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April 8 2005

A Springtime Feminist Tradition

Carrie L. Lukas

A sure sign of spring, the Masters Tournament is once again underway and Martha Burk is whining about it. After a one year hiatus, Burk has returned in the pages of the Wall Street Journal exposing the Masters Tournament and Augusta National Golf Club as the root of an evil conspiracy to fleece stockholders and, of course, oppress women.

Augusta National Golf Club's sin is that it has a men's-only membership policy and continues to attract elites from the world of politics and big business. In 2003, Burk launched a crusade against Augusta, trying to shame the tournament's corporate sponsors into pulling support. CBS elected to run the popular tournament commercial-free without sponsorships. Martha's campaign garnered the whole-hearted support of the New York Times, but she never caught the imagination of the public. At the final demonstration, reporters were said to have outnumbered actual protesters 5 to 1.

Last year, Martha went silent and the tournament proceeded flawlessly. Now, with IBM, SBC, and ExxonMobil sponsoring the tournament, Burk is again claiming foul. She writes in the Wall Street Journal:

The harm to stockholders pales beside the harm to working women. If the largest companies can send the message that sex discrimination is acceptable, it has a legitimizing effect that goes far beyond Augusta. It trickles down to frontline management, it permeates the culture, and it stifles women's progress.

But is this the message that the public receives from the Masters tournament? Hardly. The 2003 protest failed because most women simply don't feel wronged by a private club dictating its membership policies.

Burk notes that the public wouldn't stand for a club that discriminated based on race. She reports that in 1990, IBM pulled sponsorship of a golf tournament held at a club that excluded African Americans, explaining: "Supporting even indirectly activities which are exclusionary is against IBM's practices and policies."

Burk is right -- the public won't stand for exclusion based on race, but there's a big difference between race and gender. No matter how much feminists pummel Larry Summers for saying so, most Americans recognize that there are differences between men and women, which is why men- and women-only entities abound in respectable society. There are Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, sororities and fraternities, and women's and men's colleges. The health club, Curves, has become the world's largest fitness franchise in part because of its women's only membership, which recognizes that many women prefer to exercise away from the eyes of the opposite sex.

Once you accept the idea that it's reasonable for women to seek out women-only refuges, it's difficult to argue that men's desires for male-only sanctuaries are any less legitimate.

Burk would undoubtedly point out that these male dens are bastions of power: titans of big business rub elbows and form alliances, and women miss out from being excluded from that arena. True enough. But does this truth trump the right of a private entity to exist? I don't think so, and apparently neither do most Americans.

And for those who are offended by an institution's membership policy, there is an outlet for them to lodge protest. Don't watch the Masters tournament. Don't buy products from IBM, ExxonMobile, or any other company that chooses to advertise during the tournament. Stockholders of corporations that have too few women on their boards can vote with their dollars by selling their stocks.

And ultimately, the market will work. If boards crafted through cronyism create bad business practices, they will be punished in the marketplace. Upstart businesses with savvy boards built with the best and brightest will topple their inefficient competitors.

Martha Burk's campaign will face the same fate. Two years ago, the public wasn't buying that the Masters was an evil force worthy of public scorn. It's Martha's right to try to convince us again. But as sure as the Azaleas will bloom, millions of Americans are going to watch the final round on Sunday. In doing so, they will be celebrating golf's finest tradition, not a scourge against women.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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