Sometime ago, I wrote about a few local, female politicians who picketed an “old boys’ club” in my community — a place of privilege where political agendas were set without a public process. To put an end to this exclusivity, the women decided to shine a light on what amounted to discrimination. In the end, they won their case. A few were invited to become members, a few of the “right sort.”
Private clubs, like the one I’ve described, exist in every city and hamlet of this country. Most insidious of all, they thrive in our prestigious educational institutions. In “Final Exams,” William Staiem details the war Harvard’s female president, Drew Gilpin Faust, has been waging against all-male, off-campus “Final Clubs.” “Uber fraternities” she calls them. (“Final Exams,” by William Stadiem, Town&Country, September 2016, pg. 196.) Gilpin’s big stick is Title IX. She insists the act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in academic and athletic programs. Her intent is to bring these all male associations to heel in an effort to reduce incidents of sexual harassment.
Surprisingly, Gilpin’s concern doesn’t hold water. A review of sexual harassment charges at the university shows most of the assaults occur in dormitories rather than Final Clubs, so-called because, historically, members were recruited in their final year of college. That is no longer the case. (Ibid pg. 196.) .
Harvard has had a long history of spats with Final clubs. As a consequence, all of them have been deprived of official ties to the school. Still, they thrive because, since their inception, they attracted members from wealthy and distinguished families. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is one example. Since the alums of the Finals Clubs also provide generous endowments to the university, Gilpin has had only marginal success with tackling the associations head-on.
She shouldn’t be surprised. American society is riddled with similar patriarchies, places were money and power hold sway and old boy networks count more than the democratic process. Women have an uphill battle if they wish to level the playing field. Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency won’t bring about a dramatic alteration any more than electing an African-American president settled racism in the country. Nonetheless, her election to that high office would be a first step toward change.