Saturday, August 25, 2012

Augusta's Glass Ceiling

The decision by Augusta Golf Club to admit two women to its membership may be "better late than never," as the Boston Globe sneers.

And, with all the politically motivated accusations of a "war on women" being bandied about, I guess it really isn't surprising that Augusta may have felt a certain amount of pressure to end its long–standing prohibition against female members.

Fact is, though, that the PGA bears a certain amount of responsibility for this. More than 20 years ago, as Martha Burk writes for CNN, Augusta had to open its doors to blacks when an Alabama country club's restricted membership came under fire.

The PGA insisted that clubs that discriminated on the basis of race or gender would not be allowed to host a tournament, and some clubs, including the one in Alabama, complied in full. Others did not.

"But there was one exception — Augusta National," writes Burk. "It did open to black men 'after being pistol–whipped behind closed doors,' according to one major golf writer who was around at the time. But it drew the line on the girls."

As even a casual golf observer like myself can tell you, Augusta's policy has not kept the Masters from being one of the four major tournaments on the PGA's schedule every year. Burk is absolutely right when she says the PGA has been "officially ignoring its own policies and looking the other way."

So the PGA has been enabling Augusta's ban on women members.

Now, I'm not a golfer, and I have never been a member of a country club. Over the years, I have visited the country club in Dallas on the Fourth of July to watch fireworks displays, and, once or twice, I have joined my parents and their friends (who were our hosts) for dinner there. But that has been all.

A country club's membership policies really don't concern me — nor, for that matter, do the membership policies of any club. I figure, if a club doesn't want me to be a member for one reason or another (my age or where I grew up or where I went to school or anything else), that is the club's business.

(I'm tempted, at this point, to quote — or at least paraphrase — Groucho Marx's assertion that he wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have someone like him for a member.)

I might feel differently — probably would feel differently — if I was a member of a group that had felt the sting of discrimination, but I'm not. I'm white and male, two groups that have been regarded, historically, as privileged in this country (although many members of both groups haven't felt particularly privileged in the last few years).

And I do understand why many women feel that shattering Augusta's glass ceiling is important. It is symbolic — if nothing else — not unlike Sandra Day O'Connors' appointment to the Supreme Court or Sally Ride's historic trip to space or the vice presidential nominations of Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin.

Or the rumors that have been floating periodically this year about Hillary Clinton replacing the vice president on the national ticket this fall.

I don't mean to suggest that those events were only significant in a symbolic sense. They represented breakthroughs for women. Other women have followed O'Connor to the Supreme Court and Ride into space.

And someday, a woman will be elected president or vice president.

It's empowering to be allowed where you've never been before. I get that.

But I also get that there are millions of people who are without work or have only part–time jobs, millions who have lost their savings and most of the value of their homes, millions who will never be able to retire and who will have to work until, literally, they drop.

It seems to me there are more important things to be concerned about right now than the membership policies of a country club, even one that hosts a PGA major event.

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