The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Teen boys rated their female classmates. Readers responded by sharing their own stories.

Students at Bethesda Chevy Chase High School are curating an art exhibit about toxic aspects of teen culture, partly in response to a recent list that ranked female students by their looks. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Earlier this month, a group of boys at a Maryland high school circulated a list of names of their female classmates, ranked and rated on the basis of their looks. Dozens of girls decided to speak out, demanding a conversation with their male classmates about toxic masculinity.

A Washington Post article about the list prompted more than 4,000 comments on the story and scores of others on social platforms. Men and women recounted objectifying experiences in high school, college and the workplace — lists pinned on locker room walls, handed out in cafeterias, left in an office printer.

[Read the article: Teen boys rated their female classmates based on looks. The girls fought back.]

Readers made clear that it’s not only boys who objectify their peers by their looks — girls also judge boys, and each other, based on their appearances. It’s human nature to rank others by physical attractiveness, but when does a ranking become harassment? Will lists like the Maryland teenagers’ ever become a relic of the past?

The comments below have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

‘I was rated with the lowest score.’

Utzscre, from the Washington Post comments section.

“I am 52 and can still remember the moment ... when I heard that among a group of girls I was rated with the lowest score. I was 14 then. I still remember it which goes to show the impact it had. Good to see that girls are not taking this crap anymore.”

Donna Greenberg, from the Washington Post’s Facebook page.

“When I was in seventh and eighth grade, this is ’66, ’67, the boys in class had ‘rank’ books. They used those black and white composition books to put various ‘grades’ next to their girl classmates’ names and passed them around. The categories ranged from chest size to perceived beauty to ‘do-ability’ among other demeaning thoughts. This among 12- and 13-year-olds. Invariably, the books ended up in the girls’ hand and the effect was devastating to many. Even with supposedly ‘positive’ grades, the results were embarrassing and mortifying to young girls.”

Mallcon, from the Washington Post comments section.

"Ah, this brings back memories of one of my proudest moments in high school. It was 1977, 1978 (if) only more senior girls would have had the chutzpah in those days. The way our school was designed there were only two entrances into the cafeteria along the same rather narrow hallway. School was built in the late 1800s.

The jocks, as we called them, would line up and get scorecards out to rate the girls and hoot and holler, etc. Tired of this, a large group of us females made sure we beat them to the hallway, got our scorecards out and behaved just like the guys, and oh, were they upset. Boo hoo. It did not stop entirely but the message was sent.”

‘Our culture is steeped in lookism.’

CastuloGuerra, from the Washington Post comments section.

“You know and I know that women compete with each other on looks. As do men. Our culture is steeped in lookism, all countries, all people, everywhere. As near as I can tell what the boys did wrong was keep a written score and then let the scoring table find its way into the wrong hands."

Skrut003, from the Washington Post comments section.

“When I was on my high school track team in 1979, us guys on the team returned to our locker room after practice one day to discover that the girls on the team had pinned a list of all us boys to the wall, ranked with a star rating according to our looks. I wasn’t offended, perhaps because I happened to top the list, but I wonder how the boys at the bottom of the list felt. But it was a nonissue, really. Us guys had a similar list in our heads, but we never wrote it down — perhaps because we didn’t want to offend any of them (most of them weren’t that attractive to us). If we had produced a list, however, I doubt it would have become a scandal. They had done it us, after all. My point is that every teenager in high school — male or female — has a ranking list in their head of other students they find attractive or not. The boys sharing such a list among themselves is not toxic masculinity. It’s just teenagers being horny. Girls constantly rank the guys they think are attractive. Don’t deny they do. I’m not saying guys don’t mistreat girls sometimes, but that list in and of itself is not a scandal. Other behavior might be, but not preparing a list.”

“Word got out.”

M. Collins, from the Washington Post comments section.

“I remember an incident exactly like this in my small liberal arts college, recently gone coeducational, back in 1979. Some of the male freshmen drew up a list rating their female classmates, and circulated it privately, with the ones who got to read it bursting out in guffaws and generally boorish delight in the hallways.

Word got out.

There was a huge kerfuffle among the staff, the alumni community, and finally in the small-town newspaper. The 19-year-olds responsible were hauled up before the college dean of students and the president, parents were called in and they were threatened with expulsion. The guys apologized publicly in a gathering of all the college students (as I said, it was a small college, less than 1,000 students).

Most outraged of all were the alumni, graduates from the 1920s to the 1960s. To them, from a pre-PC era, the thought that well-educated, responsible young men would behave like that toward their women classmates was deeply disturbing, a sign of things falling apart. Hard to believe in these times, which holds that the past was deeply unenlightened on gender matters.

In some matters, lessons need to be retaught to each generation, lest we regress.”

Jaxx2thmaxx, from the Washington Post comments section.

“I will confess, I have on many occasions ‘rated’ women when talking among male friends. It's not a constant activity, but it's an easy 'shorthand’ among buddies casually discussing female acquaintances or even women we see out at public events.

I don’t think there’s necessarily anything horrible about doing that if you’re not doing it in a mean-spirited way, but I would never tell a woman what ‘number’ I thought she or other women were, and I honestly wouldn’t blame parents or teachers if they wanted to discourage this practice in youth.”

“Grrrrrr. I was very young”

LilyBell, from the Washington Post comments section.

“I used to work at a national magazine and found a similar list on an office printer. I guess some men never grow up. It was the late 90s and a very different culture, so the only thing I did was vent about it to my male boss. He told me that it was obvious to him that the only reason I mentioned it was because I wanted attention because I had a ‘high ranking.’ Grrrrrr. I was very young and it’s one of those moments I wish I could have back for a do-over.”

Jenl41, from the Washington Post comments section.

“I’m a doctor, and when I was in MEDICAL school, there was a group of MEN who made a list, ranking the women in our class based on their looks. Men in their 20s, presumably of higher-than-average intelligence! This was in the 90s but I doubt much has changed. I don’t think many women in my class were aware of these rankings, and those who were were mostly able to just condemn the immaturity and not be traumatized to the extent that high school girls would be, but I think some were humiliated. I’m just sharing this to demonstrate how pervasive this kind of thing is.”

Lori, caller from Montgomery County, Md.

“When my daughter was in fifth grade, the boys were using code words to refer to the girls’ body parts during lunch and in the classroom. The code word the boys used to refer to a girls’ chest was ‘bugga.’ She was definitely uncomfortable because they were laughing about it after they said it. When the girls tried to bring it to the teacher’s attention, she didn’t quite believe it. Afterward, when the students figured out who told on them, she and her friends were labeled goody goodies.”