Women's Groups Proliferate

But Efforts to Stir Debate and Combat All-Male Clubs Fall Short

The limited status of women on the campus social and political scenes has been challenged by the formation of several new groups this year.

But how successful the organizers of these efforts have been at combating the social hegemony of all-male final clubs and the apolitical stagnation of the Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS) remains a matter of question.

One group, Women Appealing for Change (WAC), launched a boycott of the nine all-male final clubs to protest the clubs' single-sex policies. Some women have formed final clubs of their own.

Still others sought to start new, more active feminist groups after RUS leaders declared the organization largely apolitical.

Each of these fledgling groups shares a desire to see the face of feminism on campus altered. But their efforts appear to have made little difference.

Breaking the Barriers

For the activists in WAC, forcing open the all-male final clubs meant gaining access for women to one of the last off-limits areas at the College.

A group of women, many of whom frequent final clubs, last fall launched a boycott of the single-sex social clubs to pressure them into going co-ed. With high-profile advertisements and orchestrated appeals to the press, WAC solicited the signatures of hundreds of women during the academic year who agreed to join the protest.

Nevertheless, WAC's demands didn't go far enough to suit some campus feminists, who have denounced final clubs as elitist as well as sexist.

The final clubs, with which the College severed all official ties in 1984 because of their exclusion of women, admit Harvard male undergraduates by nomination and election by club members.

Although the WAC boycott was only scheduled to run through the end of this academic year, a May 22 "WAC Newsletter" says "WAC is here to stay"

The newsletter, which was written by organizer Francie Walton '94, suggests that the group might try to set its sights a bit lower next year.

"Let us know your ideas for next year--perhaps just an officially sponsored boycott for the punching events in the fall to get a larger number of women involved?" Walton asks women members.

Walton's scaled-back ambitions may result from a lack of success in forcing change this year. The newsletter cites "financial struggles," women deserting the boycott effort and an inability to unite the female undergraduate community as problems.

"It is funny that the movement in many ways became an issue of women vs. Women and this I think is sad, not only because it weakened our voice, but because it was a real opportunity for many of us to unite and show our support for each other," Walton writes.

WAC was in a difficult position from the start because it was too hostile toward the clubs for some women who socialize there and too amicable for many others.

"Many of us have attended club functions andbeen members' 'dates' to many events, whether aHasty Pudding Show or a Fly punching party," readthe text of WAC's original petition, whichappeared as an advertisement in The Crimson lastSeptember.

"More often than not, we have benefited in manyrespects from the free beverage, food, or fun,"the ad continued.

WAC was able to gain the conditional support ofthe Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS) later inSeptember, but only by preparing an alternateversion of the petition. That version was gearedtoward women who had previously boycotted finalclubs and who did not agree with theadvertisement's amicable tone.

Perhaps the most disappointing development forWAC organizers has been the boycott's failure tohave any appreciable effect.

Fly Club President Robert M. Carlock '95 saysthat although some women did boycott his club, theprotest did not affect the club's decision onwhether to go co-ed (please see related story,this page).

"I think that the general consensus was thatthe idea of a boycott is also misguided," Carlocksays. "As much as we enjoy having our femalefriends at the club to the extent that they canbe, the reason we join the club is not to have ourfriends over, it's the club experience."

Whether they believe in singlesex institutionsor not, some students say the answer to theongoing debate about final clubs lies withHarvard.

"By simply severing ties with the final clubs,Harvard probably distanced itself from thesolution as well as the problem," says Kaleil D:Isaza '94-'95, a member of one of the all-maleclubs. "We all want to be part of the solution."

If You Can't Join 'Em...

But not all women were devoted to WAC's cause;some made serious efforts not to join the all-malefinal clubs, and chose to start groups of theirown.

The Lynx Club was born in February, when asmall group of undergraduate women receivedinvitations to tea at the Ritz-Carlton from thegroup's "President and Members." The wax-sealedinvitations were delivered to people's doors inthe same way that final club punch notices aresent.

But unlike the final clubs, the Lynx has noclub house and accepts first-years as members. TheLynx women, like the women who organized WAC, areessentially friendly to the all-male clubs.

In fact, six of the 18 women who joined theLynx this year were already members of anotherexclusive all-female organization--a chapter ofthe Kappa Alpha Theta female "fraternity" formedby Harvard women in January of last year.

