Keeping a list of female soccer recruits ranked by sex appeal was apparently only worth a slap on the wrist. We need deep, systemic change
The fact that the Harvard mens soccer team kept a sexual scouting report on freshman members of the womens team is both abhorrent and mostly unsurprising.
The only surprise is that such low treatment of women has been documented at all. Most of us, especially at a place like Harvard (I graduated from there in 2013), have learned to avoid making our sexist, racist or otherwise bigoted thoughts so overt by now. We are adept at couching them in traditions and social institutions or confounding them with diversity rhetoric and tokenism.
In contrast, this so-called scouting report, which the Harvard Crimson reported on last week, is a methodical assessment of the attractiveness of freshman female soccer players. The male soccer players assigned each woman a numerical score, a nickname and a sexual position along with a paragraph weighing her sex appeal. The document was kept on Google Drive and appears to have been amended by members of the mens soccer team each year since it started in 2012. Its release amounts to the outing of a group of men so confident in the unassailability of their privilege as to revel in it, record it and build a team culture around it.
Harvard College made an attempt to rectify institutionalized inequality in last years decision to bar members of exclusive final clubs single-sex, exclusive social clubs from occupying leadership roles in school-sanctioned clubs or athletics and from receiving top academic scholarships like Rhodes or Fulbright. The move was a broad-stroke attempt to dismantle what the dean of the college, Rakesh Khurana, called, in a public letter the perpetuation of spaces that are rife with power imbalances.
Such power imbalances, of course, are the context in which a 2015 survey found that 31% of Harvard senior undergraduate females had experienced sexual assault during their time on campus. They are also the context in which Harvard is fighting a Title IX lawsuit by a recent graduate accusing the school of deliberate indifference to her case after she reported being sexually abused by another student.
The cancellation of the remainder of the mens soccer teams season, while fair, is insufficient punishment in the larger context of Harvards entrenched misogyny problem. The season was already close to its end, so the punishment amounts to a relatively minor rebuke for the many male soccer players who have contributed to this codified team activity of demeaning their female counterparts over the last four years.
Its been a big year for watching sexual harassment charges bounce off of highly privileged white men. Donald Trump initially suffered in polling after the incriminating Access Hollywood tape was released; Stanford swimmer Brock Turner was subject to criminal charges and internet vitriol after he was accused of rape; and these Harvard soccer players have lost the chance to compete in the NCAA tournament this season. But then the gap in the presidential polls slimmed, Turner was sentenced to only six months in jail, and the soccer players just have a little more free time over the next few weeks than they expected. This should not be the end of it.
This imperviousness often leaves women, people of color and other oppressed groups trying to pin down the plausibly deniable injustices that imbue their lives. This has fed the recent student demands for safer spaces and higher cultural sensitivity at colleges and universities throughout the country, most notably at Yale and Oberlin. We try to police micro-aggressions and cultural appropriation because there are often not more substantial things to grab on to and eradicate. And when there are, we apparently hesitate to punish the patriarchy being enacted before our eyes.
We should not have to wait for events like the release of this despicable soccer document to expect more systemic and sustainable steps, both by administrations to support students and by these male athletes and others to set a standard of real respect for their female peers.
These soccer players should be required to demonstrate genuine contrition and to attempt real reform in order to deserve their spots on a team that represents Harvard College. (Ed note: they issued an apology in the Harvard Crimson after this column was originally published.) Hopefully this will force even male teams or clubs that dont maintain written assessments of womens attractiveness to examine the ways they participate in power imbalances. Harvards response is a good start, but its only that.