Last week, the Harvard Spee club voted to start inviting women to apply for membership. This comes 30 years after the eight elite, all-male social clubs known as final clubs, officially disaffiliated themselves from the university so they didn’t have to adhere to the university’s gender discrimination policy. Spee was also Harvard’s first final club to admit an African American, Frank M. Snowden in 1965.
Some in the Spee club are tripping to give themselves a pat on the back: Spee’s graduate board vice president, John Hanson, told the New York Times, “there is a strong sense that it’s an idea whose time has come, given the role of women in the classroom and the world of work after Harvard.” Another alumnus called the club “cutting edge.” But it seems more like a lot too little, a lot too late.
Hanson’s statement that “it’s an idea whose time has come” comes off as rather belittling of the decades-old women’s rights movement. Like Matt Damon’s recent discovery of the lack of diversity in Hollywood, Hanson appears to have just discovered sexism and is rushing to tell everyone about it and to assure everyone that the Spee club is totally on it, guys!
“It’s an idea whose time has come” just now, not back at the turn of the century when, according to the same New York Times article, the club changed its policy banning Catholics, or in the 1930s when they let Jews in, or the 1960s when they let African-Americans in. It’s time has only come now because there are more women in classrooms and the workforce, as though it’s only because the club was caught with its sexist pants down that it changed its mind and if women were back in the kitchen where they belong, they would have changed nothing.
There are a couple female final clubs, not as many and only since 1991 with The Bee. But female final clubs don’t have nearly as much social power on campus or alumni funding. There is also limited real estate in Harvard Square, where the final club houses are situated, and they have had to lease from the male clubs. Let’s all take a minute to ruminate in the irony.
Back in April, The Harvard Crimson published a scathing indictment of the final clubs. Brianna J. Suslovic, who co-authored the piece with Jordan T. Weiers, thinks that excluding women is hardly the worst part of the final clubs: “For me, it’s more of an eye-roll sort of reaction,” she told the New York Times. “I think it’s not exactly addressing some of the problems that I have with the final clubs and with the social scene at Harvard in general.” Her main problem is that “these exclusive spaces still exist and take up so much physical and social space on campus.” Like something out of “Gossip Girl,” the clubs represent a significant gap in social status and serve to reinforce an archaic notion of class.
Images via Global CC, 925 Rebellion, Memesly
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