College Website Rates Female Students as Sex Objects

Filed under: In The News, Teen Culture

ratebu

A Boston University student started the RateBU.com website to rate female classmates. Credit: Corbis

That girl sitting across from you in your political science class is a straight-A student who works two jobs so she can be the first person in her family to graduate from college.

She also finds time to volunteer at a preschool for children with developmental disabilities.

But who cares about that? She's got a great butt and boobs that won't quit! Tell the world!

A website at Boston University lets male students rate their female classmates as pieces of meat.

Justin Doody, the engineering student who created RateBU.com, claims it's all in good fun.

"I never meant for the site to be sexist at all," he tells the Washington Post.

The idea is hardly original. Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, made his first foray into social media in 2003 with FaceMash. As a sophomore at Harvard University, Zuckerberg pulled photos of women off campus servers.

Doody tells the Post he stands on higher moral -- and legal -- ground by only taking content submitted by users. A lot of the submissions come from the female students themselves, he claims.

Maybe so, says a professor at the University of Iowa who studies gender roles. But Meenakshi Gigi Durham tells ParentDish Doody only thinks he's taken the high road. He's really just wallowing in the same old sewer.

"We're in a social and sexual culture that, despite the feminist gains that have been made, persistently defines women in terms of sexuality and positions men as the arbitrators of their sexual worth," she says. "This is a really regressive phenomenon that gives men a great deal of social power and reduces women's -- especially women's ability to be recognized as multidimensional human beings with worthwhile characteristics other than male-defined 'hotness.' "

Durham's work focuses on media and the politics of the body, with an emphasis on gender, sexuality, race and youth cultures. She is the author of "The Lolita Effect," a 2008 book about how girls are forced to become too sexy too soon.

She tells ParentDish RateBU.com is just an extension of the message young men and women get every day.

"Both men and women internalize these messages and can't see a problem with them, as there's very little out there that might challenge or critique them," she says. "Magazine cover lines encourage women to strive for 'hotness,' and at the same time, coach men to evaluate women solely on that basis."

That's fine with with him, Doody tells the Post.

"I saw an opportunity to do it in a different way," Doody tells newspaper. "I think most people understand the site is a big joke and not meant to be taken seriously. It's not meant to be malicious at all."

Then again, maybe the girl who gained weight after losing her father to cancer doesn't want her dress size publicly critiqued.

The Post reports numerous students are protesting what they feel is an invasion of privacy. The student government recently passed a motion condemning the website as "offensive" and asking students not to use it.

At least one Facebook group has been organized to protest the site.

"I think it's completely disgusting and degrading," Nicole Rojas, the junior journalism major who created the Facebook group, tells the Post. "I don't believe degrading girls should be a form of entertainment."

But Doody tells the Post the site just gets more and more popular. He claims the main page features more than 630,000 votes on more than 400 women. He says he has no plains to add section for male photos.

Websites such as RateBU.com are anything but harmless fun, Durham tells ParentDish.

"We live in a media-saturated environment, so media concepts of male-female relationships become the social norm, playing out in real life in various ways, like on this website," she says. "As a result, the possibility of ethical, equitable, inclusive and mutually affirming relationships becomes less and less likely.

"What's the future for women's advancement if men keep viewing women in these really primitive and sexist ways?"

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.