I'm a female student studying computer science (CS). Some of the male CS students have given me a physical ranking compared to other female CS students, and it has me really upset, but I don’t know what to do about it.

One of the students in particular enjoys telling me when he finds another girl in the vicinity more attractive than me. For example, a girl friend of mine told me I looked pretty today; and the one male student then jumped in and said I wasn’t as beautiful as the actress on the TV show we were watching. Another time, an attractive girl walked in to the computer lab, and he said: “And you thought you were the hottest girl in the lab!”

He’s not the only one. When we are in other settings (not male-heavy, CS classes), I often hear that I now have “competition” since there are other pretty girls.

I’m not sure what to do. I am friends with some of these men (or so I thought) and have committed to working on software projects with them that I can’t back out of. In addition, the school is very small so I can’t avoid them.

What do I say? How do I explain that I’m very upset by this, and not because I’m jealous of the other women? The men I’ve told have said not to worry because they think I'm pretty – they don’t seem to get it. I’m not sure I’m explaining it right.

Please help. I am starting to cry during class.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ff524
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 15:32
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    What country are you in? The options available might depend on laws in your juristdiction. Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 21:43
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    A redundant, but possibly reassuring, comment: "jeez, those guys are immature assholed". Not very consoling, I know, to endure it. Be angry, yes. No real solution to the generalized version of "immature guys" seems to be possible, given the cultural limitations around the world... Again. "Sigh". Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 22:54
  • How would you handle a similar situation outside a classroom setting? Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 22:54
  • . . . and it might be helpful to others to learn how this played out for you and if there is advice, based on your experience, you would share. Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 23:04

17 Answers 17


You don't say where you're going to school but if it's here in the US, I would report the problem to the university and demand they do whatever is necessary to fix it. Title IX requires them to provide an inclusive environment free of sexual harassment. If you are unsatisfied by their response, I would report the school to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. You'll find additional helpful advice here at equalrights.org.

Added: Several comments express concern that reporting the harassment might result in retaliation. But it's worth noting that retaliation for filing a harassment complaint is also against the law and cause for a new complaint. The school has to do whatever it takes to fix this, even if means expelling the perpetrators. It is not sufficient for them to claim they did the best they could.

Still more: Having conducted some other disciplinary actions, even if not any that were exactly like the one described here, I would expect the result of complaining to the university is that the Title IX conduct officer will call the students to a meeting that might go something like this: You start by asking the students if they know why they're there. After the usual squirmy they-can't-think-of-anything denials, you describe their offensive behavior and ask if the reason they can't remember any of this is because they think it's such completely ordinary behavior. You point out that in a workplace, it would get them fired and might subject the company to a lawsuit and an expensive settlement. You explain that university has an obligation under Title IX to maintain an inclusive environment free of sexual harassment.

You then ask, "Do you think you should be allowed to stay at the university?" Typically, the students' lives flash before their eyes as they realize the seriousness of the stakes and they decide they will never do this again. There are lots of ways to make this even more, ahem, memorable, e.g., by asking if they have a backup career in mind if this computer science thing doesn't work out or by making them wait a few extra days to hear the disposition of their case (especially if you expect to let them off lightly). It may seem a little like pulling the wings off flies, but trust me, the problem behavior will end, hopefully for the entire rest of their lives, in which case they will have learned something far more valuable than yet another algorithm.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ff524
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 21:30

If there is a local Women in Computing or Women in Science and Engineering group you may be able to get face-to-face support and advice.

Failing that, I suggest joining Systers. Even if you get suggestions you find helpful here, it may be a better forum for discussion with others who have handled similar problems.

I don't have direct experience because women were taken for granted in computing in the late 1960's and early 1970's, when I was a young woman. By the time it became a "Girls keep out" field, I was far too senior for immature males to risk harassing me.

Telling them how upset you are may be counter-productive. Some boys, not men, feel threatened by intelligent, competent women and want to make them uncomfortable and even try to push them out of the field. It is a specialized form of bullying. The students who are doing this are not your friends. Treat them as formal colleagues when you have a shared project, and try to avoid social contacts with them. Look for the ones who keep quiet or even seem uncomfortable when inappropriate remarks are being made. They are the ones who are more likely to be worthy of your friendship.

