Op-ed | Sexist speech reaches a public forum
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 01:09
Last Friday night, members of the Smith and Tufts women’s volleyball teams were subjected to sexist and racist heckling from male fans. The behavior of those involved was threatening, demeaning and unacceptable, and I believe it was representative of a culture of aggression that needs to be changed.
Partway through the second set of the match, a group of more than 20 young men arrived, many of whom were wearing Tufts lacrosse apparel. At first, they were boisterous and funny and brought a lot of energy to the crowd.
At some point the atmosphere changed. Instead of just cheering for the Tufts team, several guys began roster-calling Smith players. It quickly escalated to the point where they were screaming sexist and racist insults across the gym.
When a player squatted to receive a serve: “Look at those childbearing hips!”
Commenting on a player’s build: “Whoa, we got a big one!”
Every single time a particular Latina player made contact with the ball: “Hey Sonia — Sonia you suck!” “Sonia, you f--ked up!” “That was all your fault, Sonia! You’re gonna get deported!”
“Hey number five, I bet you have a tight butthole!”
“Number seven! Number seven, where’s your boyfriend?”
“Woo, look at those volleyball shorts!”
“Hey! My sister’s your boyfriend!” Get it? The team was from Smith. Funny, right?
The Smith players were visibly unsettled and an assistant coach was glaring in the hecklers’ direction, although they bravely tried to ignore the commotion during the game.
The group also sexually harassed the Tufts players and their coach, with one fan yelling, “Damn! Our coach is hot!” Eventually, they were chanting the Tufts’ coach’s name so that it echoed around the gym while she was trying to focus. In a disgusting display of mob mentality, they fed each other lines to further persecute the athletes and coaches. This was not a twisted attempt at flattery. Lecherous laughter and high-fives followed each shout.
You might say they didn’t know what they were doing was wrong — they did. An athletic official approached them when they began roster-calling, asking them to stop using players’ names. At least half the group ignored the admonition and continued their hostile behavior.
I get it. Sometimes at sports games people taunt the players of the opposing team to distract them. However, it crosses the line when they are making racist and sexist comments about individuals. Imagine trying to play your best with booming voices shouting down at you from the stands, making explicit and offensive comments about your body. Not only did they undoubtedly make the players of both teams uncomfortable, but they made other fans uncomfortable as well. I felt uneasy and threatened just being near them, and I know my female friends felt similarly.
I’m disgusted as a woman and as a Tufts student. I hope my fellow students are better than this. As members of the Tufts student body, you all represent our school, particularly when you wear Tufts athletic apparel. The behavior of the men in the stands was mortifying, and I hate to think what those Smith players and coaches think of us now.
Many people were guilty in this situation. Obviously, the men who were behaving inappropriately deserve the majority of the blame. In addition, however, Tufts athletic officials should have been far more aggressive in dealing with the situation. When the offenders did not initially heed the request to restrain themselves, they should have been asked to leave. Likewise, bystanders, including myself, should be ashamed that we did nothing to stop them. I regret not confronting the situation while it was occurring.
I do not wish to say that this situation was unique. According to friends who are female athletes, it is not uncommon to be inappropriately harassed by fans at opposing schools. However, this particular incident should force all of us to examine our role in a culture that allows such behavior to occur. If nobody was willing to put a stop to verbal violence, will people be willing to stand up to physical violence? It is necessary that we all play a part in combatting an environment that makes anyone feel threatened.
I urge all Tufts students to consider being active bystanders. When you witness harassment, intervene — safely, of course. Most importantly, hold yourself and your friends accountable. There were members of the group that heckled, but never took it to a sexualized or racialized level, and I noticed them. They had the power to stop the comments from going too far and they did not.
I urge those who participated in the harassment at the game to take a leadership role in combatting a culture of sexual aggression on campus. Apologies are great, but making a change is better. I realize this is a lot to ask for, but I have high hopes for Tufts students.