Feminists who demand that Augusta National Golf Club admit women should think twice. If they succeed, men may try to gain entry to places now open only to females.
Located outside a small town in Georgia, Augusta National has been excoriated for its males-only membership policy. After the National Council of Women’s Organizations planned to target sponsors of Augusta’s 2003 Masters championship, the club preemptively asked several companies to withdraw their support for the golf classic.
“Any entity that holds itself out as publicly as they do ought to be open to men and women alike,” NCWO chair Martha Burk tells me. “It does not reflect well on the club and its tournament, which is the crown jewel of golf, to be identified with discrimination.”
Augusta, in turn, released a poll on November 13 that shows Americans disagree with Burk. Among 800 Americans surveyed between October 30 and November 4 by WomanTrend, a division of the polling company, 74 percent agreed that “Augusta National has the right to have members of one gender only.” Asked whether the club was correct not to cave under Burk’s pressure, 72 percent of males concurred, while 73 percent of women agreed. (The poll’s margin of error is +/- 3.5 percent.)
“These are extraordinarily high numbers, especially when you consider how aggressive the campaign against the club has been,” said WomanTrend president Kellyanne Conway. “What’s also striking is how few women support Ms. Burk’s demands.”
It would be easier to take Burk seriously is she directed some of her wrath at other discriminatory establishments. Though far less controversial, there are venues where men are forbidden. If women penetrate Augusta, how will they bar males from all-female institutions?
Start with the 68 member-campuses of the Women’s College Coalition. Such schools as Barnard, Mount Holyoke and Smith offer top drawer, liberal arts instruction. Men need not apply.
With 296 chapters in America, Canada, Mexico and England, the Junior League’s active, dedicated associates perform community service projects. Its website explains that they also “share ideas and build networks for information exchange” when they gather. There are some 193,000 Junior League members — not one of them male. Women even have their own golf course, albeit abroad. Since its 1924 launch, the Ladies Golf Club of Toronto has had only female members. As Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly discovered, men may play there, but only when invited by members. Women sneered at Reilly, who was stunned by the separate but unequal amenities for male guests: a poorly appointed locker room and a gravel-covered parking lot behind the clubhouse. “This joint makes Augusta seem like the ACLU,” Reilly wrote in SI’s September 16 edition.
The vital principle here is freedom of association. As the First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law…abridging…the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” These words reflect the right of Americans to associate privately with whomever we wish, and not with others, for whatever reason.
There is no such freedom in the public sector. Since Americans are equal before the law, government schools, for instance, cannot discriminate on the basis of sex, (although some exceptions apply in cases of military education). Public golf courses may not bar women (or men) from their fairways. If the CIA implemented a “men only” hiring policy, it would be sued at once, and rightly so.
Those who do not understand this distinction may wind up reducing everyone’s liberties.
For example, gay rights activists have pressured the Boy Scouts to hire gay scoutmasters despite the group’s ban on homosexual leaders. But if the Boy Scouts must employ those who clash with their teachings, must New Jersey’s Mountain Meadow summer camp do likewise? Mountain Meadow is a place where gay parents can take their kids for outdoor recreation. Should it be forced to hire heterosexual camp counselors who might frown at Tommy’s two daddies?
What about Jim Crow? Southern states and cities imposed laws that required the segregation of private facilities. Thankfully, the civil-rights movement got those regulations killed.
But what if a private group opens its doors only to blacks, (or only to whites)? It should be legally free to do so. Should it be ridiculed or even boycotted? Americans are free to do those things, too. But the First Amendment’s free-association clause ultimately protects the right of private groups to define themselves as narrowly as they like.
Freedom of association keeps every organization from resembling every other. While public institutions should accept all classes of citizens (including GIs — gay and straight — who clutch their weapons and not other soldiers), private outfits and facilities should remain free to craft their membership rosters as they desire. That includes Spelman College and the Daughters of the American Revolution. Until feminists welcome men into all-female establishments, they should embrace freedom of association. Otherwise, they may learn the hard way that what’s good for the gander is good for the goose, too.