U.S. State Department Tweet About Spring Break Safety Shows Institutionalized Sexism At Its Worst
We can all agree that ranking human beings by “attractiveness” on a number-based scale is a terrible idea, right? Well… apparently not, if a tweet about spring break travel from the U.S. State Department is anything to go by. On Wednesday afternoon, the @TravelGov Twitter handle, which is the official account of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs, tweeted what was meant to be a travel safety tip under the hashtag #springbreakingbadly — but which actually accomplished something quite different. “Not a ‘10’ in the US? Then not a 10 overseas. Beware of being lured into buying expensive drinks or worse — being robbed,” the tweet read. The tweet has since been deleted, but it's been preserved on the Internet for all eternity by people like me who took a screenshot of it first. Additionally, @TravelGov issued an apology.
But still. Yikes.
To be fair, yes, it’s not unheard of for travelers abroad to be taken advantage of by con artists; travel scams exist, because literally every location on the planet has its own share of jerks. (They are not representative of that location as a whole, but they're out there. Yes, even in the good old U.S. of A.) But Twitter users across the Internet have reacted badly to the tweet, and with good reason: It’s institutionalized sexism at its worst. The fact that it got launched out into the ether without anyone batting an eye at it is proof. It shows that we as culture are so accustomed to people’s worth being equated with their appearance, and that only a specific set of arbitrary beauty standards determine whether or not someone is attractive in the first place, that it’s considered totally acceptable to reduce everyone down to a number on a scale of one to 10 — even on a government Twitter handle. And that? Is really messed up.
A number of people have pointed out exactly how messed up the tweet is, too. Here’s a small sampling of replies to it:
Unfortunately, though, when the State Department attempted to clarify the tweet, it just kind of made it worse. Here's the screengrab I took of it:
As Twitter user @gonicholasgo points out, the assignment of a number rating based on perceived attractiveness is inherently both objectifying and sexist. Sexism isn’t just discriminating against someone based on their gender, although that certainly can be — and frequently is — a part of it. Sexism is broader than that, and it hurts everyone, regardless of how they identify. Even the dictionary definition of it makes that clear: Merriam-Webster’s secondary definition reads, “Behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex.” And that’s exactly what this tweet does — the number system it relies on for its “humor” fosters stereotypes of social roles based on sex.
We’re all very familiar with the cultural script of the seemingly “mismatched” pairing; it’s usually depicted as either an “ugly” man “scoring” a “super hot” woman, or a “homely” woman getting swept off her feet by a “handsome prince.” And yes, the excessive use of quotation marks in that sentence is intentional; the bottom line is that being conventionally attractive is not universally attractive, and that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. We are not doing anyone any favors by reinforcing the “that person is sooooo out of your league” script. We are not doing ourselves any favors by reinforcing it. And a government Twitter handle is certainly not doing anyone any favors by reinforcing it, because it just helps to legitimize it.
We are more than just body parts. We are more than just numbers. We are people.
Image: DaniloAndjus/E+/Getty Images; Lucia Peters/Bustle