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Liquor, Cocaine, Pot, Ecstasy and Sexism

By Elizabeth L. Wurtzel

I cannot deny that I have spent a fair amount of my time at Harvard at final clubs. I have drunk their liquor, snorted their cocaine, smoked their pot, popped their ecstasy, eaten their food and danced on their floors. I have no right to say what I'm about to say, or think what I really do think about these organizations, because I too have had my final club fun.

And I am absolutely ashamed of myself now. Because once upon a time, I would do anything in the name of fun, regardless of how reckless or unscrupulous the activity might have been. But of all the stupid and morally questionable things I have done in the name of a good time--and there have been a few--I cannot forgive myself for hanging out at final clubs.

They're sexist, elitist and pointless--unless you consider it useful to shelter the partying and bonding activities of young, over-privileged men already graced with admission to Harvard and all the glory that entails, including the right to live in beautiful Harvard housing. But that does not seem enough for some men. Some men need a home away from home, away from women, away from men less worthy of their company, a place to relax and bask in the glow of patriarchal privilege.

I find this despicable. Enough has already been said about the sexism of final clubs, and while that is obviously a huge problem, it is virtually negligible when compared to the simple wastefulness of these organizations. What good do they do the Harvard community or anyone other than their members?

For that matter, what good do they do their members? Besides, of course, the networking thing that people only talk about in hushed tones, not a whole lot. With rare exceptions, no one lives in these houses. At least fraternities at other schools provide their constituents with often much-needed living space. And at least fraternities do charitable work and raise money for good causes on occasion. Final clubs don't do this.

And that is the most disgusting, reprehensible thing about them. Alumni often give large sums of money to the clubs which are used, quite simply, for the perpetuation of the clubs. Pardon my ignorance, but I never knew that male Harvard undergraduates in no financial need whatsoever were a charitable cause.

NOW I am going to shock you with an astonishing figure that I still have trouble believing: Did you know that (according to club members) after Harvard and M.I.T., the Porcellian Club has the largest endowment of any organization in Cambridge? That means that the P.C. has more money at its disposal than any of the many cultural or educational institutions in this area--like Lesley College, the Longy School of Music, St. Paul's Church and others too numerous to mention.

How can this be? Why? What is this money used for?

I know, I know--it provides scholarship money for those members, poor things, who cannot afford to pay their dues (Jeez...this is so silly, such a parodist's dream of Harvard, sometimes I think I make this stuff up). No doubt, this is a worthy cause--consider it social financial aid--but where else does all that money go?

As long as there are people starving to death in Africa, as long as no cure for AIDS or cancer has been found, as long as there are homeless Americans and poverty stricken families, it is offensive that a social organization for men who are already the elite of society should have all this mad money.

And don't get me wrong--I know that in the face of a zillion worthier, more desperate causes, alumni give plenty of money to Harvard itself, but at least the University professes to provide its students with an education. But what do the final clubs profess to do? Nothing. Nothing but provide space for male bonding, which can be done as easily in a bar or a dorm room, or anywhere, really. Most of the men at Harvard don't belong to final clubs and they all seem to be doing just fine. Actually, they seem to be doing a hell of a lot better than their clubby counterparts, because they don't need an elitist seal of approval to enjoy life at this school.

Of course, I understand the lure of final clubs, and I understand why many dozens of men will be joining these organizations this week. Harvard, as we all know, is a large and inhuman place in the guise of a small, private school, and therefore the alienation we all feel as students here is not only painful but confusing because it seems that we all ought to be on top of the world. But we're not. So we all do stupid things. Like join final clubs.

Or in the case of many women, we hang out at final clubs, because when we're freshman and bored with keg parties in the Yard, we find ourselves with the sneaking suspicion that the only place to find elegant enjoyment and eligible upperclassmen is through the doors of final clubs. At least, at one time, that's what I thought.

I must have been insane. All I ever found in the plush surroundings of the Spee, the Fly and other clubs were new ways to kill time. And new ways to compromise my views as a feminist, a liberal and a human being. But as long as these clubs continue to exist at Harvard, there will always be good, well-intentioned men and women who will be seduced by the scene, and by its facade of grandeur and tradition. But as anyone who knows anything about final clubs can see, this appearance is a farce, a feeble attempt by insecure undergraduate men to gloss themselves in a veneer of sophistication.

WELL, I'm here to tell you that there is nothing sophisticated about, say, the Spee Pajama Party, where people shamelessly don their nightery (and think that it's really cool that they are being so casual--I mean, I for one don't wear pajamas and wouldn't want to party with anyone who does), and there is nothing sophisticated about the Fly Garden Party, where people dress in seersucker and play croquet and try to act oh-so-highbrow.

This stuff is just plain stupid. And boring.

And I know that when any woman really speaks her mind about the blatant sexism of the clubs, she suddenly becomes persona non grata at their functions, as if women are only welcome when they serve as ornamentation--for, you know, whatever it is that men like to do with women these days.

Well, I'm glad--because I don't want to hang out at final clubs anymore. But a couple of weeks ago, I still went with a friend to a punching function at the Fly. I don't know why--it must have been a regressive instinct. And I did have a good time.

Members of the Fly Club--as far as I can tell, some of you are really kind, good, decent people, but your organization is being sued for sex discrimination. And a good part of the student body has mobilized in groups like SWAT and ZIP to let you know that they find your club's presence abhorrent. And I'm sure you know that the space could be better used as a student center, a women's center, office or classroom space, a shelter for battered women or even a homeless shelter. Yes, with homeless people all over Cambridge, you occupy an empty house. So I just want to know, being aware of all this, how do you, and how do all members of final clubs, live with yourselves?

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