In December 2016, the Princeton men’s swimming and diving team season was canceled following a complaint about “vulgar and offensive” language on the team listserv. This incident came only shortly after the Harvard men’s soccer team had its season canceled for a vulgar Google Doc circulated among members. In light of the these and other past events, universities and students have been especially conscious of inappropriate sexual language.

But on campus as a woman, I have found that the caution and attention that men exert in discussing women is not mirrored by women’s discussion of their male counterparts. On listservs and in group messaging, many female groups continue to talk about their male peers using objectifying language. Though instances as severe or offensive as those highlighted in the national media are rare, I think that women should take caution to use the same standards of critique on their own language that they expect men to use in their discourse.

After the release of President Trump’s “locker room banter” video during the 2016 presidential campaign, discussion of male objectification of women in private blew up on the national stage. For example, Shaun Harper explained in The Washington Post how ubiquitous this sort of language and behavior is between men and its function to display masculinity. While men are conscious of political correctness in the public sphere, this incident with a national political figure pushed the issue of private misogynistic banter into the spotlight. Harper called his male peers to confront the problem by challenging each other and calling each other out when its due.

Though women have not been subject to similar public outrage exposing the language used to publicly discuss men, we should keep ourselves and our peers accountable for how we discuss male students. This issue is especially relevant on college campuses where same-gender groups exist — Greek life, sports teams, a cappella, etc. When surrounded by other females, I often feel free to candidly talk about men. In these private talks with friends, we forget the standards of respect that we expect from our peers. These men we are often talking about are not celebrities or public figures. They are our lab partners, members of our eating club, guys in our hall in Whitman College. They are our peers.

The men’s swimming issue also fostered debates of free speech and institutional interference in a private space. The men were punished for discourse on a private platform and many questioned whether this dialogue fell under University jurisdiction at all. Though this opposition does not condone the rhetoric used, these opponents argued that “free expression in private communications” should not be punishable by the University.

I agree that this problem, both the issues in the media and the issue I am raising about female dialogue, is not necessarily best confronted by University interference or regulations. I believe that these private conversations, offensive but not threatening, constitute free speech. Instead, it is our responsibility as students to police ourselves and our peers to establish a higher standard of respect in these casual and seemingly harmless private conversation settings.

While this sort of “girls’ bathroom talk,” if you will, often occurs without a flinch of remorse, we would not permit the same dialogue if roles were reversed. When we discuss the most attractive sports team on campus, we don’t think of the contempt we would hold for a group of men having the reverse conversation. This is not to say that there is no acceptable way for friends to discuss the other sex or even to discuss physical appearance. But there are standards that we would hope our peers are following. And, as women, we should hold ourselves and each other accountable to match these expectations in our own dialogue.

Jessica Nyquist is a junior in computer science from Houston, Texas. She can be reached at

Comments powered by Disqus