Sunday duel: Campus life — Harvard hits the bull's-eye
Harvard President Drew Faust has ordered that single-sex social clubs begin allowing both men and women to join.
This includes a handful of fraternities and sororities as well as a set of similar organizations called Final Clubs, historically elite institutions to which some of the most powerful men in the U.S. have belonged.
The decision came after an investigation found strong evidence that the male-only organizations nurtured “cultures that reflect male control,” “the marginalization of women” and “sexual entitlement.”
Defenders of such organizations say that excluding women isn't about superiority, but difference. They say that it's meaningful for men to be in male-only spaces in order to develop specifically masculine self-concepts. But it's not because we think men are better, they say.
Oh, really? It's funny because such men are perfectly happy to have women in their male-only spaces if those women take on subordinate roles. Clubs ensure there are women to hit on at parties, fraternities are happy to have “little sisters” and I will place a hearty bet that both allow women as cooks and maids.
Their selective inclusion of women reveals a more nefarious process than differentiation. By refusing to engage with women as equals, these organizations are engaging in dehumanization. Their actions reinforce the idea that men are the important, valuable, significant humans and women are something else.
Consider that for Harvard women, the single biggest risk factor for sexual assault is entering a Final Club. By their senior year, 47 percent of women who have done so report having been assaulted. Most sexual assaults occur in the dormitories, but Final Clubs are the second most common location. This is stunning considering that women are rarely allowed to even enter the Final Clubs. Participating in Greek life is almost as dangerous.
These statistics reflect how male-only organizations encourage men not just to identify as men, but to see women as an out-group, as pawns perhaps, in a game between men, but not people as important, valuable and significant as they.
These men become some of the most powerful people in the world. They run our companies and ascend our political hierarchies. If they're allowed to segregate themselves from women during college, why would we expect them to make a place for women as equals in the worlds they later control?
Ending the sex-exclusivity of these organizations is not just resisting the relegation of women to second-class status at Harvard; it's ending the university's complicity with the persistence of sexism writ large.
In the aftermath of the election of an unapologetic misogynist to the U.S. presidency and revelations about the grotesque treatment women receive from some men at work, we are beginning a conversation about the costs of some men's dehumanization of women.
Women have responded with #metoo, marches and a post-election surge of 30,000 women running for office. Women are announcing that they've had enough. I'm encouraged that the president of Harvard is among them.
Lisa Wade is an associate professor of sociology at Occidental College. Her latest book is “American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus.”