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Teed off about tees

November 25, 2002

So far I’ve avoided writing about the great golf flap at Augusta National because it seems so trivial and idiotic. Michel Martin on ABC’s “This Week” complained vehemently about “back of the bus” treatment, meaning that it is a grave civil rights violation that females can’t be full-fledged members at the club.This is the conventional way the mainstream media discuss the issue: Feminist Martha Burk’s fight to force admission of a few hyper-rich women into a hyper-rich private club equals Rosa Parks. A trivial playtime problem for a few vastly overprivileged females equals the 400-year oppression of blacks. I think not. (And I believe Tiger Woods thinks not as well.) But The New York Times, overcome by the deep injustice of it all, is giving the story Watergate-style coverage day after day. Male sportswriters, assigning themselves a high moral perch, thunder against Augusta whenever they can.

As usual, discussion on the Internet is more candid and varied. Here is Jane Galt, a bright, young Web logger unknown to me until last week: “Arguing that only women have the right of free association, but men must sacrifice theirs … is not advancing the cause of equality. … If integrating the Augusta National is a major item on the feminist agenda, then stick a fork in the movement: It’s done. We’ve achieved our goals and should disband.”

Indignation about single-sex institutions is indeed selective. There are single-sex colleges, health clubs and Scout groups, and a women’s golf tour that excludes men (though women are eligible for the men’s tour). You do not see the press lords at The New York Times growing purple-faced because Wellesley College or the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto won’t allow males.

Here in New York, the previously all-male Century Club now accepts women, but nobody is trying to integrate the Century’s all-female counterpart, the Cosmopolitan Club. Female sportswriters are allowed into male locker rooms, where they routinely interview naked males. But there is no attempt to let male sportswriters into female locker rooms, though presumably many of these writers would be willing to interview the unclad Anna Kournikova.

Double standards are crucially important to America’s grievance industry. Martha Burk’s group, the National Council of Women’s Organizations, allows males but has none on its steering committee. Augusta National allows female golfers but has none as full members. Is there an important distinction here? The application of double standards depends heavily on the belief that women and blacks are in the same victim category. But excluding blacks or Jews is a very different phenomenon from the instinct of the sexes to separate themselves some of the time.

A sensible, non-victim-prone analysis would go something like this: (1) Though powerfully drawn together, males and females basically find each other strange and incomprehensible; (2) because of point No. 1, males and females need some time to get away from each other and seek the camaraderie of their own gender; and (3) female attempts to get away from males are socially encouraged, but similar male attempts to do so are becoming stigmatized as illegitimate.

Joining a men’s group is more and more seen as the equivalent of joining an all-white club. This state of affairs has come about because of the strength of the women’s movement and the wimpiness of males, who can’t seem to summon an argument, or even a vocabulary, with which to defend any all-male activity except football.

The basic anthropological text on this is Lionel Tiger’s “Men in Groups.” This book is so powerful and convincing about the transcultural need of men to bond strongly and separate some of the time from women that it has been irrationally attacked by radical feminists for more than 30 years. Tiger believes women have the same urge. He is co-author of a study on women of the kibbutz in Israel, which showed that kibbutz women wanted males out of the way so they could work in all-female groups.

The kernel of validity to the attack on male associations is that they help men in business, to the detriment of women. But with the rapid rise of female executives and the collapse of most male resistance, this is very much a declining phenomenon. Feminists are not just assaulting male groups where business is subtly conducted. They are assaulting male groups in general and trying to make it impossible for these groups to continue.

Augusta is not resisting Martha Burk out of sexism but because the members want to smoke cigars together, tell dirty jokes, discuss prostate problems, and scratch themselves in odd places without glancing around first. It’s ordinary male behavior in a male setting, now defined as a worrisome social problem.

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