It sounded like a game, maybe because it was based on a game. But what the high school boys who constructed a “fantasy slut league” seem to have missed was that they were “playing” with the idea that it’s okay to evaluate girls — their peers — on their looks, to sexually objectify them, and to demonstrate both the male entitlement and social bullying that accompanies labeling others publicly and “toying” with sexual reputation, particularly through social media.
When the story broke that a group of male athletes at Piedmont High School had constructed a “fantasy slut league” in which points were awarded for “scoring” with draft picks by the end of the school year, it seemed like an opportunity for dialogue about how the language of conquest and braggadocio of sports co-opts boys into learning it’s acceptable to view girls as objects of sexual acquisition and makes girls feel they are culturally valued them for their “hotness” and their use as sexual pawns.
Notably, knowledge of the league did come to light after a student assembly on date rape, implying a student likely came forward, perhaps realizing this falls into the category of coercive or predatory sexual behavior. Yet, since this activity took place off campus, the school claimed to have little jurisdiction and quickly sought to minimize the story by merely sending a letter home to parents promising more “educational assemblies” and then refusing media queries. In the letter sent home, superintendent Randall Booker writes that “the league has existed as “part of ‘bonding’ for some Varsity Teams during their seasons of sport” and acknowledges that students, “both male and female” participated “either willingly, under pressure from older students or under social pressures to be popular.”
Despite putting a finger on some of the key issues involved, the school seemed more concerned with shutting down the outrage this story provoked, mentioning that some students were concerned with prioritizing how this news might affect their future college applications. In one article the author writes that administrators are “encouraging visits to the high school’s Wellness Center for any student who want to talk about it confidentially.” The idea that those affected – likely girls – should be the ones to seek counseling while there was no move to punish those who perpetuated the league and its culture of systemic degradation of girls is appalling.
In an article for The Daily Beast author Lizzie Crocker cites examples of other “leagues” with similar intentions. She quotes “Tom” as saying, “Ultimately, boys are naughty. It’s in their DNA” — by which he means they are not expected to take responsibility for their actions and are incapable of controlling themselves, a position patriarchal society reinforces with the idea that “girls must be in control” when faced with the feral impulses of their male peers. This sets up a paradigm that condones predatory behavior and constructs a “blame the victim” argument when girls are harmed. Rejecting any sort of punishment for the boys involved at Piedmont only reinforces this mindset.
Crocker does point out moments when girls have also sexually objectified boys, quoting one female student who says she didn’t mind being picked and who vehemently rejects the status of “victim.” What’s missing is a step further in analysis. Why are girls taught to accept that being ranked for their looks is of value? Do they realize the ways in which they are complicit within a patriarchal system that co-opts their sexuality for male gain, i.e. the points awarded in the league. Have these girls truly understood the degree to which they have internalized a system in which they are being used in a game controlled by their male peers? We still live within a culture where girls learn they are valued for their looks/appearance, and boys are pressured to understand status based on sexual prowess. Could girls feel pressure not to be noted for their brains in class and sense of ambition, but rather their looks? When secret “slut leagues” circulate within a student population, however covertly or overtly, there is no doubt that the outdated gender expectations reinforced are harmful to girls — and to boys — on all levels.