After a degrading list ranking high school girls surfaced at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, the group of girls banded together and took action.
For far too long now, boys and men have felt ownership over their women counterparts' bodies, regardless of whether they're in an informal or formal setting. Recently, a group of high school boys at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Maryland, United States, released a list of their classmates' names — all girls — "ranked" by order of attractiveness. If this sounds like something out of an archaic Hollywood coming-of-age movie, it's because it is. While girls have been taught to grin and bear embarrassing and unwarranted acts of harassment such as this, the group targeted in the list decided, "No. No longer." They put their foot down and ensured the boys were taught a lesson. Dozens of girls pushed for stricter rules against harassment and the protection of safe learning environments for all, The Washington Post reports.
The list was made public knowledge when rumors went around alleging that a group of boys had created and shared a list of girls ranked and rated on a scale from 5.5 to 9.4, rounding to the hundredth place. Eventually, everyone at the school had received a text message with a screenshot of the list, typed out on the iPhone Notes app. Though the list only surfaced recently, it was compiled over a year ago. Of course, this was a major breach of trust. The girls believed the boys in their classes were their friends but were left feeling violated, objectified, and ashamed by those they had willingly chosen to trust. Lee Schwartz, one of the other senior girls on the list, revealed that many girls felt scared to even go to the washroom in fear of boys scanning them and "editing their decimal points." She said, "Knowing that my closest friends were talking to me and hanging out with me but under that, silently numbering me, it definitely felt like a betrayal. I was their friend, but I guess also a number."
This is not the first time such a list was created or brought to light. In previous years, other graduating classes at Bethesda-Chevy Chase have created similar compilations. So have other classes in schools across the country and beyond. In fact, the very founding of social media platform Facebook was enabled because of a website that allowed college students to vote in order to compose such lists of women in their classes. It came as a shock to the girls at this particular high school because, as The Washington Post rightly points out, it was happening now, in the era of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Therefore, instead of sitting pretty and staying silent, dozens of girls decided to take action.
Initially, they approached the school administration. The group of girls demanded that the boys responsible face disciplinary action in response to the list, as well as a schoolwide awareness program to educate all students about the problematic systems of thinking and the toxic culture that permitted it to happen in the first place. Yasmin Behbehani affirmed, "It was the last straw, for us girls, of this ‘boys will be boys’ culture. We’re the generation that is going to make a change." However, they were quickly silenced and promptly instructed to not talk about it in or around school. They did learn, nonetheless, that the school had conducted an investigation following which one boy involved was awarded in-school detention for a grand period of one day (which would ultimately not show up on his record). School principal Donna Redmond Jones claimed that "there was definitely discipline applied" in line with the district's code of conduct.
This, as one would expect, was unacceptable to the group of girls who had banded together to fight for justice. Nicky Schmidt, whose name also appeared on the list, decided to text 15 girls she knew and asked them to show up at the school’s main office the next day during the lunch period — and bring their friends. She hoped to send a message about how girls "feel unsafe in this environment and are tired of this toxicity." At the "protest," she read from a statement she had written, affirming, "We want to know what the school is doing to ensure our safety and security. We should be able to learn in an environment without the constant presence of objectification and misogyny." After the demonstration, the group and the administration came to the consensus that they would have a meeting with the male students in the program, including the boys who created and shared the list.
During this meeting, which lasted two and a half hours, numerous girls delivered moving speeches about how they felt about the list and other experiences they had with sexual abuse, harassment, and objectification, both in and outside school. Reportedly, the meeting had a tangible impact, especially on the boys who compiled the list. After listening to the speeches, he felt he had been hurtful and apologized for his actions. In an interview with The Washington Post, he revealed, "When you have a culture where it’s just normal to talk about that, I guess making a list about it doesn’t seem like such a terrible thing to do, because you’re just used to discussing it. I recognize that I’m in a position in this world generally where I have privilege. I’m a white guy at a very rich high school. It’s easy for me to lose sight of the consequences of my actions and kind of feel like I’m above something... It’s just a different time and things really do need to change. This memory is not going to leave me anytime soon." While there's still a long way to go, this has been a major win for women everywhere.