Some of the comments have suggested that the behavior may be due to extreme social cluelessness, rather than intentional demeaning of women. Even if you think that is the case, you are neither their mother nor their elementary school teacher. You do not have any responsibility for teaching them basic etiquette, no matter how much they need it. You can, if you feel so inclined, attempt to explain the unacceptable nature of their behavior. On the other hand, you can still just work with them on a formal basis when necessary, and pick friends from among those students who do not participate in the objectionable behavior.


First of all, acknowledge for yourself that what you're going through is 100% not OK, and you have every right to be upset and looking for a fix ASAP. I start saying this because very often, with any sort of bullying/harassment, people will say "you're overreacting" or "wow, it's not such a big deal, come on", but in fact they are completely wrong. It's unfortunate how many people underestimate the impacts of "little" bullying/harassment events. So don't be afraid to fight for a solution.

Secondly, in a situation of bullying/harassment, either the perpetrators are aware that they're doing it (and keep doing it on pure evil) or, by lack of social awareness, simply don't realize that they're doing what they're doing. This does NOT make much a difference on how bad the situation is, but does make a difference on how hard it might be to solve it. And from your description it seems to me (an outsider that isn't really there to see everything, though), that it is the second case, i.e., those guys are completely unaware of how bad what they're doing is. In fact, it might even be a very weird, convoluted and absurd attempt of flirting (inappropriate, regardless), guessing from the kind of phrases they're saying.

What do I say? How do I explain that I’m very upset by this, and not because I’m jealous of the other women? The men I’ve told have said not to worry because they think I'm pretty – they don’t seem to get it. I’m not sure I’m explaining it right.

Indeed, they don’t seem to get it, which is unfortunate... My suggestion:

Listen, [person's name], this has to stop. It doesn't matter how attractive you think I am. ANY mention, direct or indirect, of my attractiveness, is bothering me for real; it is harassment, it is not appropriate, this is not a place for this, and I am serious, this has to stop, and I am about to escalate this to the university.

Be firm and assertive. Hopefully they will be shocked with the reality of the situation and won't ever do it again. You might want to say this separately to each one of them, and repeatedly if necessary. And actually, feel free to be angry about it as well, you have my full support. Note the high amount of commas I put in the sentence; feel free to raise your voice after each one. Your situation is not to be treated lightly.

And you don't even have to wait to see if it will work, proceed to escalate the situation anyway, and seek help from the places/groups suggested by Nicole Hamilton and Patricia Shanahan.

Good luck!

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ff524
    Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 0:10
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    I would recommend this approach only after establishing a supportive and understanding support group. Calling other people out on their awful behavior—and dealing with their reactions to being called out—can be seriously emotionally draining, even painful, especially if those people are your peers/"friends". What you're suggesting is NOT easy, but having people you trust backing you up—telling you You're okay, you done good, we're proud of you —is extremely helpful.
    – JeffE
    Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 19:47

I’m not sure what to do. I am friends with some of these men (or so I thought) and have committed to working on software projects with them that I can’t back out of. What do I say?

You could try something along the lines of:

  • "You do know that a remark like that would probably get you fired in the workplace, right?"

Hopefully that would turn the tone of the conversation much more serious. Then you could add:

  • "Maybe now would be a good time to start practicing acting like a professional."

If something like that doesn't get the message across, you could consider reporting the problem to your professor, if you think you'd have an advocate. If it still doesn't get resolved, go to the dean, or seek out whatever support structures exist at your university, as others have mentioned in other answers here.

One other thing I would advise: Each time you have a confrontation like this, write down the date, time, location, and what was said (what they said, along with how you responded). This way, if this does escalate to a formal harassment case, you're not relying on vague memories to recall what happened.

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    +1 to the suggestion of writing the incident down. Also be sure to ask them to repeat it so that you can get all the words down accurately, and confirm that you're spelling their full name correctly. show these children that it's a real issue.
    – PeteCon
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 19:14
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    100% agree with this tactic. Most guys I know just won't get it until you lay it out plainly. If they don't understand how you feel at that point, it's time to escalate to university officials (professor, Title IX, etc.). In any case, they don't seem like good people to be friends with. At least in my experience, comments of concern about their behavior never have any effect... sadly. Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 18:53
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    Completely not saying the guys' actions are justifiable or good at all, but guys at this point in life can be very, very stupid. Those that don't get better stay this way as adults.
    – Nelson
    Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 3:53

I had a situation comparable, but instead of my classmates saying I was the most favorable looking, they ranked the chance of all the girls to succeed the bachelor on time.

