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The Postures Of Punch Season

By Noah Oppenheim

September is an idyllic month. Our rooms still possess a fresh feel, we're happy to be reunited with friends, sections have not yet met and the weather is temperate. More importantly, from the conservative perspective, the campus has not yet had the opportunity to work itself into a fit over some cause du jour.

October brings the onset of restlessness, Mandarin-speaking TFs, frigid air and the rumblings of social action. In an unfortunate coincidence, it also marks the opening of the punch season for Harvard's legendary final clubs. The results: anxious muckrakers, rejuvenated by summer internships with the National Organization for women, find an easy target their festering impulse to eradicate injustice. Every year the clubs are subjected to the same tired assaults on the petty, ill-reasoned grounds. As a result, those being punched feel compelled to stage embarrassing displays of moral incertitude and false humility, while campus publications chime in with asinine discussions of the weighty issues.

I have no particular love for the clubs, nor have I ever had any involvement with one. But with the hope of preserving some of September's sanity, I offer the following pre-emptive strikes against the arguments sure to surface in the coming outbreak of political and social posturing.

To the angry feminists: There is nothing wrong with single-sex institutions. Men, just like women, need to themselves. We need a place to let our baser instincts have free reign, to let go of whatever exterior polish we affect to appease female sensibilities. I find it hard to believe that the educated women of this campus do not appreciate this basic sociological (some might say biological) reality.

Many women argue that the clubs are objectionable because of their demeaning treatment of female guests--particularly the restriction of movement and the sexually aggressive atmosphere. Well, I would likely not feel comfortable in an S&M club, so I choose not to go for one. Women who fell threatened by the clubs' environments should seek tamer pastures. However apparently women enjoy being confined, pumped full of alcohol and preyed upon. They feel desired, not demeaned.

I suspect that root of feminist objections to the clubs really lies not on any principled grounds, but in the material dissatisfaction with the fact that men have big fancy houses to retreat to and women do not. This may be unfair, but we cannot prevent people from enjoying more luxurious undergraduate experiences if furnished by their private resources.

To those who decry the clubs' elitism: The fact that certain people do not possess the social standing to join is not an injustice. Almost without exception, club members are athletes, privileged, well-dressed and/ or attractive. Many students do not fit into any of those categories and are therefore rejected. On other campuses, where there is a more diverse selection of fraternities, more students could find formal social clubs to match their personalities. Here, the options are quiet limited, forcing many to form a group of friends without the aid of a physical structure.

But those who occupy the few structures should not be chastised for their blessing. And they shouldn't be expected to let everyone in the door. After all the practice of exclusivity in the social gathering is common to everyone. I know quiet a few cliques which would not feel comfortable letting a random football player intrude on their parties. We can hope but we cannot fairly expect that a club will be nice to strangers knocking on its doors.

To the Harvard administration, which accuses the clubs of encouraging criminal activity: If people didn't drink in the clubs, they'd go to bars or, more likely, they'd drink in the dorms. Do you really want the liability to land in your hands? Think of the clubs as a convenient insurance barrier and stop writing melodramatic letters to first-years that only contribute to the clubs' already over-blown mystique.

Finally, to those involved in the upcoming punch: No one wants to hear about your moral dilemma. If you like the guys in the club that punched you, go check it out. Your female friends will still talk to you. They may glare disapprovingly now, but next semester they'll be using your name to get into the party. Don't pretend that the clubs' legacy of racism, anti-Semitism and class discrimination really bothers you. After all, fair Harvard was guilty of the same crimes, and you probably didn't hesitate to accept your offer of admission.

Ultimately, the only charge that really sticks when it comes to final clubs is that many members are offensively arrogant. But so are lots of the politicos and budding journalists among us. We don't need another absurd community debate about the nefarious influence of often-intoxicated guys who own their own buildings. What we need is another month as sublime as September.

Noah D. Oppenheim '00 is a social studies concentrator in Adams House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.

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