Maryland High School Students Confront Male Behavior In #MeToo
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The national conversation about what constitutes appropriate behavior between men and women came to a high school in Maryland recently. Eighteen senior girls had been ranked by some of their male peers based on their looks. NPR's Eliza Dennis reports on what the girls did next.
ELIZA DENNIS, BYLINE: They call it the list, and it left many girls at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School upset, angry and ready for change. Paloma Delgado, a senior, was already organizing an event to address just this type of behavior. It was called the ABCs of Modern Masculinity - Raising Boys Without Lowering Expectations. And it couldn't have come at a better time.
PALOMA DELGADO: Thank you guys all so much for coming out.
DENNIS: Paloma ran part of the event from a high-top table in a local restaurant. It was packed. Students doubled up in armchairs and sat on the floor. With help from her family and a high school teacher, Paloma put together four and a half hours of student and guest speeches, a film screening and a panel discussion, all about boys and masculinity.
PALOMA: I think we need to hold them to a higher level of accountability because I think we can expect more from them.
DENNIS: The evening wasn't supposed to be that long. But when news of the list leaked, Paloma decided to add some speakers, including senior Virginia Brown.
VIRGINIA BROWN: I could have been ranked a 0.0 or a 10.0, and it wouldn't have made a difference to me. I think the...
DENNIS: Brown was on the list. At first, she was angry.
VIRGINIA: Because you feel so violated. I think you feel very - just gross being in your own body. I remember walking into class and seeing them. I just felt like I had to stay in my desk the whole period, like, sitting behind them so they couldn't see me because I just felt like everywhere I was, I was just being analyzed, like something I would do might bring me down to a lower ranking.
DENNIS: According to The Washington Post, which brought national attention to this story, the administration investigated the list and gave one male student one day of in-school detention.
VIRGINIA: We decided that in-school suspension for a day wasn't enough. They could just sit there. They could joke around. They would do their homework. And life would go on. And this would happen again.
DENNIS: Instead of calling the boys out, the students chose to call them in. They didn't demand that they not walk at graduation or miss prom. They chose to help them learn. And that process started even before Paloma's event. The school convened a meeting. For more than two hours, a group of girls and boys got together to discuss the list and how it made them feel. Nicola Schmidt was watching her male classmates' reactions.
NICOLA SCHMIDT: They went into the meeting first, you know, with a very negative attitude toward the whole situation and kind of like, this isn't our fault. This happens all the time. Like, why are we in trouble for this?
DENNIS: But, says Gabriela Jeliazkov, the mood changed quickly.
GABRIELA JELIAZKOV: So many girls shared their experiences with sexual harassment, with eating disorders, with catcalling and how it's an everyday part of their life. And a lot of people didn't even leave with dry eyes.
GREGORY SHANE: Before, I wasn't really thinking about this.
DENNIS: That's Gregory Shane (ph).
GREGORY: And I could even see how within my own behavior, there are times when I should have told my friends to stop.
DENNIS: And the girls said the meeting worked. A group of students, including some of those responsible for the list, are now working on a presentation to educate younger students about misogynistic behavior and how to address it. So the discussion is not over. And Nicola Schmidt says that's a good thing.
NICOLA: I think we couldn't have expected a better outcome because when the boys came out of the meeting after hearing our stories, they realized that this is so much more than just a list. It's about, like, a whole toxic culture that they were playing into and that, like, we had to live in.
DENNIS: Eliza Dennis, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.