What I explained the guys that I saw as my friends, is that these girls were also my friends and that I don't like to be compared to them. I don't like to be compared to anyone especially on basis of something irrelevant as my gender. I would make this very clear. Use an example if you can, so if the guys are part of any minority, tell them how the would feel if you compare them with all the other in this minority in the class. They will understand it better then.

This is something you will have to say multiple times. For some reason it is often seen as normal to compare different girls to each other in computer science (or probably any minority in any study. I guess guys also have this problem in women-heavy studies). Distance yourself from people that don't understand that this is very annoying. Remind yourself that a lot of people just never have been in a situation where they were the minority, so they just don't know any better. It's quite stupid that they don't understand, but it's probably mostly stupidity and most of them are not trying to hurt you on purpose. If any of them are and they don't listen to you at all, go to a teacher you trust.

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    This seems sensible, an attempt to get the perpetrators to engage their brains. Why the downvotes?
    – Clumsy cat
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 9:46
  • Seems like the voting populace would rather run for administrative sanctions than engage their brains...
    – jkf
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 17:29
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    @TheoreticalPerson I didn't downvote, but possibly it's because asking them how they would feel if you compared them might not work. On average, men and women do not respond to such things the same way. Personally, my reaction (as a straight male) to such a comment from a female classmate or group thereof would be, at most, an eyeroll. Telling them how it affects you is probably more going to be more effective than asking them how it would make them feel. It's likely that assuming you'd react the same way they would is part of why they think this behavior is acceptable in the first place.
    – reirab
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 22:19
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    @TheoreticalPerson It's also possible that it came from the part about other minority groups. I've not personally ever heard people comparing attractiveness by any grouping other than gender (though, within gender, I've heard most combinations of it - i.e. males comparing females, females comparing males, females comparing other females, etc.) Not saying that definitely doesn't happen, just that possibly someone with experiences similar to my own may have downvoted for that reason.
    – reirab
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 22:27
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    "For some reason it is often seen as normal to compare different girls to each other in computer science" I'm not entirely convinced of this. In my experience geeks spend more time discussing video games, technology or computer science itself than they do discussing girls. This might be down do a difference of culture, it seems that sort of behaviour (comparing girls' attractiveness) is more common in the US.
    – Pharap
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 11:18

@Nicole Hamilton's answer is unreservedly the correct one. If you're in the U.S., make use of your Title IX coordinator and file a complaint.

Let me add some further thoughts on that. Frankly, the cascade of comments here that using the official channel for this are "too drastic" or that you should participate in this abuse on an ongoing basis, are absolutely appalling. Neither is there any need for you to spend the rest of your academic time and energy trying to "educate" a legion of Neanderthals around you.

Strategically speaking, it may be useful to consider the poker strategy I know of as going "over the top" or "dropping the hammer". In the face of a large number of repeated minor aggressions, responding with similar low-level aggressions is not beneficial (particularly if you're outnumbered by aggressors). Dealing with each one in the series on an equitable level is going to wear you down. A better option is to find the opportunity for an asymmetric response in terms that are favorable to you, and to communicate a message that cannot be shrugged off or taken as ambiguous.

Moreover, as Dan Romik points out in a comment: "I was a department chair at a major US university, and people here need to understand that filing a title IX complaint isn’t really as drastic of a measure as they think, at least in the context of the immature behavior described in the question. It simply sets in motion a process of having the harassment investigated and responded to in a civil, fairly efficient way by trained professionals. The harassers will be invited for a chat with a department chair or other university official, then receive a written memo advising them of university policies and cautioning them to cease the offending behavior. If they are sensible and heed the warning, no further action is likely to be taken, all will be well and everyone can get on with their lives."

So in conclusion, you don't deserve to have to take this on alone, in the face of a large number of abusers. You deserve to have friends, allies and a support system to give you at least equal leverage on your side. The institutional system for the Title IX coordinator is exactly designed to give you this support, and you should feel entirely justified in using it. If having other students go with you at the same time makes you more comfortable, then by all means do that as well.

