I’ve been a woman for over twenty years now. I’ve been in all kinds of final clubs—the Fox, the Owl, the Spee, the Kong, the Quad Dance Complex—and I don’t see what all the fuss is about.
Still, every so often, be it during the fall punch season or at that time of spring when the Smoke Monster materializes in Quincy House, people begin to clamor for the admission of women to final clubs. This always reminds me of a quote from Stokely Carmichael. Asked whether there were any positions for women in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he responded: “The only position for women in SNCC is prone." Let women into final clubs? Sure—on Saturday nights, if we’re wearing those outfits that make us look like someone poured us into our clothes and we forgot to say “When.” That’s how it’s been for more than two hundred years, when you could only get into the Fly as a woman if you exposed your ankles, no matter how good at needle-pointing you were. And that’s how it should be. If God had wanted women to be in final clubs, he would have created us first.
There are usually two sides to the final club debate. One side argues that gender equality is here and that it’s not going away any time soon, so Harvard final clubs should cave and do what their equivalents at Yale and Princeton have already done. Since when are we following Yale’s and Princeton’s leads? Give them an inch, and we’ll wake up one morning to find ourselves in an extremely unsafe neighborhood where we can’t walk at night without being accosted by people wearing shorts with sea creatures on them who beat us up with eating clubs or something like that. I believe in gender equality—because I enjoy carrying heavy boxes up five flights of stairs by myself—but I’m not sure why that means that women have to enjoy the same social privileges as men.
The other side points out that men and women are, somehow, inherently different. I’m not sure how, but next year I’ll be auditing Cultures of Reproduction, so I’ll be able to update you. This side says that women and men have separate needs. You don’t see women in final clubs, and you don’t see men grabbing everything off the shelves of that one aisle at CVS and pouring into the Women’s Center on Friday nights. Apparently, Harvard men have needs that only gender-segregated final clubs are equipped to fill.
This makes sense. Admittedly, I’ve never been upstairs at the Fox, but I just know that when I get there it’ll be a giant room filled with urinals and other manly things like two guys hugging it out or one guy standing there not talking about his feelings. “Good thing this is a male-only space!” I will exclaim. “Please, take me back downstairs, where I belong.”
It’s not that I’m an anti-feminist. Far from it. If I shook hands with a feminist, we would both still exist. I believe in equal rights for men and women. But I understand that final club membership is not a right. It is a privilege. Why should women and men have equal privileges too? What is this, the 23rd century? Let’s slow down! We women have lots of things to keep us busy until then, like founding La Vie, or joining La Vie, or repeatedly wandering into the La Vie punch cocktails that were held in my common room while pretending to be an angry axolotl. Sure, final clubs might be great social networks, but we’ve got Facebook. They might have delicious food and bonding, but we have those HUDS chicken parmesans and the French language table. They might have party spaces and alumni connections, but we have childbirth! Besides, they say that from those to whom much has been given, much is expected. We don’t want to have to deal with those expectations! We want to do it the hard way, like our ancestors did, by working their way to the top and then being burned at the stake as witches.
Besides, the parties aren’t even that great. I remember one party at the Delphic where someone offered me punch, and I woke up several weeks later in Equatorial Guinea with a great tan, surrounded by fun individuals who were only kind of involved in human trafficking. The most awkward part was that I couldn’t remember anyone’s names. “You!” I would say. “T-shirt Guy Who Drives The Truck! Tell Man Whose Hooded Sweatshirt Makes Him Look Like a Sex Offender to get Papa Roach’s attention!” My efforts to get them to reveal more about their identities as we moved slowly across country were less fruitful. “Hey, T-Shirt Guy,” I would say. “Did you have any other nicknames growing up, nicknames that were, for example, based upon your true name?” He would shrug and mutter under his breath, I assume something along the lines of, “dang it, we should just let women into our final clubs already.”
But I’m a woman. I don’t presume.
Alexandra A. Petri ’10 is an English concentrator in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.