The story of the list, the offensive and troubling ranking of young women that ricocheted around and beyond Oak Park and River Forest High School last week, is certain to garner outside, and outsized, attention.
And it definitely should.
And it definitely shouldn’t.
It shouldn’t because this list, with its slurs and its hatefulness, was the work of one young man. Seemingly, it was a repeat performance of a similar list by the same person two years back. We’re not counselors, but we’re comfortable in concluding that this person has a range of issues that need genuine intervention. He’s gone. We’re confident he won’t be back at OPRF. We hope he and his family find the help he needs.
That leaves us to consider the range of responses to this boy’s ugly, sexist rant — verbally in the student center, on paper with his list, electronically via social media. And here we have a mixed bag, here we need to decide what it means in villages such as these with an earned tradition of tolerance, to support those who have been attacked and to teach a worthy lesson for all of us.
The school itself earns plaudits for its rapid and open response. There was no effort to bury the incident, there was an immediate effort to contain the damage by retrieving paper copies, there was a fast focus on the young women on the list and their families and, through the sensitive words of Principal Nathaniel Rouse, there was open communication with the wider community.
Stories in the days after the list focused on young OPRF women who voiced outrage more than embarrassment. Strength rather than passivity are a credit to the individuals and the families who raised them to be confident in their talents and virtues. The infantile rankings of one troubled young man are nothing against the esteem with which you are collectively held by your hometowns.
Credit also goes to a subset of young OPRF men who voiced their outrage at the treatment of their classmates and who grabbed back lists. In a confusing moment in the student center when some boys got caught up in the hateful speech, others went straight to their core values and did what was right.
Parents, teachers, students and the community ought to take this unexpected moment to reinforce and reteach values of gender equality as well as mutual and self respect. And in thinking this through, we can’t help but consider the paradoxes of our culture. We raise our kids with the clearest cut and most progressive focus on gender issues and then we launch them into an intensely, increasingly sexualized and objectifying world and hope they can sort it out. Mostly they do. In this instance there was a hideous obstacle. Let’s seize the opportunity and have some good come out of it.