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Letter to the Editor: A Long History of Sexism in Harvard Sports

By Megan Kate Nelson

To the editor:

I read The Crimson’s articles about the men’s soccer team’s “scouting reports” and the men’s cross country team’s spreadsheets with disgust and disappointment. Not only because these revelations reveal the misogyny that is alive and well at my alma mater, but also because they made me think back on my own experience as an athlete at Harvard.

In the fall of 1993, I was a senior and a member of the women’s cross country team. Unlike many other sports at Harvard, the women’s and men’s cross country teams trained together and traveled together to meets; we cheered the men on as they ran their races. Late in the season, several of them appeared at practice wearing t-shirts that they had ordered to commemorate that year’s training camp. On the back of the shirt was a list, in code: two letters, then a number.

It did not take us long to figure out that the letters were the initials of several members of the women’s team, reversed. It was clear that the number was a ranking of some kind. We confronted several members of team and one of them confessed to us that the numbers indicated how many men on the team wanted a blowjob from that woman.

The women's team captain and I called a meeting with the men’s team captain and several others, and I could barely contain my rage. At the end of the meeting, they apologized and agreed that they would not wear the shirts on campus. In retrospect, we let them off easy. We should not have kept this in-house; we should have reported them to the athletic director and asked him to hand down a punishment.

I am so proud of women’s soccer team for their openness about the despicable actions of the men’s team over the past four years, and for the eloquence and strength they displayed in their own letter to the editor last week.

We have seen misogyny in so many ways during this presidential election, as a woman is on track to become the leader of the free world. But clearly, it is not a recent phenomenon.

Men of Harvard and everywhere else, who objectify women for your own amusement: you cannot stop women from being the fastest runners in the pack. You cannot stop women from doing what they want with their own bodies. And you cannot stop women from succeeding.

What you can do is to stop feeling like women with power take power away from you. You can try to imagine what it is like to experience this kind of denigration on a daily basis. And you can have respect for women and all that they accomplish, and see them as your equals in every way.

Megan Kate Nelson '94 is a historian and writer living in Lincoln, Mass.

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