The Rating Game

Small, frail, almost delicate, my friend James prides himself on being a gentleman. The 23-year-old college student takes women companions to dinner without expecting or asking for favors in return; opens doors; even remembers to ask if they prefer Coke or Pepsi. He's the type of guy you wanted for a boyfriend when you first started dating. But he has a private habit."I keep a list of about 130 girls, and rate them in detail," he says casually. "I have a star rating, like you would for a restaurant or a hotel. The most a girl can get is five stars." James is not ashamed about this -- "Girls should consider it flattering, especially if they get a good rating" -- but he keeps his list to himself . "It's mine, it's private!!"James is not particularly handsome, and -- except for his impeccable manners -- there is little to make him stand out to women. But he feels he can judge what makes a woman worthy. "It's very personal and very comprehensive," he says. " A lot of guys just go on breast size or body shape, but I think about intelligence and personality, too. Right next to my comments about her looks, I put a personality rating -- 'bitch,' 'skank,' 'cool girl,' 'mean girl'--stuff like that." Then he said to me, "What are you looking so worried for? I gave you a good rating."We don't hang out much anymore.James is practically a grown man, a little old to be playing the ratings game. Even more troubling is the fact that it seems to begin with boys who are quite young -- and can become very public. This spring, controversy erupted at a Palo Alto, California middle school when several pre-teen male students built a web page devoted to the physical attributes of their female classmates. The web site was removed from the Internet -- but not before the world had learned these girls' breast sizes, the way they walked, who had cellulite -- and the girls had learned what the opposite sex considered valuable about them. By the time they reach high school, most girls know their "ranking" in male eyes--which parts of them measure up and which fall short. While some may throw themselves into the competition, even the "winners" say they feel diminished when they find out they've been ranked. "It's stupid and denigrating," says Elizabeth, 18. "If a man gives you a high rating, you might feel good for a minute, but then it starts making you feel self-conscious. Then you realize -- if a man is crude enough to be rating women in the first place, his thoughts aren't important anyway." A friend calls Sherwyn, 18, "the nicest person in the world." Yet Sherwyn admits, "I rate girls, all guys do--it's a natural thing, almost instinctive. I don't know anyone who has really outgrown the practice. I mean, I've seen my dad check out girls before, and he's almost 40." He concedes he has never heard of girls rating guys. "I can never remember a girl rating me," he says. "If such a thing did happen, I would feel very self-conscious no matter what the rating." Does he worry that he might be making girls feel the same way? "I try to make sure that no one finds out." If Sherwyn is right, there may not be much hope for the future of relations between the sexes. But some men his age show flashes of insight. "Guys rank girls to feel better about themselves," explains Melvin, 18. "It's a sad practice, but people are cruel when they're insecure. They're just covering up their own inadequacies." Melvin came by this understanding the hard way. As a high school freshman he was "initiated" into the football team. "The seniors would rank the girls attending the fall sports send-off ceremony," he recalls, "and if they felt a girl didn't rate, they'd send a freshman to eject her from the party. They made us act like referees -- we had whistles, the works. One of us would have to run up to a girl, blow the whistle, then shout something like 'illegal use of a stuffed bra, too much backfield in motion, too many zits on the playing field...YOU ARE OUT OF HERE!'" Melvin shakes his head sadly. "I shouldn't have done it," he says now. I made this girl cry. It turned out she had an eating disorder. I never participate in initiations anymore. "Yet he continues to rate women. "It is possible to be a gentleman and know how to keep your opinions private," he avows. He prefers to discuss a woman's qualities at length, in words, rather than using a numerical system. Darius, 17, doesn't rate girls at all. "I think it's childish, a waste of time, and just plain silly."Darius may not play by the rules, but according to his ratings-minded friends, his own girlfriends have all been of the highest order. Maybe his success comes because Darius relates to a girl as an individual--and she knows she's not being seen as more than a number. "I'd rather go out with a real girl than play around rating all the other ones," says Darius.There's no question what kind of rating he deserves.

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