The membership of both groups is secret, butThe Crimson has learned that the Lynx's foundingpresident, Nicole Jampol '94, was also a foundingmember of Theta. Melissa B. Fisher '94, JenniferW. Grove '94 Cary S. Gunther '97, Janie A. Ho '96and Margaret L. Roberts '96 are also members ofboth Theta and the Lynx.

Sources say the Lynx patterned itself on theBee, the oldest of the all-female pseudo finalclubs. The Bee registered with the state as anon-profit corporation in January 1992.

In late April, another all-female group callingitself the Chameleon came on the scene. The newclub sent invitations to about 400 female studentsfrom all four classes and a variety of backgroundsfor an event to be held in May at the Copley PlazaHotel Grand Ballroom.

Unlike the final clubs, which are registeredwith the state as non-profit institutions, theChameleon was listed as a business by theCambridge City Clerk's office. The businesscertificate was signed by Esther E. Chang '95 andYulia Shapiro '95, both of whom are Crimsoneditors.

Initially, the two women denied involvementwith the club. Later, Chang acknowledged she hadsigned the business certificate, but said she wasdoing so at the behest of alumni organizers.

Many students who received the invitationsthought they were being tapped for a potential newclub because the invitations--which said "Byinvitation only"--closely resembled final clubpunch notices.

But the party never took place. And Shapirosays the Chameleon is not a final club.

Shapiro says the party was "postponed," notcanceled. "It's going to be rescheduled when wehave a better sense of timing next year, earlynext fall."

Shapiro says the group decided to cancel theplanned even "a couple of days before the party"was scheduled to take place. She would not say howmany responses the Chameleon had received at thattime.

According to a Copley Plaza employee, it wouldhave cost the Chameleon $2500 to rent theballroom, which had been reserved by Chang.

While final clubs traditionally do not chargestudents for attending punch parties, theChameleon asked $25 for each ticket to the event.This means the group would have needed responsesfrom 100 students--or from 50 invited womenplanning to bring dates--in order to break even.

Shapiro said last week that Chameleonorganizers originally filed as a business ratherthan as a non-profit group because the process ismore expedient, not because they intended thegroup as an entrepreneurial venture.

The club has since dissolved as a registeredbusiness and organizers "are in the process ofapplying for non-profit status," she says. Noother events have been scheduled.

A Need for a Forum

While WAC and the founders of the new female"final clubs" were crusading for equality on thesocial scene, other undergraduates were attemptingto create an organization where they could discusswomen's issues among women.

RUS, the oldest women's group on campus, longplayed the role of the women's representative oncampus. In fact, RUS once took a stand against thefinal clubs, denouncing them as elitist andsexist.

But in the past two years, the group hasincreasingly shied away from leading the politicaldebate on women's issues. Instead, members say, ithas turned into a grant-giving body.

The group even considered giving males theright to vote at RUS meetings. That plan, however,was eventually voted down this spring.

Now two women's groups, Seventh Sense andRadcliffe and Harvard Students for EqualityFeminism (RHSEF), have cropped up in an attempt tofill the void left by the newly apolitical RUS.

Seventh Sense, a women's group that had fadedout of existence years before, pledges to providea place where women could discuss women's issues.Careful not to label itself as either a politicalor feminist group, the organization hopes tobecome an alternative to RUS.

"Since the RUS has largely become a fundingorganization, and especially with the question ofadmitting men into the RUS, we thought it wastime" to restart seventh Sense, says AshwiniSukthankar '95, a former RUS secretary who lostthis spring's elections for the union'spresidency.

The new group would be a "springboard tostimulate feminist activity,' Sukthankar says.

Last month, RHSEF was founded to stimulatediscussion about feminist issues among both menand women. Rebecca M. Boggs '95, who startedRHSEF, says her group, too, wants to fill a voidin campus debate by focusing on what itsorganizers call "equality feminism."

Equality feminism "looks at men and women asindividuals first, and then as members of a gendergroup," according to Boggs. She says the group isnot a "party-line organization" and will notadvance a specific agenda.

But neither RHSEF not Seventh Sense hasattracted significant numbers of members orserious campus attention.

In fact, all of thewomen's groups seeking recognition at Harvard arealike in two respects: they have taken cautiousapproaches, and have met with failure.

Those two facts may suggest that moreconfrontational tactics are needed if futureappeals for change are to meet with success