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Andrew C. Thomas

The club directors still refuse to allow women to join and play on the links of Augusta National. How about that.

It’s fair to say that gender discrimination has been one of the hotter buttons to push in the past century about an issue that some people believe should be changed. It’s also one of many issues that has made significant progress in being remedied. But there are several high-profile situations in our society which reflect the gender disparity.

Augusta has proven to be a particularly hot button, as is the game of golf in general. While the name did not originate from the acronym “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden,” it was certainly an attitude that propagated throughout time. Certainly it is consistent with human nature that people wish to spend time with similar people -- pure and simple conformism in action. And gender discrimination is a method used for millions of years, even within division of labor in animal species. So it’s only natural that this game would spark a drive on behalf of men to band together and keep women out.

Recently, a situation arose when Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, began to fight Augusta National over their membership policy. Jesse Jackson has since adopted the cause, claiming that gender discrimination is tantamount to apartheid. On the other hand, many believe that, as a private club, Augusta should be free to set its own membership policies.

MIT has also seen its share of controversy over this subject. Three years ago a report was published in the MIT Faculty Newsletter about the situation. The following sentiment led to the creation of a committee: “We believe that discriminatory attitudes operate at the time of hiring junior faculty and influence the experiences of the women who are hired.” The percentage of female faculty in the School of Science (the first department to analyze the problem) had been holding at about eight percent over a 20 year period. One might suggest that this low trend is due to a historic trend of a minimum of women entering the sciences, a trend that is itself changing (to which I would credit the admissions office under the tenure of Marilee Jones).

But change seems to be coming slowly at the upper echelon. Though there has been a marked increase in the number of female faculty in the last ten years, it is unlikely we will see a balance develop within 20 years due to the slow turnover rate of tenured faculty.

So why not embrace the departure of this celebrated tradition? Women have the Margaret Cheney room, after all. So I propose: Let’s turn the Stratton Game Room into a Gentlemen Only club. What could be better? A private space where men could relax, shoot a little pool, and have a drink or two with fellow men. It wouldn’t be out of line with the standards set by our forbears, after all.

Better yet, we could outfit the room with velvet drapes, all sorts of mahogany constructions, and soft leather couches. We could even hire a bartender and a jazz trio to set the mood just right. And the only thing that would make it perfect? No uninvited and unwelcome guests.

The point still remains that clubs are rarely meant for the inclusion of similar people, but rather for the exclusion of the dissimilar. Few feelings are greater than the smug satisfaction of knowing you have been accepted into an elite group, when someone else -- typically, someone you might hold a grudge against -- has been denied. These are not the noblest of sentiments upon which to base the ideals of membership.

In this light, how can one justify the rights of private organizations to discriminate against its potential members? There seem to be two possibilities for amelioration.

One is that the evolution of democratic thought will eventually sweep aside this kind of thought. Augusta will evolve, in time, to realize that the inclusion of women would represent a completely new and fresh direction that would ensure the health of the club for many years to come. I don’t believe that the current management at Augusta, combined with the amazing American schism between being at the forefront of progress and simultaneously clinging to failed tradition, will provide a climate of change. No less would the rich membership of Augusta like that change. While commercial endorsement advertising is often crucial for sporting events, the Masters tournament has one of the lowest amounts of advertising during its broadcasts. And even with the pullout of several major sponsors from the next Masters, Augusta is not worried about the fallout.

The other possibility for change would be the outright outlawing of any qualifications of membership that discriminate against gender (among others). But as much as I support this kind of change, I doubt forced political moves would change the underlying feelings of the situation.

What is at the heart of those feelings? I believe that it represents the insecurity of the people in control, and the need to use the power available to them. It gives people a boost of security if they believe they control the destinies of others, and even if this analogy seems hyperbolic, it is these attitudes that might in fact be reflected in the hiring policies of MIT faculty.

To say that all of these problems result from a fundamental lack of maturity is too much of a simplification of the underlying problems that we face. But I’m glad to see at least a little change is being made along the way, thanks to the courage of those people who fight the status quo and stand up for their beliefs.