They ranted on social media and stumped at political rallies. They lectured on TV news.
But none captured the true humiliation of so-called locker room talk — the graphic language and degrading jokes — because though they understood what it was like to hear it, few had ever been its victim.
Last week, six former Harvard female athletes brought that voice to the conversation.
In an essay titled “Stronger Together,” published in the Harvard Crimson, the women wrote an emotionally raw and pointed takedown of the concept with a voice that said clearly, “we get it.”
It had been less than a week since the same student newspaper published an investigative story about those six women — whose identities were kept anonymous — and an email chain from July 2012 featuring a sexually explicit “scouting report” of the female players written by the Harvard men’s soccer team.
The “scouting report” ranked the six women, then incoming freshman recruits, not on their athletic abilities but on their sexual appeal.
It included photos of each woman from social media, detailed and degrading descriptions of their physical attributes and ratings based on a numerical scale. One woman got a six, reported the Crimson. Another received a three.
The “scouting report” assigned the women fantasized sex positions — “missionary,” “The Triple Lindy,” “doggy style,” “cowgirl” — and was, reported the student newspaper, an apparent annual tradition.
In the email thread, one player wrote in response to the document, “hahahahaha well done.”
For four years, those women knew nothing of the way their fellow athletes had dissected their appearances in July 2012, before classes even began, until the Crimson story. And although their names were excluded from publication, it wasn’t difficult to figure out who the women of the 2012 recruiting class were.
More media coverage followed, as did judgment in person and online. The women felt “embarrassment, disgust and pain,” they wrote in their essay.
It inspired them to shed their anonymity.
“We are these women,” the essay begins, “we are not anonymous…”
“… we have decided to speak for ourselves.”
They signed it with their full names: Brooke Dickens, Kelsey Clayman, Alika Keene, Emily Mosbacher, Lauren Varela and Haley Washburn.
They wrote how hurt they were, both at the words that were written and at the realization that the men who wrote and responded to the “scouting report,” and those who observed “silently,” were people they considered “close friends.”
We have seen the “scouting report” in its entirety. We know the fullest extent of its contents: the descriptions of our bodies, the numbers we were each assigned, and the comparison to each other and recruits in classes before us. This document attempts to pit us against one another, as if the judgment of a few men is sufficient to determine our worth. But, men, we know better than that. Eighteen years of soccer taught us that. Eighteen years — as successful, powerful, and undeniably brilliant female athletes — taught us that.
We know what it’s like to get knocked down. To lose a few battles. To sweat, to cry, to bleed. To fight so hard, yet no matter what we do, the game is still out of our hands. And, even still, we keep fighting; for ourselves, yes, but above all for our teammates. This document might have stung any other group of women you chose to target, but not us. We know as teammates that we rise to the occasion, that we are stronger together, and that we will not tolerate anything less than respect for women that we care for more than ourselves.
The women expressed their frustration that, above all else, their initial reaction to news of the “scouting report” was to shrug it off as normal. They ache, but do not pity themselves, they wrote.
We feel hopeless because men who are supposed to be our brothers degrade us like this. We are appalled that female athletes who are told to feel empowered and proud of their abilities are so regularly reduced to a physical appearance. We are distraught that mothers having daughters almost a half century after getting equal rights have to worry about men’s entitlement to bodies that aren’t theirs. We are concerned for the future, because we know that the only way we can truly move past this culture is for the very men who perpetrate it to stop it in its tracks.
When the Crimson described the “scouting report,” Harvard officials condemned it and called the email thread “very disappointing and disturbing.”
“Harvard University Athletics has zero tolerance for behavior of this kind and is deeply upset by these offensive and derogatory remarks,” Harvard’s athletic director, Bob Scalise, told The Washington Post in a statement last week. Men’s soccer coach Pieter Lehrer, who was not the coach at the time of the 2012 email, told The Post he was “shocked and disgusted” by the report and will address its contents with his current athletes.
Officials said this behavior reflects poorly on Harvard student athletics and is not indicative of the university’s athletics program as a whole.
In their essay, the women agreed but were quick to head off anyone who might be inclined to dismiss this as just “locker room talk.”
“‘Locker room talk’ is not an excuse because this is not limited to athletic teams,” they wrote. “The whole world is the locker room. Yet in it we feel blessed to know many men who do not and would never participate in this behavior out of respect for us — out of respect for women. To them we are grateful, and with them we strive to share a mutual respect through our own actions and words.”
They finished their essay by addressing “Harvard soccer and any future men who may lay claim to our bodies.”
… in the words of one of us, we say together: “I can offer you my forgiveness, which is — and forever will be — the only part of me that you can ever claim as yours.”