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    I generally agree with this kind of answers, but at the moment there seems to be no certainty about the OP being in the US (even though it's fairly probable). In universities in other countries, there might be no equivalent of a Title IX coordinator, and I think that one should be open to other possibilities, however imperfect they can be. Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 14:43
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    What's appalling is your favorable view of an oppressive regime in which the authorities (e.g. the university or in wider contexts the state) can prevent and punish lewd speech. Also, you fail to make a clear distinction between friends and allies and institutions of authority, which is unfortunate.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 12:09
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    This isn't "lewd speech", it's harassment, and it absolutely should be prevented where possible, punished where not. @einpoklum
    – Nij
    Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 6:15
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    Great answer, the first two paragraphs echo my thoughts exactly. To add to this, I was a department chair at a major US university, and people here need to understand that filing a title IX complaint isn’t really as drastic of a measure as they think, at least in the context of the immature behavior described in the question. It simply sets in motion a process of having the harassment investigated and responded to in a civil, fairly efficient way by trained professionals. ...
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 8:57
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    ... The harassers will be invited for a chat with a department chair or other university official, then receive a written memo advising them of university policies and cautioning them to cease the offending behavior. If they are sensible and heed the warning, no further action is likely to be taken, all will be well and everyone can get on with their lives. As Daniel is saying, there is simply no need for OP to face this alone - the university has mechanisms to help, and using them is absolutely the correct thing to do.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 9:00

I'm so sorry to hear about your experience. You don't mention which country you're in; Nicole Hamilton's answer gives great US-specific advice; this is intended to answer the question from a UK perspective.

Given the situation you describe, I would strongly recommend making a formal complaint. If you search Google for "report sexual harrassment" and limit the results to sites ending in ac.uk, you will see the reporting process for many universities.

However, if you don't feel up to that, then here in the UK (where this is also recognised as a major problem) many universities and departments are now signed up to the Athena SWAN charter which covers (among other things) the provision of a supportive working environment for female students. If your university or department is signed up to the charter you will have an Athena SWAN committee and a university-defined pathway to contacting them; they should be able to give you support and advice on how to proceed.

  • There should also be a designated student equalities person that the OP can complain to. Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 15:58

As anyone in any CS program knows, for some reason, this field of study tends to attract people with low social awareness and low social intelligence. I know some might think it's a bad stereotype of us, but there's much truth to it. Rates of autism are higher than in other fields, and in the words of my not-so-tactful TA, "Everyone in this major is at least somewhere on the spectrum".

There's no doubt that what they're doing is intolerable and unacceptable, and I'm sure you'll get much good insight from users on this site as to how to proceed. My only point is that it might help you to know that these guys are likely completely oblivious that they're being harrasing/abusive because of low social intelligence. They might even think that by doing this they're being social, and winning your friendship/affection.

Speak to them frankly, and ask them what they think they're accomplishing by saying these things. Ask them why they say it - answers might surprise you. Then enlighten them with how wrong their actions are. If they comprehend that it affects you but nevertheless think it's ok/continue to do it, involve the higher ups in your department. Just a warning if you do this, the department will be relentless against these guys, so do it after all attempts at communication fail

Hope the best for you

  • 34
    While some of your points are good, I have two problems with this answer: 1) You seem to equate social awareness and low social intelligence with autism. I would even guess that people with autism are statistically less likely to behave in the way described by the asker. 2) Consider the case that addressing such issues directly may be extremely difficult for the asker. She has no obligation to go this way.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 6:19
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    Autistic person here. IME autism does make it harder to gauge social norms, but for this exact reason I put in a lot of effort to learn those norms and do things like reading harassment policies/code of conduct/etc. I would be very surprised if a modern US university did not have a code of conduct that made it clear that this kind of behavior is unacceptable. I also concur with @Wrzlprmft that OP is not obligated to take on the emotional labour of educating classmates - especially since she said that she's already tried this and been ignored.
    – G_B
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 6:33
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    I don't agree with this answer, but I think there is a valid point in it somewhere. These people may not appreciate how awful their behavior is and potentially talking to them will fix this. However, it is not OP's responsibility to deal with this issue on her own.
    – Thomas
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 6:33
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    Very uncool, not all Coders are like that. These People are just assholes that coincidentally are CS Students Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 7:50
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    The problem with this answer is that it puts an inordinate burden on the person who is explicitly the victim here. Almost everyone around her is apparently a low-social-awareness male, who the OP is being told to spend time and energy educating. She won't have time for anything else! Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 13:55

The men I’ve told have said not to worry because they think I'm pretty – they don’t seem to get it.

A small disclaimer before everyone jumps in: some of what you are experiencing is harassment (particularly the guy who "enjoys telling me when he finds another girl in the vicinity more attractive than me"). This is something you should consider reacting to a way or another - there are very good answers already.

Now, a reality check. I am a male and used to be a student in my '20s. I did look at girls and did compare one to another. We even mentioned this between us. It was all kind and everything, but still.

