One week before playoffs were to begin, Harvard University’s men’s soccer team prematurely ended their season and forfeited their first place ranking in the league. It was discovered that the players had participated in a lewd “scouting report” for over four years. According to the Harvard Crimson, the men’s team assessed the women’s team based on sexual desirability and physical appearance, even assigning them with “hypothetical sexual positions.”
Athletic Director Robert L. Scalise disciplined the team immediately.
The remaining games, including playoffs, were canceled and forfeited.
Harvard President Drew Faust explained the decision in the university newspaper:
[An] investigation into the 2012 team found that their “appalling” actions were not isolated to one year or the actions of a few, but appeared to be more widespread across the team and continued through the current season. The decision to cancel a season is serious and consequential, and reflects Harvard’s view that both the team’s behavior and the failure to be forthcoming when initially questioned are completely unacceptable, have no place at Harvard, and run counter to the mutual respect that is a core value of our community.
Though mutual respect might be a core value at Harvard University, it would seem that this issue is not isolated. Evidence recently surfaced that the men’s cross-country team engaged in a similar ranking system creating spreadsheets to evaluate female athletes.
This news comes less than one month after salacious comments made by President-elect Donald Trump were released to the public. While Trump apologized, he also dismissed his inappropriate comments as mere “locker room banter.”
In their official response to the Harvard soccer team scandal, the women’s team wrote that sometimes it seems “the whole world is the locker room.” Their letter went on to say:
When first notified of this “scouting report” each of us responded with surprise and confusion, but ultimately brushed off the news as if it didn’t really matter. As if we weren’t surprised men had spoken of us inappropriately. As if this kind of thing was just, “normal.” The sad reality is that we have come to expect this kind of behavior from so many men, that it is so “normal” to us we often decide it is not worth our time or effort to dwell on.
Though I am grieved by these events, I’m not surprised.
In my 50-plus years, I have witnessed influential institutions (i.e., Fox News) and famous pastors (i.e., Mark Driscoll) engage in similarly despicable behavior. I have seen parents defend their son’s misogynistic conduct and excuse it with a flippant “boys will be boys.” I have also been on the receiving end of inappropriate comments and unwelcome advances.
The prevailing cultural norm across the globe is not only to excuse males who objectify women but to also celebrate such conduct as if it exemplifies true masculinity. This mindset extinguishes all hope that such attitudes and behaviors will ever change.
Thankfully, Jesus’ resurrection power breaks into this narrative.
As Carolyn Custis James writes in Malestrom, though manhood might be a “moving target,” making it difficult for men to discern the true goal of masculinity, the Gospel’s definition of manhood is “universal and unchanging.” Additionally, what Jesus offers men is infinitely more satisfying and truthful than what the world proffers.
Instead of dismantling women into random sexualized body parts, as Trump and the men’s soccer team did, Jesus esteemed and elevated women, even women who were tarnished according to the cultural mores of the time.
In Luke 7, Scripture offers an alternative to the commodification of women:
When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating [at Simon’s house], she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them. (Luke 7:36-38)
Though Simon became indignant, Jesus did not bend in to his expectations or sympathize with his world view. Instead, He rebuked him, went on to defend her lavish act of worship and then forgave her sins.
He understands that women are created in the image of God, to be co-heirs and labor alongside men. Not beneath, where we would be taken advantage of and not above, where we would be idolized. But alongside. When such radical, kingdom-thinking breaks in, it changes everything. I have been around long enough to witness godly men who refuse to reduce women to sexualized objects that they can take advantage of and control.
I think of Nicholas Kristof, who alongside his wife Sheryl WuDunn, tirelessly fights for the rights and welfare of women across the globe. Or the Sonke Gender Justice movement in South Africa that seeks to teach men how to end unequal treatment of women in their homes and communities. I think of my husband and the many men I have been in ministry partnerships with who support, uphold and honor their sisters.
Jesus models to all men, in every generation, how to value and esteem women. And to assume that all men are engaging in disparaging talk against women behind closed doors is to think little of how God created us and designed us to honor one another.
Often, when someone in authority misbehaves, it sends a signal to others that deviant behavior is acceptable. By forsaking the world’s definition of masculinity, shutting down demeaning and damaging conversations, and carrying the torch of gender equality even if it means you will lose the respect and affirmation of your peers, men can engage in changing the status quo.
When women are seen and treated as co-heirs in the Gospel, we will begin to see a world that looks less and less like a locker room and more and more like the Kingdom of God.