Addressing the Problem: A Look at Misogynistic Harvard-Yale Shirts

Blast from the Past! Check out this blog post that HCWC Intern Suzanna B:

Well, it appears that we are right on schedule with autumn. Beautiful leaves in Harvard Yard? Check. Final decisions on Halloween costumes? Check. Confirmation of Thanksgiving travel plans? You bet. Problematic Harvard-Yale t-shirts? Sadly, yes.

Harvard-Yale t-shirts—fundraising and entrepreneurial opportunities for College students—have become a pivotal tradition to the annual Harvard- Yale Football game. In the days leading up to the festivities, student organizations as well as entrepreneurial individuals wave various shades of Crimson shirts in your face as you walk in and out of Annenberg. To be sure, these shirts are irreverent, obnoxious, and, at times, ridiculous. (One of my favorites from last year referenced the then-infamous Kanye West vs. Taylor Swift standoff proclaiming, “Imma let you finish Yale, but Harvard is the best college of all time.”) Nevertheless, these shirts are a way for students to creatively participate in one of the longest-running football rivalries and also to build school pride (albeit tongue-in-cheek).

Last year, as I passed along the Science Center, I couldn’t help but liken the Cantabrigian commotion to those Mexican markets that I had frequented with my family. With yelling, waving, and convincing, it provided a bit of a nostalgic moment. Yet one day, I was quite disturbed by a shirt that some students were selling. Crimson like all the rest, it featured a bulldog (Yale’s mascot) facing downward as bodiless hands appeared to be spaying it with a pair of surgical scissors. Towards the top, large, capital, and bold letters spelled out, “VERITAS BITCH.” The person selling it was yelling at the top of his lungs, “Come get the only Drew Faust and Natalie Portman endorsed Harvard-Yale t-shirt! You know you want it!” Obviously fabricating this support, the student continued to yell and he even attempted to sell one to a family of tourists as they crossed into Harvard Yard. At first glance, the shirt made me feel extremely uncomfortable, unsafe, and unwelcome by the students who sold it. These emotions only increased as I saw more students (mostly male) wearing the shirt around dining halls, classrooms, and dorms. Seeing “BITCH” and those scissors over and over again did not make me feel proud to be a Harvardian; rather, I felt embarrassed, disturbed, and threatened by my peers. Today, almost a year later, I must admit that I still judge those students who wear the shirts around campus. I know that some may think that it is “just a shirt,” but I see it as a violent and harmful assertion of male superiority. Unfortunately, when I view students wearing this specific design, I automatically view them as complicit in systemic gender oppression.

The first Harvard-Yale shirts have been released and frustratingly, they mock an attempted sexual assault. The first batch of the bunch illustrates Internet sensation and rape preventer Antonie Dodson saying, “Hide your kids, hide your wife.” On the back, the shirt tells Yale, “We goin’ find you.” A bit of back-story: this past summer, Antonie Dodson woke up to his sister screaming in her bedroom. Rushing in, he found an intruder in her bed and forced him to leave their house. He was then interviewed by a local news station where he infamously told Huntsville residents to “hide your kids, hide your wife” from the still-at-large rapist. Once the interview was released on Youtube, it became a viral hit. To be sure, its success was rooted in problematic racial and class mockery. After looking at these shirts, I am left with three questions: Is Harvard the rapist? Is Yale the rapist? And finally, how is the trivialization of sexual assault relevant to an annual football game?

My conclusion: the shirt is a result of immature and inconsiderate attempts to gain attention. Lamentably, rather than fostering a respectful and friendly rivalry, some Harvard students have taken it upon themselves to embarrass the University and their peers. Moreover, considering the recent events of a Yale fraternity yelling “No means yes and yes means anal” outside of first-year female dorms, this behavior is even more distressing.

As Harvard-Yale shirts remain outside of University control, it is our responsibility as students to confront these disturbing images and ask these necessary and difficult questions. Still not yet comfortable with confrontation, I know that asking people about the messages behind their shirts will be intimidating and awkward. I am unhappily predicting more of these misogynistic shirts to come out of the boxes in the upcoming weeks. However, I hope that this year I will find the courage to resist these images and words in a calm and articulate manner. If Harvard-Yale shirts ever bother you, you are more than welcomed to come down to the Women’s Center in the basement of Canaday B basement and talk it out with me. If you want, we can practice asking questions and demanding answers. Still, as the Harvard College Women’s Center is an inclusive space and open to all opinions, I also welcome those who may disagree with me. After all, provoking statements should always be paired with provoking and respectful conversations.

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