We were not very good at woman-man interactions. We made mistakes. We were laughed at or we upset others. Retrospectively looking at the younger me I am sometimes shameful (with some "oh god why?" situations as well).

This is to say that some men, when they are 20-30, are not the most mature people on earth (recently the age of adolescence was raised to 24). Some of the things they do may be dumb but possibly not "harmful" (for a lack of a better word). They also may not realize that this is hurting you.

My advice: talk with the one who seem to have the most optimal mix of empathy, brains and eloquence and tell him to help you. If you asked this to me at that time, I would have understood and explained to my dumb friends that they behave like sheep. The ones you would like to be around would have understood. I would even say that you would have helped us to realize that some were true douchebags, worth kicking out of our circle of friends.

Again: some of the guys you describe are assholes and even someone who is hormone driven as I was should have been there to explain him that he should fuck off (and by explain I mean explain in a way he understands). My answer is not trying to say "you are over the top, men are men", or "this is normal". No. I am just trying to show that what you perceive can be different from their perception, and that may just need to be correctly told what to do.

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    What do you mean by the age of teenagers was raised to 24?
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 22:34
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    A much better approach than jumping the typical American "legal bandwagon"... IMHO legalities (punitive administrative punishment etc) are last resort tactics when all else has failed. The OP has an open dialogue with these people and should address problem directly, after all, difficult situations are going to crop up from time to time in life when you can't run off and tell the teacher someone said some nasty things that offended me. Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 2:29
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    Fully agree here. An overtly annoyed response like "Duuude, don't you think it's time to grow up?!" may be far more helpful (and adequate in the given situation) than the ultimate measure that can be taken, namely, filing an official complaint and potentially ruining them. At least they need the chance to become aware that certain (easily offended) people consider such comments as "inappropriate".
    – Marco13
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 22:26
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    This is a good answer. The truth is (at least when I was young bla bla) that many nerdy guys simply stay in with their computers so much during their teens so they simply don't have many clues what not to do or say. Mistakes must be made in order to learn and for social mistakes the tolerance for error decreases much faster than for other kinds of learning. Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 19:41
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    @Pharap That was just an example. Of course, the exact wording would depend on many, many factors that are hard to estimate from the description in the OP.
    – Marco13
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 12:55

I think there is a lot of great advice here on how to deal with the harassment situation itself, but I have a feeling there is one aspect of your question everybody seems to be forgetting: you have committed yourself to work on joint projects with some of these people, any any kind of reaction might put your academic success on those projects at risk or at least postpone your academic progress

What they are doing is not okay and not acceptable, and you have the right to make it stop. Let me shortly summarize some of the good reactions on how to deal with this harassment from the other answers:

  • Get support and surround yourself with understanding people (posting here is a good start, but also talking to your close friends, family, support groups).

  • Tell the people in question, firmly and clearly that their behavior is not acceptable, neither by social standards nor by your personal judgment. Tell them that it is bothering you, even more so in a University environment where you all come to learn.

    You might or might not mention that you will escalate the issue to the appropriate services - I don't think it's your duty to explain the consequences of their negative actions and should be enough to state how bothered you are and how inappropriate their behavior is.

  • Escalate the problem by talking to the appropriate services (these might depend on the country and the University organization, and several answers go into detail of it for several different settings).

    There will likely be a service provided through the University, student support center or something similar, and even if there is nothing in place (not sure if my Croatian university had anything like that), find the appropriate channels to escalate it to the University level.

  • Don't back off if somebody tells you you are overreacting. If you are having second thoughts about whether you are able to proceed, go back to your support, friends and family to get a gentle reminder that what they were doing is not okay.

However, any of these actions except the first one are likely to generate a response and there is no guarantee that it will be a good one. In the ideal world, as soon as you escalate the situation to the proper services, they should take steps to help you out (or rather, remove them!) from the situation in which harassment occurs. In reality, you might be somewhere where the services are not good, not well in place and this kind of things are still typically swept under the rug, and any course of action might take time to fully implement and be in full effect. So, if any of them try to retaliate by sabotaging your participation in group projects, and you either see or suspect that they are not treating you equally or like a full member of the team, here are some suggestions to protect yourself:

  • Document everything. Keep a diary mentioning specific dates and names of the team activities (especially document anything I suggest be done through e-mail but due to circumstance, you end up doing in person).
  • If you feel like they are keeping you from contributing by not assigning you a fair share or work, write an e-mail to your project team asking about the division of tasks. Say that you are capable and willing of doing more than you were assigned.
  • Keep track of your own contributions (code, research, etc). If you have a feeling they are trying to ignore your contributions, this will be your proof you have done the work.
  • Keep track of any inappropriate conversations or exchanges (about how they are behaving towards you in shared projects).
  • If it seems like somebody from the team is preventing you from collaborating within your team, contact the professor in charge of the class (sooner rather than later) with an e-mail explaining, briefly, that you are eager and willing to contribute but your teammates are not giving you a chance, and you would like a chance to demonstrate your abilities like everybody else. If asked for clarifications, will have everything documented and ready to show.

