us even being mad. My awful eighth-grade year an all-too-recent memory, I was relieved to have squeaked by with "average." The worst possible fate seemed to be getting left off the list entirely, as a few girls were — that meant the boys didn't notice you at all.
To their credit, some students at T.C. Williams stood up against the unknown (at least by the Post) creators of the Facebook page, leaving comments like "Take this down" and "This isn't true." Their list also sounds worse than ours — I don't remember any of the "notes" on our list being explicitly sexual. It's possible that the advent of Facebook has upped the ante on the girls' list, or that kids today are just more brazen than they used to be (although the cartoons my friends and I drew in sixth grade suggest that we too knew how to be disgusting). One thing that's true is that cultural obsessions have shifted — the Columbine shootings happened when I was in high school, and adults were way more concerned about teen violence than teen sex.
All that said, though, one fundamental concept hasn't changed much: the idea that getting formally and publicly evaluated for your hotness/sluttiness/whatever is something you just have to accept when you're female. When I was in high school, it was understood not just that this evaluation would happen, but that whatever the boys put down was the True and Objective measure of your attractiveness (and, by common cultural extension, your worth). Later, I learned to stand up to this kind of shit — as the girls of T.C. Williams apparently already have. But everything from street harassment to obnoxious magazine features still tells girls that they are subject to constant outside evaluation, and that the results of said evaluation constitute Who They Really Are. I'm not always a fan of the term "objectification" (its use often oversimplifies sexual politics), but few things more literally objectifying than becoming an item on a list. And while people are always going to discuss one another's hotness, I wish they'd learn to acknowledge that, hot or not, we're human beings.
Facebook Woes Hit T.C. Williams High School [Washington Post]
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