Enough with Numbers

Misogyny takes root in simplicity

“I’d say she’s like, a six-and-a-half, maybe seven,” are words that are still burned in my brain. They were said by some boy — who I didn’t even know, who I never even spoke to again, who I wouldn’t want to if I could — talking to my then-friends my sophomore year of high school. The image of him waving his hand to go with those words is burned right next to it, along with the smirk.

I had just come back from the lunch line while the friends were passing time by apparently asking the boy to rank my looks. Not to ask whether I was cute, like they were trying to set me up (that of which would not be unusual; I had and would be perpetually single until after high school, which was usually seen as a problem to fix). No, they just wanted a ranking: some single quantifier to determine how worthy I was of lust.

I joined them by banging my plastic tray a little too loudly on the table. I was just starting to get into feminism at that age with a blog I started following. So I knew there was something wrong with this scene, but as someone who could barely cut in two words in class, I was not ready to verbally articulate it yet. Plus, I was still untangling which social norms were acceptable versus not. So part of me still thought six-and-a-half, maybe seven? That’s not too bad, that means I’m higher than average, right?

“What am I, then?” asked one of the friends, leaning in.

“Nine, no doubt,” the boy said, leaning back.

“And me?” asked the other friend as the first wrapped her curly hair around her finger, satisfied.

“I think an eight,” he said before he had to go (apparently he was skipping a class for this). The girls leaned toward each other again and started giggling.

This was the moment I began to resent these friends — in case you couldn’t tell, we no longer consider ourselves such. Granted, they weren’t all the right resentments. The first one that came to mind were actually quite petty: of course I was ranked the lowest, that’s the kind of friend I am, that’s what I’m there for.

It didn’t take me long to realize why I was really pissed off. Being used as a prop instead of being treated like a human will do that to you. I got the feeling the friends knew the boy better than I did; they might have thought they’d automatically get a higher “ranking” due to their association with him. What was particularly frustrating was that they had been claiming for most of the year how they were gonna help me get a boost in confidence.

Whether to be more angry at them or the boy is more conflicting. On the one hand, I wish girls would learn the lesson not to pit one against another, especially if they’re supposedly friends. On the other hand, the boy was the one who answered, and he was the one in the position of power. My friends had been implicitly taught opinions like his — because they’re “his” and not “hers” — are more important.

Some might argue I shouldn’t care either way. If the boy or the girls were more at fault, it still left me with the impact of that number seven. That number seven that says maybe if I did more upper-arm exercises the perkier boobs may lift me up to an eight, rather than letting me focus on being strong enough to ever beat anyone at arm wrestling. That number seven that told me I should resist getting braces despite needing them to correct chronic jaw pain, because a nineteen-going-on-twenty-one-year-old who wears braces is definitely downgrading herself. That number seven that leads to occasional bouts of obsession in the mirror, pointing out why my stomach/hip-dip/acne was what caused me to be “mediocre” (the title of a self-pitying article I thankfully deleted before I even finished).

But if we argue that, then what does that really solve? Any problem, including social ones, can’t be fixed without figuring out the cause. Girls to blame? Gotta work through that internalized misogyny to understand we don’t always have to be in competition with one another, especially about something so subjective (and unimportant to contributing to the human experiment) as looks. Boy(s) to blame? Need to address their ingrained perceptions of women and how it affects their treatment, which in turn provides a self-fulfilling prophecy for girls and women.

After all, we couldn’t possibly recognize both factors as existing and interacting with one another, right? Because that would make it complicated. God knows we can only focus on one thing at a time. If any one thing in social justice.

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