I don't want to come off as insensitive for my reply focused on the academic side of things rather than your actual problem of harassment, but I have a feeling like taking a first step with situations like this can often be quite scary, especially if dealing with it might effect other areas of your life, e.g. your academic success. So if you have a plan to minimize this negative effect, (even if it does require an unfair amount of extra work), hopefully it would give you enough courage to deal with the problem at hand actively.


I would like to add to the already good answers that there is a middle way between taking on the responsibility all by yourself to make these guys think and stop their rude and harmful behaviour and making an official complaint to an authority.

Do you know someone in an authority position but whose opinion will also be respected on the basis of their social position? Maybe a PhD student, or a higher year student or a young lecturer? Someone who could sit down with these guys and point out to them they are being jerks, they are embarrassing themselves, and those around them and not cool at all. Maybe include that that particular kind of behaviour could lead to sanctions if reported.

For example, you could take a stepped approach. First you tell them firmly and clearly their behaviour is unacceptable. You could try to make them empathize: what if one of them had a girlfriend, how would they now feel if the rest of the class would be making jokes about their relationship and discuss if other guys would be better boyfriends?

Then you recruit other females, and case the guys fail to apologize and stop being douche bags, together you complain to a lecturer or TA and ask that person to step in. The lecturer or TA now not only feels a moral obligation to do something but will also be motivated to 'keep the peace'.

Lots of luck, I really feel for you. My fellow students were all well behaved but I did once tell off a group of 12-year-olds for cat calling after me when I was at university. They were genuinely surprised: they didn't think they were doing something inappropriate.


First of all, follow the good advice in other answers. This is not okay, and "boys will be boys" stopped being anything but enabling of harassment a long time back, its not acceptable in the slightest.

The question "what do I do/how do I react" is best guided by "what do I actually want". At a guess what you want is:

  • harassment to stop - of you for sure, ideally across the board.
  • harassers to take seriously that its not okay, gets a social clue update, understand it is not "innocent fun" or "ribbing", and generally come away soberminded about it.
  • Not to have attempts to quell it met by covert or overt maliciousness as a result - no bullying, no snide remarks, no social isolation.
  • and what else?

You need to decide what you want, to stand a chance of getting it. Then you can approach your school, and when you've talked, give it to them as a bullet list on paper: these are the things I want as outcomes. I'm coming to you to make it happen. Then say nothing and see what they say next. Don't apologise for wanting what is your right, your teacher's right, and the right your fellow students take for granted when they act out this way: the right to feel safe emotionally, in the place you choose to learn.


First of all, the amount of people here who want to pull the "go to the authorities" and "sexual harassment" cards out is positively insane. Under no conditions go to anybody with talk of expulsion or official reprimand. To be completely honest, it's not their job to protect you. It's your own job. What happens the next time, if the relevant authorities aren't around? You shouldn't rely on people like that, especially when borderline harmless banter is being talked about as grounds for "sexual harassment" or "expulsion" (neither of which are true, and both of which would be grounds for retaliation, not necessarily to yourself, but to the school, for draconian punishment, and general over-reaction. I, myself, will be fully supporting the parties who would be treated like sexual harassers over a few comments about how pretty or not pretty somebody is).

I found the following phrase very troubling:

How do I explain that I’m very upset by this?

What do you mean "how"?!?! You say to the person that he's being a "dick", which is the technical description of his transgression (and not Sexual Harassment), and tell him to buzz off and to stop being a pain in the posterior. Generally, if you use certain words from a certain section of the vernacular, people will get the point.

  • 1
    Try to persuade a mugger to be embarrassed...? Commented Dec 8, 2020 at 0:34
  • 1
    @paulgarrett Imagine comparing ranking to a crime. Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 20:16
  • What one person sees as "borderline harmless banter" may be what another person sees as intimidating enough to make them leave the field. Telling women to be more assertive when the men around them are acting in nasty and unprofessional ways is both putting the responsibility on the wrong party and something women are often taught from a young age is not "nice", that being likable is more important then being comfortable.
    – arp
    Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 2:10

Unfortunately, as you are aware, women are often put in the position of needing to be polite to guys who are acting inappropriately out of fear of repercussions.

