Friday Feminist Fuck Yeah: Senior Male Athletes at Phillips Andover

Phillips Academy Andover, more commonly known as Phillips Andover,  is a prestigious and highly selective boarding school in Andover, Massachusetts whose students are known more for the high acceptance rates to elite and ivy-league universities they enjoy than for feminist activism. The high school’s Wikipedia page (yes, it has a long and elaborate one, having been established in the damn 1700’s), for example, boasts that “in recent years, Andover has sent the largest number of its students to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Penn, Columbia, Princeton, and other top-tier colleges and universities in the United States and abroad” but shockingly makes no mention of feminists, feminism, or gender issues.

Perhaps that reputation should change, after a group of the school’s seniors, led by Tyler Olkowski ’13, wrote an unprecedented, brave, and thorough Letter to the Editor endorsing feminism and calling out some problematic aspects of sports culture on their campus. An excerpt (all emphasis mine):

“For the last few months, the feminist movement has appealed to the entire campus, stirring debate among all. Yet, one demographic above all seems underrepresented and less welcomed: male athletes. Perhaps athletes feel like they cannot bring as much to the discussion. Perhaps it is easier to sweep this issue under the rug. Today, we, as Senior male athletes, think it’s time to speak out.

To us, this is as much an endorsement of feminism as it is a necessary action. Some of us are a part of the current movement on campus. Others are not. But the discussions of gender have caused us to realize our athlete culture has a problem.

Male athlete culture plays a leading role in Andover’s imbalanced hook-up culture, classroom dynamics and even in defining the gender roles of females on campus that younger students emulate and eventually internalize. As we look back on our times on varsity sports here at Andover, it is easy to find highlight reels of our best moments, whether it was a winning goal or touchdown. Despite these athletic feats, our collective character has been tainted by the objectification and sexism that pervade athlete culture.”

If this all seems too good to be true, you might want to sit down before you read on. Because somehow it gets even better, with Tyler and his merry band of newly minted feminist athletes getting specific about the behavior they think needs to change:

In more egregious examples of this problem, teams have turned relationships into games, people into prizes. Athletes have bonded over actions that marginalized and objectified women. Yet, the fault of this doesn’t land on the team’s shoulders [Ed. note: not even partially?], but on the culture as a whole that has structuralized and normalized these destructive behaviors from years past. The blame lies not on one captain or class of Seniors, but on the culture teams inherit from decades of captains and Senior leaders.

This culture may not be our fault, but it is our problem to fix. It is time for Andover’s athletes to find new, constructive ways to bond and develop team camaraderie—not ones based on conquering dances and competitively targeting females, not by prodding teammates to “hook-up” and teasing those who don’t. The definition of “cool” doesn’t have to be a traditionally masculine figure who objectifies their sexual partners or who climbs their respective social ladders through hook-ups.

Awesome, right? I think this really gets at some of the painful ways that fucked up gender dynamics pervade social interactions in schools all over the country, not just boarding schools (and not just in high schools, for that matter). And the solutions proposed embody a pretty thoughtful and unbridled endorsement of feminism, at a time when it seems like it will really make a difference at the school. As laid out by the New York Times, the school is currently engulfed in debate over the position of school president, a position to which only four girls have been elected since 1973 (when the school became c0-ed). The debate was kicked off by this initial Letter to the Editor, signed by a co-ed group which certainly also deserves our props, calling the lack of female school presidents “embarrassing” and decrying the “casual attitude surrounding this issue.” Students taking “the issue of gender lightly, or worse, to ignore it,” the original letter warned, “will only further exacerbate the problem and ignore the proverbial elephant in our collective room.”

In a world where pointing out the links between sports culture and rape culture is old hat and stories of athletes feeling entitled to women’s bodies permeate the news, this Letter to the Editor makes me feel hopeful that there are lots of young people out there who take the issue very seriously. For addressing the problem head-on and calling bullshit on sexism in all its manifestations, the senior male athletes at Phillips Andover deserve our firmest, finest, most feminist fuck yeah.

H/t Katie Henderson

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman started blogging with Feministing in 2008, and now runs partnerships and strategy as a co-Executive Director. She is also the Director of Youth Engagement at Women Deliver, where she promotes meaningful youth engagement in international development efforts, including through running the award-winning Women Deliver Young Leaders Program. Lori was formerly the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and has also worked at the United Nations Foundation on the Secretary-General's flagship Every Woman Every Child initiative, and at the International Women’s Health Coalition and Human Rights Watch. As a leading voice on women’s rights issues, Lori frequently consults, speaks and publishes on feminism, activism and movement-building. A graduate of Harvard University, Lori has been named to The Root 100 list of the most influential African Americans in the United States, and to Forbes Magazine‘s list of the “30 Under 30” successful mediamakers. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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