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The Fly Must Be Squashed

By Stephen E. Frank

* Robert Carlock's explanation of the Fly vote is hollow at best

Across Harvard's campus today, undergraduate women should be thanking their lucky stars for Robert M. Carlock '95. At least, that's what he'd have you believe.

Carlock, of course, is the president of the Fly Club, which this week voted to continue a proud 158-year tradition of sexism by not admitting women. If you ask Carlock, the club's decision is in the best interests of the women it refuses to admit. "After all," he says, "what women would enjoy a community that is mixed about their presence?"

He does have a point. No woman in her right mind would likely enjoy spending time with sexists like Carlock and Co. So why aren't Harvard women expressing their gratitude?

Maybe because they see through Bobby Carlock's hollow, paternalistic attempt to explain the Fly's action. "I think it's crap," says Megan E. Lewis '95, president of the Radcliffe Union of Students. "That comment in particular is evidence that they just don't want women in the Fly because they want their club to stay as it is."

Lewis goes on to note that the absence of women in the Fly and other final clubs is a relatively minor issue given the clubs' generally elitist nature. In other words, the fact that the clubs discriminate against women doesn't mean a whole lot when you consider that they also discriminate against people for a wide variety of other reasons.

Seen in that context, this week's Fly vote is not particularly shocking. We shouldn't have expected a whole lot from a bunch of guys whose idea of fun is dressing up in tuxedos and getting drunk with each other, night after night.

Still, the vote is intriguing for two reasons: first, because it represents a flip-flop from the club's position of late last year, when members voted to begin admitting women this fall; and second, because of the sheer stupidity of Carlock's subsequent statements.

In fact, take Carlock's quote, substitute the words "Black person" for "women," and you have a phrase right out of the 1950s South. The explanation is a tired one: in the 1950s, racists said Blacks shouldn't be allowed in white-only establishments because they would feel uncomfortable there. Similarly, Carlock is saying today that women shouldn't be allowed in the final clubs because they'd have a tough time fitting in with all those sexists. How thoughtful.

In the great scheme of things, the issue of whether or not the Fly and other final clubs eventually decide to admit women is trivial. In truth, the clubs occupy a tiny space on the very periphery of life at Harvard, and only a very small number of self-important men belong to them anyway.

Yet insofar as people unfamiliar with Harvard may think of the clubs as an important tradition of this University, their actions do present a problem for all of us, lending unfair credence to claims that Harvard itself is an elitist institution. As several members of Women Appealing for Change--the group that boycotted the clubs last year--noted in a letter to The Crimson earlier this week, the Fly vote "is an embarrassment to the student body and the alumni of Harvard-Radcliffe and undermines the values which Harvard is supposed to represent."

For this reason, the Fly has buzzed onto all of our radar screens, assuming a perceived importance far beyond what it actually merits. Until the Fly is squashed, the problems it brings with it will remain.

Stephen E. Frank's column appears on alternate Fridays.

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