(ETA: What one person sees as "borderline harmless banter" may be what another person sees as intimidating enough to make them leave the field. Telling women to be more assertive when the men around them are acting in nasty and unprofessional ways is both putting the responsibility on the wrong party and something women are often taught from a young age is not "nice", that being likable is more important then being comfortable.)

If you think that asking these guys to act like civilized human beings will jeopardize your grades on shared projects, you can invoke a hypothetical third party:

Be careful, if the wrong person overhears you saying stuff like that you might get reported for sexual harassment, and that kind of stuff can go on your permanent record.

There's no hint of "you make me feel like a piece of meat", there's no hint of what they might hear as "I'm so prudish I can't take a joke", there's no hint of "you are destroying the educational environment for at least half the class", there's no hint of anything personal in it at all. You are just a nice person who has their best interests at heart.

If they don't take the hint, then you might want to arrange for said "wrong person" to show up, or at least listen to a recording of what goes on in the classroom.


I will just give you three possible cases and their possible consequences

Passively Sucking it up

This just requires you to passively wait for the list to be forgotten by everyone.This requires a lot of patience not something I would advise but there if don't like confrontations.This may result in people thinking you are a pushover.

Confronting the guys

This is a method that should be meticulously thought over such that you don't insult the guys but still convey your message.It's especially important not to insult people while confronting them as it may lead to counter-productive effects such as the list being immortalized or you being ignored/avoided by others.It might be helpful to bring along a female friend or senior who is supportive. The confrontation should be done in the following method

  1. Conveying you don't like the list clearly.
  2. Reasons you don't like the list and find it demeaning.
  3. Conveying to them that you don't wish to hear anymore about the list.
    (Step 4 is only if they don't take steps 1-3 properly)
  4. Convey that you will not be able to continue being friends if this behavior continues and that you may go to the authorities.

Go to the authorities

This should be your last resort as from what I believe a large chunk to the male population of the college was involved in making of the list and if this is the case it may result in the guys who are hurting you being left of with a slap on the wrist and you facing the same consequences as the previous method if not worst.If not then confronting the authorities may not be such a bad idea but it's still advisable as a last resort and not the first go to.

Hope this helps.

  • 12
    I understand a large chunk to the male population of the college was involved in making of the list – This seems quite some assumption to me. There is nothing in the question that even hints at that somebody compiled a list in written form.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 8:46
  • @Wrzlprmft Thanks for pointing it out.Fixed the answer
    – Pavan
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 8:55

I see two routes to take (sorry, longish answer):

As you can see by the answers and upvotes, (threatening) to cry is a strategy that has its effects — as a woman. Especially in STEM, in which women are still seen as discouraged and excluded, and at universities, in which people and policies are in place to care for them. It is likely that these people will jump on the chance to tackle this issue, which will then lead to serious consequences for the male students. It might even end their education at that school. In this sense, this route — as suggested by other posters here — is a route that will likely work, esp. short-term. And it will likely feel good.

Question is, should you pursue this route?

Despite a strong tendency to ostensibly protect and care for women, there is probably nothing worse for personal growth and the development of competence than paternalistic overprotection. You are not a little child anymore, and one skill you should learn in school and college/university is how to work with diverse groups. And some of these groups develop their own norms and interaction styles, and, yes, some groups even have — for a lack of a better term — assholes in them.

The group you describe doesn’t strike me as bad, though. Esp. when you take gender out of the question, which likely skews the issue, and see it as normal banter. There are behaviors which should immediately lead to a call to the police — the actual police, not the campus authorities. Issues like physical and sexual assault. But here it’s words and in messy social contexts, words are interpreted. You see it as annoying to harassment. I doubt it is intended as such. Looking back at my youth, this banter, teasing and bullshitting was used for bonding. And in a group of technology-minded people that included bonding with women. Yes, this behavior may actually be a sign they accept you as part of their community. (Nobody said that geeks are particularly skilled socially, but hey, they brought us social media, incl. stackexchange.)

