I was out at a club last night and a man came up to me and said, “You’re in my top five.”
Evidently, he had surveyed all of the women in the club and he decided that I was one of the five most attractive that he’d most like to take home.
He beamed when he said this—thinking that hearing this would make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. What he couldn’t have understood (because, as a man, he has probably not been constantly evaluated and ranked against his fellow men) is that his comment made my stomach churn.
On another night out with girlfriends, a man walked up to our group and told me, in front of everyone, that I was the hottest girl there. A feeling of guilt rose up in my stomach and I prayed that the others missed what he said.
I knew that this man had just turned what was a celebratory night into a competition. He had wounded my relationship with them by making them feel less than.
He degraded all of us by reminding us that we are always being quantified. That we are there for the men and not ourselves. That he is in the position of power. That there are collectively-agreed-upon standards constantly imposed upon us. That men are always assessing which of us he would get the most points for taking home.
While these comments may seem kind and well-intentioned, it is actually harmful, predatory behavior. In the wild, when predators try to hunt animals that travel in packs, they often have to create a diversion to separate members of the pack, therefore making the attack easier.
When men openly make it known to women that they are ranking us, we turn against each other, making it easier for them to close in on any one of us. Regardless of whether we are attracted to that man, he now holds the power to bolster or deflate our self-worth.
Whether or not we come out on top in the game they’re playing, knowing that we are being ranked causes all of us to feel self-conscious. It makes it almost impossible for us to form secure bonds with one another.
No wonder women are literally killing themselves to be beautiful. No wonder women are “catty” and “b*tchy” to each other. Wherever we go, we are being compared to one another. Krystine Batcho, Ph.D. writes,
“Competition, comparison, and being judged are often associated with stress, anxiety, depression, and less favorable images of self worth. People who interpret their worth from external indicators, such as the approval and attention of others; grades; and rankings, are especially vulnerable to depression in this environment saturated with judgment.”
Being subject to this scrutiny our whole lives, women may often internalize our ranking as who we are. For example, “I am a seven.” We begin to know where we fit in the hierarchy. This causes us to self-quantify and relate to ourselves as a number. Because appearance-based evaluation largely has nothing to do with our behavior or effort, we feel helpless.
We believe that no matter how great of a human we are, we can’t change that number. The desperation that this causes leads us to starve ourselves, hate ourselves, punish ourselves, undergo harmful surgery to change ourselves.
Now, of course, women rank men too. And when that happens, it’s certainly harmful. But because women are subordinate in the gender hierarchy, our evaluation of men is not nearly of the same caliber as men’s evaluation of women. Also, women’s ranking of men tends to be less singularly focused on appearance. It tends to include factors like personality, presence and occupation. Since men are ranked more on factors that entail effort—things they can actually do something about—it generates fewer feelings of helplessness.
I wonder what would have happened if I had retorted back to these men that they were not in my top five.
I wonder if his experience of the night would have altered if he knew that he was being stacked up against everyone of his gender in the room.
Author: Brandilyn Tebo
Image: Plata Club/Flickr
Apprentice Editor: Julie Barr; Editor: Catherine Monkman