If I Was a Number, What Would I Be? The Phenomenon of Rating and Ranking
If you were rated by your classmates in high school, you remember it. A few weeks into my freshman year, a trend cropped up on Facebook. My classmates were posting statuses that read “like for a rate,” which I soon learned ranked your physical attractiveness on a scale of one to ten. The verdict would then be posted on your wall for all your friends to see. I remember considering liking a few of these statuses, even briefly pondering posting my own before ultimately deciding against both.
About a week into the trend, I got a Facebook notification from a boy I had never spoken to. He had posted on my wall. Confused, I opened the alert, only to find that he had posted one solitary character: “7.” I had been rated without even liking his status. I replied in the form of a public comment. “I didn’t ask for a rate.”
Over the duration of my high school career, he was affectionately mocked by his friends for rating a girl who didn’t like his status, and, no less, giving her the lowest score of the evening. None of them remembered that it was me who he had rated or seemed to realize that hearing the story told in upbeat, joking terms, with me as the faceless punchline, only dragged out my shame and embarrassment.
I never spoke of it, acted out or reminded anyone that it was me. I had no idea until this week, when The Washington Post published an article about teenage girls fighting back against the boys rating them at school, that this trend was so widespread and long-lasting, and that other people were feeling as objectified and violated as I once had.
Rating takes different forms. My interest in the Washington Post story lead me to create a poll on Instagram about this phenomenon, and the results were unsettling. Out of the 97 people that responded to question “Were you ever rated in high school?” 77 said yes. Of those 77, 94% said they did not ask or consent to being rated. I also included an open-ended question that read “If so, how? (what medium?)”. This is where the diversity of experiences began to sink in. While not as many people responded, those that did informed an understanding of the larger trends.
Eleven people said they were rated on Formspring, ASKfm or another comparable website. These websites act as an anonymous question and answer platform, where anyone can send faceless, nameless messages to the account holder. Ten people indicated being rated in person, mainly during the school day. Nine people answered Facebook, similar to my experience, with three others listing other social media platforms. Seven people were rated on written lists, passed around among classmates until they ended up in the right, or wrong, hands.
Outside of these trends, I also received a number of disturbing, one-off stories. One respondent shared that her male classmates made a March Madness-style bracket with all the “hottest girls” on it. Another had male classmates that collaboratively wrote and shared a rap verse that rated “blowjob skills.” A third respondent said that when rankings about female-identifying classmates in a “boys only” group-chat leaked, those ranked responded by skipping lunch and wearing more makeup.
This, however, is not to say that all ratings and rankings were created and circulated by male-identifying students. A female respondent described a list made in the girls’ bathroom, rating boys and girls alike. Male respondents shared stories of being rated in person, on written lists, and with circulated post-it notes.
While the majority of respondents that answered affirmatively were female, men made up a sizable portion of responses and results. While this is undoubtedly a gendered, binary and heteronormative pattern, and the modes of ranking and sharing tend to vary based on gender, this trend clearly moves in more than one direction.
As a woman/female, assessed on the basis of my physical appearance by man/male individuals from a young age, my instinct is to blame this resilient form of bullying on male entitlement and privilege alone. Perhaps it is not so simple. Men rank me, and I, although in my own head, rank them right back. Are women merely retaliating and fighting back against the male gaze, or does the fundamental urge to superficially contextualize the other lie within us as well?
The most upsetting, although unfortunately not shocking, story shared was by a female-identifying young adult who, along with the other girls she worked with, was rated and ranked by her boss. Another urge we may have as college students, now able to look back on our secondary educations retrospectively and claim relative superiority to our former selves, is to believe we’ve outgrown these urges. Workplace harassment tells us otherwise.
If we let ourselves off the hook, claiming that rating classmates is a practice isolated to adolescence, we do not do our due diligence in acknowledging how early gendered, sexualized harassment begins. “Kids will be kids” is as inexcusable as “boys will be boys.” Problematizing the two is a vital first step in how we nurture and educate generations to come.