Female athletes have long been forced to prove themselves worthy to take the field, the court, or any other stage where men have staked their claim. Title IX ensured women who wanted to play sports would be given the opportunity, but it did not protect them from the misogyny that still exists in a world where "locker room talk" is code for acceptable degradation of women. In an inspiring video from Lifetime, the Harvard Women's Soccer Team reveals how they shut down misogyny on their campus by standing together in the face of an overwhelming injustice.
In fall 2016, it was revealed the Harvard Men's Soccer Team had been grading the new recruits of the women's team for years. According to The New York Times, male players reportedly produced a "scouting report" ranking the incoming recruits based on their looks, even going so far as to discuss their bodies, give them a number rating, and assign them a sexual position. It sounds like a despicable practice, and when the women's team found out, they responded to the men with one voice via an open letter in The Harvard Crimson.
During the video interview with Lifetime, player Brooke Dickens explained that during her senior year, she and her teammates had a cheer — "27 strong" — because there were 27 women on the team, and they were stronger together. When the team discovered that their fellow athletes had been disrespecting and objectifying them behind their backs, their anger was not for themselves, but for the women who they went out on the field with each week.
Together, the team decided to address the issue because they believed the behavior exhibited by the men's team was far too often seen as acceptable by the nation at large. Their editorial was crafted in a way that allowed them to speak not only to the actions of the men, but to address how their words could never tear the women's team apart. Rather than pit them against one another, the discovery of the rankings only brought the women closer together.
In their open letter, the team wrote,
Their words resonated not just across their campus, but throughout the nation. According to The Washington Post, rather than issue a slap on the wrist or simply hold a campus wide discussion, Harvard canceled the remainder of the men's season in response to the evidence of their actions. The school made a clear statement that they had a zero tolerance policy for such apparent sexism. And had the women's team not stood together to speak out, who knows how the college would have handled the situation. The Harvard Men's Soccer Team issued an apology and owned up to their actions in a letter to the campus paper.
The immense amount of respect the women's team showed for each other, and their fearlessness in standing up for what is right, should inspire athletes of both genders to act when they see injustices occurring. These women spoke despite the potential for repercussions, and they refused to let their male cohorts demean them and get away with it.
What the men's team reportedly did was abhorrent, and it is only right that the rest of their season was canceled, even though that's not what the women called for. The women's team asked only for future members of the men's team to speak out when they see injustices occurring, because otherwise they are culpable, whether they participated in the rankings or not.
Ultimately, the women gave the men's team the only part of themselves they were willing to give away: their forgiveness. They wrote,
Let this amazing team inspire you the next time you are faced with misogyny. It is always better to speak up than to stay silent. These fearless women are proof that your words of positivity can only make the world a better place.