First off, I have to credit Shanna Peeples, all-around cool edu-person and 2015 National Teacher of the Year, for the title of this blog, swiped from her Twitter feed. It’s about those marvelous young ladies, high school students in Maryland who confronted the boys who were rating their looks and ranking them on a list with numbers calculated to the hundredth place. And then passing the list around for up-to-the-minute updates.
If you missed the story, it’s well worth a read (here). The blog title should give you a clue: these girls were not having it.
Furthermore, they did something about it. When an administrator limited formal consequences to a single boy and asked the girls not to spread the story around, they organized, confronting their principal, gathering 80 students into an ‘intense’ co-ed meeting where they expressed their anger and discomfort, and putting a series of follow-up responses and conversations into action.
The young women interviewed in the story were powerfully articulate about why they wanted an end to this boys-will-be-boys nonsense.
“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.”
They also talked clearly about what it felt like to suddenly feel unsafe at school, when they already felt unsafe in the wider world. One boy—the contrite and admittedly ‘privileged’ young man who started the list—says All the Right Stuff. No mention of what other boys said and did. But Washington Post commenters had plenty to say, a lot of which was misogynistic labeling and get-over-yourself jabs.
No matter. I took great comfort in the article, imagining the girls just telling it like it is: Degrading. Dismissive. Sexist.
It’s hard to imagine this happening in many schools (and indeed, the girls got mixed messages from the administrators, who first tried to suppress and minimize the fallout, then later called the girls ‘brave and vulnerable,’ praising their actions).
There are places where this would be totally and instantly swept under the rug by administrators, with girls being told some version of ‘get used to it’ or ‘it’s no big deal.’ There are parents who would come in and throw their weight around, defending Jason who’s just a red-blooded American boy. There are teachers and coaches who would look the other way, not wanting to rock the boat. I might be wrong, but I am guessing most schools would prefer asinine sexist behaviors on campus be ignored, unless they impede the academic workings of the classroom or—God forbid—impact test scores.
The best part of the story is that it was students who did NOT let that happen. They demanded—and got—a hearing. They did the young men a solid, too, by explaining to them how it feels to be judged and categorized, a great lesson to learn before going off to college.
It was great to see the story in a major national newspaper. It reminded me, immediately, of the early days after the Parkland, Florida shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, as student leaders emerged and organized to have their say about the root causes of school shootings and what could and should be done to stop school-based violence. Like the young women at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, they had courage and passion and commitment. They grew into their roles. While the adults in charge stood at the sidelines, teenagers righteously took responsibility and control.
There’s also this: Both high schools were comprehensive and well-regarded, offering specialized courses and opportunities for kids to soar. The students in Maryland were all part of an International Baccalaureate program, and the students in Florida mostly knew each other from the school’s award-winning drama program.
The students were preparing for leadership roles already, through their schoolwork and after-school activities. It’s nice to see some tangible and important student leadership that’s not testing data or an adult-sponsored contest. Would that every high school student in America had the same educational background and opportunities.
The newspaper article says ‘there’s power in numbers’ and that’s undeniably true. But there’s also power in community, in belonging, in rallying with your friends to do something significant.
You go, young women. Thanks for speaking out. Photo credit: Tyler Nix