In Cambridge, Mass., the biggest story is the Porcellian Club, the exclusive and secretive "final club" for male Harvard students whose most famous current alums are the Winklevoss twins. Rakesh Khurana, the dean of Harvard College, issued an ultimatum giving eight single-sex student clubs (including Porcellian) until April 15 to go co-ed, and Porcellian, founded in 1791 and the oldest of the clubs, is so far holding out. Khurana' s edict followed a report from Harvard's Task Force on Sexual Assault Prevention stating that 47 percent of female Harvard seniors who participated in finals-club activities had experienced "nonconsensual contact," in contrast to only 31 percent of female Harvard seniors in general.
The upshot: male-only institutions bad.
But across the Charles River from Harvard in Boston, Chariot for Women, a determinedly single-sex ride-sharing service in which both drivers and passengers over age 13 will be exclusively female, is set to launch tomorrow, April 19. The rationale is…prevention of sexual assault. The new company's debut follows a report in Buzzfeed suggesting that the ride-sharing Goliath, Uber, most of whose drivers are male, has generated thousands of customer complaints of rape and other kinds of sexual misconduct (Uber says that assaults by its drivers are rare and that Buzzfeed misinterpreted the data it received). Chariot for Women's motto is "Driving Women for Empowerment and Safety."
The upshot: female-only institutions good.
Now, it may be that Chariots for Women is violating state or federal equal-accommodation laws, which permit only narrow exceptions for single-sex entities. But so far, the buzz surrounding the brand-new venture has been nothing but praise: "The triggers that this could avoid for sexual assault survivors and peace of mind it could give to parents putting their children in cars – not to mention women generally who are getting into cars after dark – seems substantial," writes Jordan Crucchiola of the Good website.
By contrast, Charles M. Storey, Harvard, '82, felt obliged to resign from his presidency of Porcellian's graduate board for saying exactly the same thing about Porcellian's single-sex policy. Storey had issued a statement saying, "Forcing single-gender organizations to accept members of the opposite sex could potentially increase, not decrease, the potential for sexual misconduct.” Storey, who is president of the Harpoon Brewery in Boston, subsequently apologized profusely for his statement–twice, before submitting his resignation.
Double standard, anyone?
Of course, Harvard has been waging war on its mostly all-male single-sex finals clubs for decades. The clubs, including Porcellian, severed their official connectons with Harvard after the university ordered them to go co-ed in 1984. But the fact that the clubs continue to exist, even as strictly off-campus institutions, obviously rankles many Harvard professors and administrators
Club-hosted parties have “reinforced a sense of sexual entitlement,” according to the report. The report cites student accounts of “parties at which the only non-members in attendance were women selected mainly by virtue of their physical appearance,” as well as party themes that portray women as “sexual objects.”
"Women selected mainly by virtue of their physical appearance"! Translation: Porcellian men date pretty girls.
And naturally the report didn't get around to defining what "nonconsensual conduct" meant in terms of those supposedly high sexual-assault percentages.
It's unclear what Harvard plans to do about Porcellian (several other all-male finals clubs have decided to go ahead and admit female members). The task force didn't quite go so far as to advocate that Harvard essentially shut the clubs down by forbidding students to join them. But it came close: "If those conversations fail to make progress, or if the transition by the Clubs to open and nondiscriminatory membership practices fails to address the issues we have identified in this report, we believe the University should not rule out any alternative approaches,” the report said.