What Can We Learn From MKA Students’ Recent Sexist Blunders?

by Sarah Finn

In a special meeting held for seniors in mid-September, a gender issue was raised that left many girls and guys uncomfortable. In this meeting, students were informed that a Facebook group had been established last year by current senior boys, in which current senior girls were ranked based on attractiveness. After sharing this information, Mrs. Branigan stated her disappointment and her decision to not research any further into the group’s creators, as so many people were involved. For most seniors, the meeting was not the end of the discussion.

That night, I had a conversation about the rankings group with two friends, one male and one female. (The male friend was a member of the Facebook rankings group, though he never posted in it.) Our conversation began with my female friend and me discussing our initial shock about the existence of such a groupand our mutual fear that the list would be published and seen by girls. However, the discussion gradually became more personal, as we recognized that the list reminded us of something deeper.

My female friend and I started talking about the sexual harassment to which we had both become accustomed outside of school. We talked about things we had never shared before because we never really thought they were worth talking about, such as being honked at by strange men every time we go out for runs and getting heckled and hollered at by older men in public. We admitted that we both felt like targets every time we stepped outside.

After our conversation, my female friend and I realized that the Facebook rankings group brought the outside world in. Being ranked by men and feeling constantly subordinate and vulnerable were not new for us, nor were they new for most girls our age. We feel this sexism when men turn their heads around to watch us walk down a street. We feel it when men look at our bodies instead of our faces. I felt it when I was eleven  (cont’d on p. 3)      years old and a strange man groped me at a Yankees game. But this was the first time we felt this way at MKA, a place where we felt sheltered from that kind of treatment. A place where it was okay for us to have our guards down, because we trusted that we were being respected.

While the Facebook group did not physically or even verbally harass senior girls, we were being objectified and disrespected, and instead of by strangers, it was by our friends and classmates.

I did not and I still do not believe that friends of mine in this group, some of whom made this list, only saw me as a number, or an object of comparison. And I definitely do not believe that the boys who started this group are bad people, or equal to creepy predators. However, I do think that the group itself reveals an ignorance regarding the treatment of women in society.

I believe that the mistake of this Facebook group can and will be a learning experience for some of the boys in the senior class. As this is our last year together in high school, I have faith that we will recover communally from this blunder.

While it was an unfortunate way for the year to begin, especially given that the diversity theme for this year is gender, I believe that this incident gives girls the opportunity to have discussions, like my friend and I had. Girls, and I include myself in this, do not speak up enough, or maybe we’re not encouraged to speak up enough, about how we are made to feel in public.

Senior girls have been facing “women’s issues” since their pre-teen years, and yet they have been forbidden to talk about them. Now is the opportunity, and I hope that the senior boys will listen so they can become respectful men.

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