Kelly McFarlane played four years of varsity soccer at UNC, was a team captain and helped win a national championship before graduating in 2014. She and her teammates were friends with players from the men’s team. They had similar schedules and aspirations and went to each other’s games. This year’s teams ate Thanksgiving dinner together.
So McFarlane, who is now a first-year student at Harvard Medical School, was disappointed a month ago when The Harvard Crimson, the student paper, revealed that the Harvard men’s soccer team had compiled a crude, sexually explicit “scouting report” on incoming women’s soccer players. Among other things, each woman was assigned a preferred sexual position.
The Crimson reported that the document assessed freshman recruits from the 2012 women’s team based on their perceived physical attractiveness and sexual appeal, using a numerical scale. The “scouting report” appeared to have been produced annually. Harvard determined that the practice had continued into this year and canceled the remainder of the men’s season. That team was 10-3-2 and one win away from an NCAA tournament bid.
McFarlane, 24, is from California and was twice a member of the All ACC Academic Team. She knows some of the players on Harvard’s women’s team and played against one of the women described in the 2012 report.
She hasn’t personally experienced language like that used by the Harvard men’s players. But she told me this week, “I don’t think it was something that was unique to Harvard – maybe that specific document was – but that attitude and the culture behind it was not. And I felt for the women’s team having to deal with it during their season.”
The comments in the “scouting report” would have been out of line in any context. But McFarlane was especially disappointed because the Harvard women, like her, considered the men’s players to be their friends. “Even if some members of the (men’s) team weren’t directly involved, they didn’t speak up,” she said. “Really, there’s no excuse. Playing on the women’s team, you are close with the men’s team.... That speaks to the larger cultural and societal issues about women that we need to realize and try to change.”
After The Crimson broke the story, the six Harvard women who were the subject of the 2012 document wrote a powerful, proud and defiant column for the Crimson. They identified themselves and said they had read all of the nine-page document. They said they were deeply hurt. But they also said they would fight to be respected now and forever.
The Harvard men’s players knew better but submitted to the dark force of the group.
“In all, we do not pity ourselves, nor do we ache most because of the personal nature of this attack,” they wrote. “More than anything, we are frustrated that this is a reality that all women have faced in the past and will continue to face throughout their lives. We feel hopeless because men who are supposed to be our brothers degrade us like this.”
McFarlane admired the response from the Harvard women. “Rather than being nameless and faceless, they came out and said this is about us, this is what we have to say,” she said. “I thought it was a strong response for them to not just let it happen.”
She noted that in many ways, the playing field is much more even for women of her generation. That, McFarlane said, makes the comments from the Harvard men’s players more disappointing. “You hate to see it still there in our generation,” she said. The Harvard men’s players knew better but submitted to the dark force of the group.
Donald Trump recently excused his vulgar comments about women, made when he was 59 years old, by saying it was just locker-room talk. As the Harvard women wrote, the whole world is the locker room. McFarlane said change will come when women stand up for themselves – and when men have the courage to stand up for what they know is right.