Ever take home an 8 and wake up next to a 4? Brutal, man. Ever wish you could nail a 10 but can never manage to score better than a 6? Humiliating. Ever actually land a 10 and then screw it up because she’s out of your league? Tragic. Such are the mysteries and complexities of the 1-to-10 hotness scale for ranking women: a longstanding, seemingly universal shorthand for talking about whether she’s worth another glance.
The Scale’s scientific exactness was likely crafted out of necessity. Mankind demanded a system for evaluating the looks of nearby women, just like plants and animals. As with all systems of classification that must withstand scientific rigor, the Scale established order from the chaos of the world. It was a reassuring way to separate the wheat from the chaff and quantify the world’s best natural resource — its endlessly diverse array of total smokeshows.
But if you take a closer look at our overly simplistic system for measuring beauty, its very simplicity betrays it. The Scale is inadequate. As my colleague Miles Klee points out, the Scale is for boys; real men use the Binary, or “would you or wouldn’t you,” a surprisingly forward-thinking metric that prioritizes personal preference and ineffable appeal.
Regardless, men have maintained the Scale for tens of thousands of years, passing it on to generation after generation. Here are a few noteworthy highlights in its human history.
The Dawn of Time
Humans are typically born with 10 fingers — the basis of all base-10 scales. Children count to 10 using fingers to describe the number of Goldfish crackers on their plate; men still count to 10 on their fingers to describe hot women.
40,000 Years Ago
Prehistoric man, at least by some theories, became capable of symbolic thought about 40,000 years ago — about when they noticed the relative hotness of the female members of the species. “They were making more advanced tools, burying their dead with ceremony and expressing a new kind of self-awareness with beads and pendants for body ornamentation and in finely wrought figurines of the female form,” science writer John Noble Wilford explains.
5,000 Years Ago
Beer is invented in Ancient Mesopotamia, allowing for the strange effect where things that are less symmetrical (e.g., “butterfaced” women) appear more balanced and pleasing (i.e., hot).
The Greeks invent the earliest system for grouping things that are alike by classifying three types of plants: herbs (hot), shrubs (not) and trees (hot).
Centuries 1–4 A.D.
Indian mathematicians invent the first numeral system, called the Hindu-Arabic numeral system, likely because they needed a framework for rating all the hot women around. The system was based on 10, although it’s actually the numbers 0 through 9.
13th Century A.D.
Optical lenses are invented, the better to scope out hotness with.
The Richer Scale is invented for measuring (female) earthquake (hotness) magnitude on a scale of 1 to 10, though each increase in number represents an earthquake 10 times more powerful than the previous. The most powerful earthquake clocked was a 9.5 in Chile in 1960. As with human women, a true 10 has never been identified in nature.
In the film 10, which skyrocketed a cornrow-haired Bo Derek to fame for both being hot and running on a beach well, Dudley Moore plays a 42-year-old man with a steady girlfriend who is obsessed with a woman he has never met. He finds her so intoxicating he ranks her as an 11. It has a run time of 122 minutes.
The rock spoof film Spinal Tap coins the phrase “up to 11” to describe volume knobs (boobs) on an amp (woman), which surpass 10 and go all the way up to 11.
Even though it was likely common in the vernacular already, the first use in print of the expression “beer goggles,” which allow men and women to bypass the hotness scale when in need of an immediate lay, comes via Playboy in its annual Top 40 Party School issue, reports Oct.co:
in this first mention, [it] referred to unattractive Georgetown coeds (as a Syracuse grad and Georgetown hater, I’d again say…of course). Under a special section for “Party Campus Fashion,” Georgetown students themselves noted that the most “practical” fashion accessory to wear to a party at their boring, Catholic university was, ahem, beer goggles.
Research finds that men and women who share a similar level of attractiveness are more likely to stick together, proving that you can shoot for the moon on hotness all you want, but you’re better off hitting the roof.
Two Silicon Valley nerds launch Hot or Not, where pictures of women are uploaded and graded with a simple yes or no by the general public. It throws the hotness scale into a moral panic.
Indie rock band the Silver Jews release the song “Tennessee” on their fourth record, Bright Flight, memorializing the hotness scale for the Pitchfork set. It contains the lines, “Marry me and leave Kentucky/ Come to Tennessee/ ’Cause you’re the only 10 I see.”
Rich lech Donald Trump ranks celebrities on a scale of 1 to 10 on the Howard Stern show.
In an episode of The Office, a character describes a woman as a 6 in New York but a 7 in Scranton, a reference to numerous jokes about how hot women from the flyover states rule as 7s or 8s on home turf but are instantly downgraded when standing next to coastal hotness founded in major metropolitan cities like New York and Los Angeles.
A study finds that men generally agree on a woman’s hotness on a 10 point scale, but women do not. Men are able to find a consensus on physical features, such as and being thin and seductive, whereas women employ a more nuanced evaluation process, the research finds.