Don’t get me wrong, I can totally understand that you do not like these comparisons, and given how negatively you see them, they will feel worse and worse. And if it’s actually bullying, then yeah, this sucks. But that’s your interpretation of what they are doing, and before you ascribe intention there are some questions you might ask. For example, how do they treat each other? Do they tease and bullshit each other as well (not about beauty, but about other issues)? How do they treat other women? What do they enjoy talking about? And yeah, it could even be a — bad — implementation of negging (xkcd explained it well and might provide a role model: https://xkcd.com/1027/ ), or simply being at a loss for words if other topics don’t lead to a conversation. BTW, I’m also skeptical that it would not make a difference if they were to compliment you.

No matter the reason, how can you deal with this situation? You can call a paternalistic authority. It will work in college/universities, it will work later on the job when you call HR, it will even work in private contexts if you shout on social media (sometimes even with work-related consequences). But at least given these situations, I think it’s important to learn to deal with these situations on your own. Become a competent person who is able to deal with bullshitting and social teasing on her own. After all, banter within a community is common, esp. in difficult jobs. It actually does have an important social function (again: banter, not bullying).

As for how, have a look how others deal with this teasing. It is possible to learn how to spar verbally, to parry and strike some (verbal) hits. To return a joke, a tease, and even an insult and verbal attack — and ensure a) to send a clear message that you can deal with these things, verbally and emotionally, and b) that you give back as good and bad as you receive. If there is a serious skill deficit, there are courses, and there are assertiveness trainings — which will pay out in other areas as well (like salary negotiations).

This later route is not a short-time «delegating-the-issue solution» like going to a paternalistic authority. But is has huge benefits long-term and will likely lead to better interactions overall. You might find that other people aren’t as bad as you first think, and you’ll be able to more effectively weed out the assholes and keep them at bay.

And looking at the bigger picture, it would be a pretty bleak world if every social interaction — no matter how benign or misunderstood — becomes the issue for a paternalistic authority. It might curb the (subjectively or actual) bad for a while, and take with it the misunderstood as collateral damage, but in the long-term, it would lead to the peace of the grave. And that’s not what college is for, nor social interaction in general.

  • 1
    your answer screams "sexism" from every sentence. there is a person, who is in a minority position, singled out in that position every day by comments which suggest she is there because "she has no compitition", etc. and all you ve got is: crying is a women thing, cause they wanna be protected
    – Nico
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 20:35

Many years ago, in 1st year university, some wits on my residence floor decided to print up 100 Why Not? buttons in black on gold (Engineering Faculty colours), with the subheading Barefoot & Pregnant, at a price of $1.00.

Initially outraged, a floor in Women's residence decided to get even instead of angry. Having an economics major on the floor, they astutely noted that with a market established, value increased as supply diminished. So they promptly retaliated by printing up a measly 75 pastel blue on pink (Nursing School colours) buttons Why Not? - Henpecked and Impotent; at a price of $2.00.

Needless to say, the second batch of buttons sold out even faster than the first.

Revenge obtained, with good hearty laughs all around.

So, while you certainly have the right to resort to "the nuclear option" and engage university officials. may I politely suggest that perhaps there is a better first resort. You see, the ability to engage in friendly banter is an essential social skill in the workplace, and this is typically a verbal skill that women are actually better at than men.

Meet privately with your female colleagues, and rate all the men on a scale of 1 to 10. Then the next time anyone rates any of you, rate them back with a comment such as:

"Why thank you; my friends and I figure you for a ___."

You always retain the right to escalate to greater authority; but you might find that fighting fire with fire instead of gasoline builds a truly solid rapport with your male colleagues.

  • 18
    This isn't 'friendly banter', this is objectification and sexual harassment. As someone quite rightly pointed out above, rating their looks would give an undesired impression of sexual interest. Retaliating in this way does nothing productive.
    – Eppicurt
    Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 5:19
  • 11
    Yes, men and women get along perfectly well in academia these days and we can do so without acting like adolescents. What would you do if your daughter was ranked the least attractive in a cohort of people and came home in tears and wanted to drop out because of it? Do you think that's acceptable behaviour in an environment where we're supposed to act like adults?
    – Eppicurt
    Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 5:28
  • 13
    Sexual harassment and misconduct on both sides of the equation is unacceptable. Pity you can't see that.
    – Eppicurt
    Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 5:38
  • 5
    @Eppicurt: Pity you don't realize that not all offences are worthy of declaring nuclear war. Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 5:42
  • 5
    Unfortunately, the asymmetry between male and female power structures makes this approach less useful much of the time.
    – arp
    Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 14:10

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