April 5 2012
Carrie L. Lukas
The other day I wrote on National Review’s The Corner about Martha Burke’s use of IBM CEO, Virginia Rometty, in her crusade against Augusta National Golf Club. Burke has long fought to change Augusta’s male-only membership policy. She now sees the existence of a female CEO at IBM -- a sponsor of the tournament -- as a new opening. In my Corner post, I argue that Rometty doesn't need to make Burke’s campaign her own: There isn't anything inherently contradictory about a company with a female CEO supporting an event or cause that caters solely to the opposite sex.
Among the comments to my piece was the complaint that I fail to acknowledge that Burke’s effort is private, she's not suing or attempting to use the government to force the golf club to change policies, and that while I hint at there being something desirable about men and women having separate spheres, I cowardly avoid fully articulating this point, which would offend many.
A few thoughts. On the first matter, Burke is absolutely within her rights to try to use public pressure to encourage Augusta to change policies, just as Augusta, as a private actor, is free to set its own membership policies. I also have a right to view Burke’s activities as a waste of time and to criticize her attempts to convince women that they should be personally outraged by the existence of male-only clubs. Indeed it would be far worse if Burke were trying to convince Congress to outlaw single-sex clubs. Yet I still think it’s bad for the society to have Burke advancing her women-as-victim vision of the world, even if this battle remains outside of the policy realm.
On the second point, I’m ambivalent about Augusta National Golf Club’s membership policies. I don’t watch golf, don’t consider Augusta or the Masters some important cultural institution that needs to be protected, and wouldn’t care if Augusta changed its membership policies or closed down entirely. I have no meaningful, personal experience with such private clubs, and find the whole idea of very fancy, expensive clubs designed to facilitate networking rather foreign and a little elitist. However, I don't know that a male-only club is intrinsically more problematic or elitist than one that merely sorts by social status or income.
The crux of this debate and Burke’s campaign is that there is something inherently wrong and harmful to society (and to women in particular) in tolerating the existence of male-only clubs. And on that point I very much disagree: I believe that there is a legitimate role for single-sex only organizations.
IWF has mostly written about this topic mostly when it comes to education--girls and boys tend to behave differently when the opposite sex is around, and sometimes there is a benefit to being solely with your own sex. And this doesn’t just apply to girls and women—boys and men can also benefit from having a male-only space at times. It’s a problem, in my opinion, that our culture has create an aura or expectation that there's something devious about male-institutions, as if the only reason that men might what to be in the company of other men is to abuse women or indulge violent impulses. In particular as we’ve seen a growing number of men struggling academically, economically, and to find a secure role in the family structure, it seems important to stop the denigration of all things male.
I don’t believe that supporting the concept of single-sex organizations has anything to do with embracing the idea of men and women having proper “separate spheres” in society. Society should welcome men to act as primary caregivers and women to serve as bread winners. Yet that doesn’t mean that there aren’t meaningful innate differences between men and women. And while these differences don’t mean that men and women can’t perform a wide variety of roles in society, we also shouldn't be surprised when men and women do make different choices about how to spend their time and enjoy the companionship of their own sex.
Society will not rise or fall on the fate of Augusta National. But I see Burke’s campaign against the golf club as another attack on all things male, which doesn’t further the interests of women or our society generally.