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Op-Ed: West High women are taking their power back


Lucy Polyak is a West High junior and West Side Story newspaper staff member. — photo by
Pareen Mhatre, West Side Story photo editor

By Lucy Polyak

“Boys will be boys” is a phrase that gets ingrained in everyone’s head from a young age. However, not once in my life have I heard the phrase “girls will be girls.” I came face-to-face with this realization a few weeks ago when something circulated my high school that would change the community forever.

On Oct. 18, a Google Spreadsheet, now nicknamed “the list,” made the rounds at Iowa City West High School. On this spreadsheet was a list of 94 girls ranked with a letter A through F, or placed in a separate category labeled “S.” It later came out that three junior boys created this list in what seemed like good fun to them, but felt more like the dropping of a bomb to most others. Everyone at my school was completely shocked to see this list. Girls on the list were found crying or skipping classes because they couldn’t be in school. Girls not on the list were disgusted by the idea that someone would feel so superior to others that they felt that they had the power to judge nearly one hundred young women like this.

All of this pain and disgust eventually found its way onto social media platforms. I saw a number of posts from girls who felt awful about their letter ranking on the list, and other posts from girls saying how much they detested that this happened. I had seen stories like this happen on TV and even in other places around the country, but I never expected anything like this to come to my school. My name wasn’t on the list, but I knew that there had to be some way to help a community that was hurting as much as mine was.

Food for thought: #EveryonesAnA

A post shared by lucy catherine polyak♛ (@lucy_polyak) on

That night, I shared posts on my Twitter and Instagram accounts about the importance of always being kind to others and that every single girl out there is a beautiful human being. At the end of these posts, I attached a hashtag that read “#EveryonesAnA” and encouraged others to do so as well. To my surprise, this hashtag began to spread like wildfire. I couldn’t have imagined the support that began to rally around this, even in my wildest dreams. Girls and boys alike were sharing posts in support of women out there who have ever been judged solely by their appearance. People I had looked up to for years were sharing compassion with this hashtag. The love that came out of the resulting movement was like nothing I’d ever seen before.

The next day, I was able to get together with a group of students and teachers to make uplifting posters to put around West High to continue to show the idea of the solidarity found in our community. Many of these posters are still hanging up today and they make me smile as I walk by them on my way to classes. To me, these posters represent a school that cannot be phased by the hurtful opinions of three boys with access to a computer.

A number of people came out against standing up for these women in such a public way. These people believed that leaving this problem alone would create a better solution than publicizing it as much as we were. They tried to explain the whole situation as being just a silly thing boys do. This struck a pretty serious chord with me. In an era where so much of female identity is tied to what a woman looks like, as seen in TV, movies and social media, publicly attacking the appearance of so many young women is nothing short of harassment. These boys need to be held accountable for their actions and these women should be allowed to publicly discuss the way they were made to feel in any manner they deem necessary.

This is why it’s essential to not just sweep problems like this under the rug. I couldn’t just watch this event unfold without at least trying to make anything even a little better. Giving a voice to the women who felt personally attacked by this list returned power to the people who felt like they had none.

The culture at West has seemed to change after this event. There seems to be a greater sense of solidarity, especially among women at school. Personally, I feel more comfortable even just talking to girls in my classes that I wouldn’t have imagined having the courage to talk to before. We’ve got common ground now. We’ve got power.


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