November is quickly approaching—leaves are piling on the ground, temperatures are getting chillier, and most importantly, the Harvard-Yale football game is almost here. “The Game” symbolizes centuries of long-lasting rivalry between the two schools, and as part of this excitement, we display our Crimson loyalty through Harvard-glorifying t-shirts, which will soon be on sale. These t-shirts raise money for student groups, help build anticipation for The Game, and are a fun part of the annual traditions. However, it is important that we not let our impassioned support for the football team and desire to surpass our New Haven rival sanction apparel that is deeply offensive and degrades women.
Even where there is no aggressive or violent intent, many Harvard-Yale t-shirt designs constitute attacks on the female population and endorse a negative message over which we as a community should be striving to triumph. Last year, the Yale Freshmen Class Council decided to not use what the freshmen class voted on to be their Harvard-Yale t-shirt; after an outcry. The original shirt, which read “I think of all Harvard men as Sissies,” referencing the quotation from F. Scott Fitzgerald, was pulled before it could even be printed. It was decided that the use of the word “sissies” as an insult plays too well into a history of its use to disparage members of the queer community. Making the decision to censor the shirt not only protected the marginalized but also protected the integrity of Yale’s image. In the same vein, we should protect students in our community from the intensely offensive connotations of certain t-shirt designs that degrade women, promote sexual violence, or positively allude to rape, by speaking out against the design and sale of such t-shirts, and most importantly, not buying them.
In the past, I have seen Harvard-Yale shirts that, in the name of cleverness, glorify aggressive if not violent male sexual dominance in both language and imagery. Among them is a sweatshirt emblazoned with the words “Bulldog… Just a Fancy Word for Bitch,” depicting the disconcerting image of a Harvard pioneer raising a paddle to a crouching Yale bulldog. Another shirt most likely recycled from this design depicts a bulldog being walked on a leash by a semblance of John Harvard. This image is an obvious portrayal of sexist imagery as it is intentionally meant to make the bulldog look subservient to a dominant male figure. Likewise, another past t-shirt depicts a Yale bulldog kneeling in front of a representation of a muscular Harvard male mascot, insinuating lewd behavior and configuring women as sexual objects. Not to mention the more recent, overtly insulting design “Veritas Bitches.” That shirt in particular undeniably uses destructive, caustic language, debases women, and seems to connote rape. The design shows our John Harvard mascot yielding two swords and menacingly looking at the outspread legs of a bulldog.
Such shirts portray blatant sexual overtones which are fundamentally problematic. Women are not things to be sexually dominated by men and using that paradigm as a basis for a joke is offensive, damaging, and cheap. Walking around in such explicitly degrading apparel in the name of school spirit in no way brings glory to our team.
Moving forward it is important to make a conscious effort to ensure that a long-standing football rivalry does not also maintain long-standing systems of gender oppression. All of the work and media we produce should be reflective of the respect we feel for other students on this campus. We should live by this principle every day and should not compromise it during the frenzy of Harvard-Yale weekend.
Shalini Pammal ’13, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Leverett House.