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Monday, October 10, 2005

"Four Part Discrimination"

Adam Goldenberg (who is, or at least was, a member of the Din & Tonics) wrote this column for the Crimson published this past Friday. No matter how many times I read it, I cannot shake the disgusting feeling that this one column in the five minutes it takes to read it may invalidly and unfairly discredit the serious concerns that surround selective single-sex organizations, in particular final clubs, and the inequality of social space for men and women on campus.

He writes:
Hear this call to arms, fellow Harvard students, and take up the fight against discrimination. Because there is no possible way that any all-male group with any kind of power and appeal can be anything but sexist and, well, just generally awful. Avoid their concerts and boycott their parties. Stage a sit-in at University Hall calling for their expulsion from the Harvard community. So long as we let ourselves think that these organizations have enough redeeming qualities to justify their existence, we can count ourselves responsible for social power on this campus remaining firmly in the hands of men. And that’s an outrage.(More in extended post)

It's clear that yes, the Kroks, for example, enjoy benefits that go far beyond the connections of a musical community. At the very bottom of it all, though, there is a logical justification for their selectivity, and it's based on the kind of music they perform. Male voices and female voices sound different, and are of different ranges, and though they categorically do not accept women, it's not like any guy can be in the Kroks just because he's cool, or can drink a lot. There is a very clear bottom line: if you can't sing, you will not be accepted as a member of an all-male a cappella group. Beyond that, a lot of other a cappella groups do world tours, and the "elevated" social status of the Kroks (by being automatically part of the Pudding) is shared by the Pitches.

While this article was amusing on a superficial degree, and others might not take it the way I have (perhaps not having prior knowledge of the author as I do), I actually think its message is a harmful one, one that encourages us not to think critically and deeply about such issues, encourages acceptance of the status quo and equates one not quite equal thing to another, very serious issue. As with the article that Andrew took issue with, I don't think that thoughtful people thinking thoughtful things in response to a column can be attributed to the author, and that the face-value statement of a column must be taken into account (for those who will not think twice).


At 2:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's no analysis here! Just a bunch of feel-good self-esteem building and totally empty post-modernist/feminist babble. Try a real argument, or some of the "critical" and "deep" thinking you claim to advocate. What are these "serious concerns that surround selective single-sex organizations"? Why single out finals clubs? And what do you propose about this so-called "inequality of social space for men and women on campus"? In particular, pretend you are the Harvard Administration. What would you do about this? Expel every student who joins a finals club to shut them down? Buy Harvard Square mansions to selective female-only organizations? What about the majority of male Harvard undergraduates who are not members of finals clubs and thus cannot use their space for parties? Unless you meant that the inequality of social space for men and women on campus is that women can go anywhere, while the majority of men are limited to dorm rooms?

At 1:51 PM, Blogger deborah ho said...

That's true. In my haste to put something "out there," I wasn't clear on what I was talking about.

First, when I think of single sex organizations, I think of final clubs (male and female) in particular because they choose people on a fairly arbitrary basis. There are other organizations on campus that are composed of all women or all men for other reasons which I find to have a more logical or concrete basis, for example, the PBHA program Strong Women Strong Girls that seeks to provide mentorship for young girls, or ethnic/minority organizations such as ABHW or Latinas Unidas (which, because they are recognized groups, are technically open to male members and may in fact have a few, and are mostly composed of women simply because that is the focus of the organization). My deal with Adam's column is that he treats all-male a cappella as others treat the issue of male final clubs in an effort to, from my reading, discredit the traditional arguments about final clubs, and negate what I find to be a crucial distinction between the two: non-arbitrary and arbitrary selection. These would be that final clubs provide for their membership (which I do recognize is not all men) not only with space and resources but with the time and opportunity to make connections that will benefit them in the future that women do not have equal access to both in that there is no equivalent space where men and women can make connections with each other, or where women can make connections with other women. Because of the longer history of male final clubs, they tend to be more powerful and wealthy because of the power and resources found in their long legacy of alumni.

While it is completely true that the majority of men on campus do not have access to space that belongs to final clubs, some men do. There is no equivalent for women, (and this is not to say that I think that is the solution) and because female final clubs or sororities do not have space and cannot book space because they do not have official recognition, they are often in the situation where they must pay final clubs to use their space for their activities, which is one of the "inequalities of social space" I mentioned. I never claimed to have an answer to this complicated issue; I posted this in hopes that there would be a discussion about potential resolutions and others' ideas. One of the things that the administration is doing right now is creating a Women's center so that (possibly) non-recognized groups that adhere to certain standards would have the opportunity to use space there, and solve the issue of their dependence of male groups. Beyond that, I think it is clear that a man in a final club is treated and regarded differently than a woman in that same space, whether or not that man is a member of the club. This is another example of how "social space" for men and women is different, though both may be in a space that is not "theirs". As for who is to be blamed for this, I say both men and women, and I'll post about that soon.

As for the inequality of social space as pertaining to the majority of undergraduates that cannot use final club space, it's a fact (even if evidence is only anecdotal/observational) that men and women interact differently. Men make connections within their social groups that benefit them politically/career-wise etc. whereas women tend to have a distinction of social and academic/work that prevents their, for example, social contacts from benefitting them in another area. This is why in recent years, there has been a push towards creating networks for women that men automatically create socially: the Women's Leadership Network started the "Leading Ladies" network & luncheons, and recently ABHW, AAWA (Asian American Women's Association), Latinas Unidas, Jewish Women's Alliance (sorry if I have that name wrong...) and SAWC (South Asian Women's Collective) came together to form WCCLN (Women's Cultural Community Leaders Network).

I'm not unrealistic; it's human nature to want to help those somehow tied to or related to you over others. Whenever groups form, there will be benefits available for those within those groups that those who are not members will not have access to. To a certain degree, that's to be expected, and so long as it doesn't bring harm to others, I cannot provide a logical argument for them not to exist. I however do feel that male final clubs, particularly because they have more resources and have a greater presence and effect on campus do do harm to others, both men and women, most notably by creating a space where negative behaviour towards women can perpetuate, and elitism is basically created for elitism's sake. I am unsure how I feel about the existence of women's final clubs, and I cannot concretely argue that they hurt anyone (though thoughts on this are most welcome), although I do not think that taking something that has caused difficulty or unfairness to a group you may belong to is in any way solved by doing the same thing yourself. I also recognize that making connections is hugely important in life; merit can get you places, but people can get you almost anywhere. I'm torn by this issue because I don't believe in exclusivity without bases, but I recognize that to compete in this world the way it is now requires making connections, and female final clubs are a great place to do that.


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