In the film The Social Network, the public is reminded that Facebook was actually invented to rank girls, demonstrated in a scene that makes founder Mark Zuckerberg’s horny algorithm look like something out of A Beautiful Mind.
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin explains he was just writing about the accurate, deeply misogynistic world of the time, where all women were psychos and bimbos, and men compared women to farm animals. Mark Zuckerberg tells Congress in 2018 that it’s not true.
In the 2010 film She’s Out of My League, an average-looking guy (Jay Baruchel) scores a hottie (Alice Eve), but his insecurity gets in the way of their relationship. The tagline for the movie: How can a 10 go for a 5?
A female Duke University student makes a PowerPoint “Fuck List” ranking men on attractiveness, dick size and even dirty talk, which goes viral. Many athletes make the list, and everyone generally has a meltdown over it because, though their faces are blurred, many are identifiable in their community and claim it ruins their lives.
Bro site Total Frat Move defines each number along the spectrum of female hotness, noting that most girls, probably unbeknownst to them, are a 3.
Misogynists at the pick-up artist jerk-off hub Return of Kings lay out every approach to ranking women in existence: decimal points, bangable or not, the 1 to 10 scale, and even an embarrassment metric, which indicates how embarrassed you’d be if you were seen out with a woman by your friends.
The explicitly misogynistic and transphobic ideological framework “Universal Hot-Crazy Matrix: A Man’s Guide to Women” is released, the first true modern innovation to the traditional 10-point scale for female hotness.
Created by a Nashville divorce lawyer who likes guns named Dana McLendon, this scale is a Cartesian graph combining the 1–10 scale for hotness with a 4–10 scale for crazy. The gist: The ideal woman, or what he calls “the wife zone,” is a woman who is an 8 to 10 on the hotness scale but just a 5 to 7 on the crazy scale. (Because all women are at least a 4 on crazy, and any 10 is probably full-on nuts, you’re looking to split the difference while getting maximum hotness with crazy you can stand, the theory goes.)
One month later, a woman creates the equivalent for men, but “crazy” is replaced with “emotional unavailability.” Progress!
Research finds that beer goggles are actually more pronounced in women than men in removing shyness, indicating that it’s women who need the help in seeing men as fuckable, and not the other way around.
A survey finds most women prefer an average-looking man as a lover, someone who’d hover closer to a 5 but not higher than an 8, while only 7 percent of women would date a man they considered a 10. One reason: His good looks would attract too much attention from other women.
Manosphere troll Roosh V demonstrates that increasingly, the “would you bang?” metric for female hotness is more popular and realistic than the female hotness scale. He lists some kind of math formula he does to then rank women on this fuckability metric.
A group of Maryland teens publish a list ranking their female classmates to the decimal point on a 4.5 to 9.4 scale. To their dismay, they are not celebrated with a citywide parade and a lap dance.
Perhaps more interesting, though — and de facto proof that the times, and the hotness scales, are indeed a changin’ — are the reactions. One: The girls demand re-education for their numerically challenged peers, asking them to sit down and talk so they could explain the way such rankings figure into the lifelong female experience of catcalling, harassment and assault.
Two: Men don’t exactly rally together to defend this as okay. After all, using a numeral system to attempt to quantify the ineffable cocktail of attraction, with decimals no less, is just another barnacle hitching a ride on the ship of toxic bro culture. Miles Klee points out that attraction for everyone is more complicated than any ranking can divine, and no number issued at a glance will ever get at what actually happens when two people interact and dig each other: chemistry. The sooner everyone, especially teen boys, figures this out, the better we’ll all be.
And also important: No one, of course, is arguing that looks don’t matter, or that being blessed with a high degree of symmetry isn’t going to open doors and launch ships for women and men alike. And it’s not as if women don’t rank men, or men aren’t ranked unfairly by equivalently unfair metrics beyond their control (Hair, anyone? Dick print? Beard mass? Bank account? Height on Tinder? The 6-6-6 Rule?). It’s not that we don’t all objectify each other in ways that go beyond fair, decent or humanizing. Everyone can be gross about their objects of lust.
It’s that when the power dynamics are such that women are the ones who are still underpaid, sex trafficked, killed, abused and assaulted at a far higher rate than men, men ranking women is such an odious abuse of power that it makes women ranking men look like a bake sale.
And yet, it’s also necessary to note how boys are assimilated into this way of thinking about women. The list maker in question told the Washington Post anonymously that his error was one of status-quo complacency, not deliberate maliciousness: “When you have a culture where it’s just normal to talk about that, I guess making a list about it doesn’t seem like such a terrible thing to do, because you’re just used to discussing it,” he said.
Used to, indeed. Boys of the list-making variety are, of course, just doing what they’ve heard men and other guys do their entire lives.
But perhaps, given the reaction to this story, not so much anymore. Like many statistics, numbers, too, can lie, revealing that such designations are just a slippery slope that don’t necessarily live up to their promise to restore order to the chaos that is nature. If anything, they just tend to leave us asking more questions.