April 3 2012
Ending Augusta National’s Male-Only Membership Policy
Carrie L. Lukas
Protesting the Masters’ tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club for its male-only membership may seem like a retro move, even for the chronically retro feminist movement. But this time Martha Burke, the long-time leader of the anti-Augusta cabal, has come up with a new twist. As Burke writes for CNN:
Nine years after I led an unsuccessful effort by the National Council of Women’s Organizations to open membership in the club to women, the “woman problem” is back.
This time it involves Virginia Rometty, the first female chief executive of IBM. IBM is a major sponsor of Augusta National’s Masters Golf Tournament, and up to now its CEOs have always been given membership in the club. But none has ever been a woman. So what happens now — will Augusta National open its doors to women? Or will IBM pull its sponsorship and force its other executives to resign their club memberships?
These are the only two real choices.
Burke’s limited vision of Rometty’s options is testament to the warping effects of viewing everything through the gender-grievance lens.
Rometty has other options. She could choose to focus on IBM’s big-picture business model and future profitability rather than the nuances of its multi-faceted marketing plan, of which the Masters’ sponsorship is but a small part. Rometty could leave IBM executives free to join whatever clubs they wish, and not worry about her own eligibility at the golf clubs of America. After all, while Burke suggests that women’s lack of access to clubs filled with power-brokers is a major stumbling block on the road to success, Rometty’s own rise demonstrates that such obstacles are far from insurmountable.
The real question in the debate about Augusta is if American society can still tolerate the idea of anything that is elite and male-only.
This question has been effectively settled in academia: There are still numerous, prestigious women-only colleges, but men’s colleges have all but disappeared. The logic behind the eradication of elite, male-only colleges is that the legacy of male dominance requires a double standard. Women benefit from having safe havens from men so that their talents can be nurtured, but there is no legitimate justification for men needing a similar male-only space.
Today, of course, women earn six-in-ten bachelor’s degrees and a majority of master’s, which makes one wonder just how lopsided campuses must become before this paradigm of the disadvantaged women scholar disappears.
But the business world is another matter. While women are a growing economic force, certainly men continue to dominate in the board rooms and executive suites of leading companies. I’ve written before about how society shouldn’t be surprised if women never reach parity in terms of our roles in the workforce — women and men tend to have different preferences and to make different choices when it comes to work. So long as this is a reflection of individual desire, not the result of discrimination, I argue it’s not a problem that needs to be solved.
Yet even if one embraces the idea that society would be better off with more women in positions of power in top businesses, forcing all-male institutions like golf clubs to open their doors to female members seems unlikely to actually be effective in encouraging more companies to promote female executives to the top slot. Rometty will do much more to advance the cause of more female CEOs by succeeding in her job of leading IBM than by joining Martha Burke’s crusade against Augusta and the ranks of the perennially aggrieved.