About Your Final Club
MY DEAR friend,
Yesterday morning you joined a final club. And since I wasn't entirely straightforward with you when we talked Sunday night, I want to tell you now how I feel. This is not a private letter, and I apologize. But your decision is not a private one, and so I can't really respond to it that way.
You have now entered a space where I will not--and cannot--follow. It's your club and not mine; you are part of an organization I cannot join. Moreover, you are now a part of a space at Harvard that you and your male friends solely control. You can invite me or not, curse me or not, denigrate me with your words and actions--or not. I cannot watch you or stand by you.
You know I don't approve of final clubs. You know I think they only widen the gaps at Harvard and in our society between men and women, between haves and have-nots. You know that what is often encouraged in private, solely male spaces would not be acceptable between us as friends. You know how women can be treated and talked about in such a setting. You know what it means to have a party, a social scene, where a privileged few institutionalize their "right" to marginalize and control the participation of others. You know how fortunate you are to have the financial and social convenience to have such a space as this.
I could have told you how strongly I felt about this decision before you made it. But I wanted it to be your decision and not mine. It saddens me that you have made this choice, and I can only now offer you my concerns and my feelings as a friend.
When you finally approached me only hours before accepting this membership, you had already attended all the punching events. You said you had a few drinks, schmoozed a little, smoked a stogie or two. Then you wanted me to respond. You wanted me to set up some straw-man arguments about why final clubs are problematic and you wanted to knock them down. Who was I to stop you?
YOU told me it's not that big a deal. Yet you wondered at your own reticence. I didn't wonder. You wanted a place to go to--a room of your own. The problem for me is that your room is for you only to control. You are one of my best friends; we share our space and what we don't share we keep on terms we have agreed to respect. You have now established terms that are yours and yours only.
In the past, the final clubs have affected my life little; now I have to acknowledge their place and their impact on my position in the Harvard community. I have to acknowledge their impact on our friendship. Final clubs do not exist in a vacuum. When you go there, you leave our communal space for a private space all too often unaccountable to the social values and standards upheld by an open and diverse community.
You've made your choice, and I told you I can accept it. And I can. But can you? Can you continue to be the responsible, caring, sensitive and egalitarian person you have been? Will you defend me and what I represent? When you're sitting around with your male club members in your closed space smoking cigars and drinking gin and tonics, will you cede me the respect I continue to have for you? Do you trust your new fellows and the institution you have just joined enough to be responsible for them and their actions?
Now that you have joined your club, please remember me. Please do not allow the group pressures that naturally emerge from closed social situations to allow you to lose your self-respect or your respect for others. What will you say when one of your clubbies mentions "cheap pussy" or "fags"?
I plead with you because I no longer have the power to insist; you have left the space of open discourse for a self-regulating private haven.
Please know that if you ever see me outside your club's doors, I am not waiting to come in. If I am ever outside those doors, I will be shouting and demanding an end to the institution to which you now belong. I will be demanding an egalitarian Harvard that offers all of its members--regardless of class, race or gender--an opportunity to create a space on their own terms.
YOU have the right to join this club. Clubbies never let us forget that. But don't think the exercise of this right doesn't set up barriers between us--between what is your space and what is not mine. When you're sitting in your club, will you act the same way you act when we're sitting in my room? I hope you will be as true to me as I have now been to you.
Your choice has its consequences because it's not just your club; it's our community. I hope this new community--your club--will accept you and your values as much as I have tried to do. I will try to respect you in your decision. Please respect me. I speak from a position of weakness because I have no control over that community which excludes me and others of my gender.
I say all this because you are my friend. Yours, Rebecca