The ''Babe of the Day'' Facebook craze sweeping New Zealand's universities is "sexist" and a ''step too far'', say women's rights groups.
More than 37,000 people have endorsed the new social media phenomenon. Facebook Babe of the Day pages feature photos and captions of university students nominated by their peers for their good looks and positive actions.
University of Auckland's Babe of the Day Facebook page triggered the fad last month. Nominated students include the prime minister's son Max Key, X-Factor contestant Fletcher Mills and socialite Jaime Ridge.
Arena Williams, the New Zealand University Students' Association women's rights officer and a former Auckland University Students' Association president, said the pages were sexist and a "tribute to gender expectations of beauty".
"It claims to celebrate beauty inside and out, but sharing pictures without context invites viewers to comment - and comment they do, on everything from looks and dress sense to the person's sex life."
Williams said despite featuring both men and women, the pages were still sexist.
"Users clearly view the women and men differently even if the page pretends to present them similarly. The comments on the women are generally about looks, dress sense etcetera. The comments about the men are about their virility and other skills."
Allanah Colley, women's rights officer at Auckland University, said the personal details provided on the pages "are clearly a step too far''.
"It is one thing to be visually connected with such derogatory pages, but to have significant details published also is unfair to these girls," she said.
Bruce Bayliss, creator of Dunners Babe of the Day, said the page was set up "purely to raise awareness of the overflowing babe population in Dunedin''.
Featuring female students only, Dunners Babe of the Day had the most "likes" on Facebook with more than 16,400 users endorsing the page despite it being launched less than a week ago.
"Dunedin, despite what people think, is actually a beautiful place with beautiful people. The networking potential down here is unreal," he said.
"That accompanied by many students easily distracted from their exam study makes it so successful."
University of Canterbury (UC) students created the next most popular Babe of the Day site, after they saw such pages "popping up all over the place".
The creators said they did not associate with any other Babe of the Day pages.
"We were definitely aware that these pages may cause some controversy," they said.
The UC page had a more "holistic" approach to awarding Babe of the Day titles.
"An effort is always being made to not focus only on the appearance of the individuals posted. It's more like there is a spotlight or feature on that person and then people can read a little blurb about them - so a profile," they said.
The page's administration members removed all "distasteful" comments, and said the Facebook community could also mark comments as "spam" to be deleted.
Bayliss said Dunners Babe of the Day similarly censored comments and blocked troublesome users from the page.
"The page is about appreciation of babes, not abuse, and we try our best to promote that."
Williams said despite innocent intentions, the pages were a forum for harassment.
Colley said although the pages were developed lightheartedly, the content was offensive - especially to women.
"University establishments and the students involved should think more carefully about how their female students are (un)supported whilst trying to obtain a university qualification".
Canterbury University's first babe, Adam Scott, said he ''laughed for about 5 minutes'' when he found out he'd been nominated.
''I was mostly surprised they chucked a guy up as the first babe of the day,'' he said.
He enjoying the attention from being nominated, and said the page was ''just a bit of light-hearted fun''.
In the days following the nomination, he had received two friend requests from interested females.
Saturday's babe Liz Lawrence agreed with Scott.
''I don't think the page is inappropriate, it's just a bit of fun, but I can see how it could get out of hand.''
A University of Otago spokesperson declined to comment.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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