Written by Heather Mac Donald
The struggle for women's equality comes down to this: the men's grill in the Phoenix Country Club has television and a bar, while the women's grill has neither of those amenities—though it soon will, following renovation. The New York Times deems the separate and unequal Phoenix grill rooms so laden with national significance as to merit front-page treatment, which it provided on Saturday.
It’s been a hard year for the cause of female victimhood, as the Times’s close attention to one golf club’s eating facilities suggests. The crusade to show that Hillary Clinton’s abysmally managed presidential campaign failed because of sexism ran up against an inconvenient reality: some of her strongest support came from Archie Bunker states like West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma, while bastions of liberal enlightenment, such as Minnesota and Connecticut, went solidly for Barack Obama. (Of course, the willingness of blue-collar males to vote for Clinton didn’t stop her from claiming that, but for sexism, she would be the Democratic nominee: “Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it,” she said to her supporters at the end of the race.)
Clinton’s popularity with working-class male voters is hardly the only obstacle to the perpetuation of the patriarchy myth. Wherever you look, pesky facts suggest that far from being hindered by their sex, women reap benefits galore. Every elite institution in the country—from Wall Street law firms to Fortune 500 companies to major media outlets—tries constantly to put as many women in prominent positions as it can, whether as partners, board directors, editors, op-ed contributors, or talking heads. Whenever the absence of remotely suitable candidates hinders this mission, the same institutions wail a mea culpa and promise to make amends. Federal and state governments pour millions of taxpayer dollars into the production of more female scientists, even though the sex ratio in a microbiology lab will have absolutely no bearing on whether it discovers the cure for cancer or for Alzheimer’s disease. Since many elementary and high schools now function as cheering squads for Grrrl Power, the idea that even more resources are required to overcome some still-unlocated bias against, say, female physicists is ludicrous. Female undergraduates now outnumber their male counterparts, which hasn’t resulted in the closing of a single college women’s center dedicated to providing girls with a “safe space” on campus.
But the most compelling proof of the desperation of the women’s grievance movement is the Times’s decision to resuscitate its hoary “sexist golf club” genre. In 2002 and 2003, the paper crusaded fanatically against the Augusta National Golf Club for its men-only membership policy. It ran dozens upon dozens of stories, often on its front page, about the club’s membership rules; it even spiked two sports columns that disagreed with its effort to pressure the club to admit women as members. But wonder of wonders, the club failed to toe the Times’s line; CBS ignored the Times’s command to cease broadcasting the Masters Golf Tournament, played at Augusta; and the paper’s editors put aside their exquisite repugnance long enough to cover the Masters with the usual level of detail, thus keeping advertising revenue safe and sound.
The Times’s most recent front-page female-golf-victims story tiptoes around the paper’s failed Augusta campaign, which had made it a laughing stock among media cognoscenti. After noting that “charges of sexism against private golf clubs are not uncommon,” the story merely mentions in passing that “Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, where the Masters is held each year, does not permit women to be members.” The earlier crusade having ended in defeat and—the editors hope—now lost in the mists of time, it’s on to the next female golfers’ “rights” struggle, as the Times preposterously puts it, even more astoundingly trivial than the last.
The Phoenix Country Club has male and female members and a common dining room. But like many clubs, it has separate men’s and women’s grill rooms—an innocuous arrangement to which members agree by joining the club. The Times points out darkly: “Women at the club are not permitted to have lunch in the men’s grill room with their husbands after a round of golf.” It could as justly have observed that after the same round of golf, men at the club aren’t allowed to lunch with their wives in the women’s grill room.
The Rosa Parks role in this break-down-the-barriers battle is played by the Van Sitterts, a couple who, two years ago, wanted to eat eggs together in the men’s grill room rather than in the club’s formal dining room. Having failed to persuade the board to change its policies—presumably because most members are happy with the single-sex socializing options—they did what any self-respecting aspirant to victimhood does today: they went whining to the government. Instead of resigning their membership and joining another club, they petitioned Arizona’s attorney general to intervene. The AG was only too happy to comply, brushing aside the legal nicety that private clubs are in theory not subject to antidiscrimination laws and ruling that the club was violating those laws, since (pending renovation) the women’s grill room has neither a television nor its own bar. Television and booze are available elsewhere in the club, and women can bring drinks into their grill. But in the spirit of angry young wives who tally every pair of socks that they and their husband fold, the absence of absolute tit-for-tat equality in one room’s appurtenances means that women occupy an unbearable position of inferiority.
According to the plaintiffs and their supporters, some club members have reacted boorishly to the Van Sitterts’ grill-room crusade, sending harassing email messages and hectoring the couple. The Times assumes that such behavior is the result of male privilege under siege: the men “saw their feeding ways in peril,” it sneers, and struck back. Here’s another possibility: some members don’t appreciate the couple’s roping in the Arizona attorney general. Especially since Mr. Van Sittert never once complained about the separate grill rooms during six years of board service—perhaps not surprisingly, since he oversaw the design of those grill rooms during the 1980s, as the Phoenix New Times reports.
We will leave the Phoenix Country Club to its epic struggles. But why did the New York Times deem it significant enough to send a reporter and a photographer to Phoenix and to put their product on its front page? Do the PCC’s single-sex grill rooms speak to the second-class status of women in Arizona? Hardly. As the Times itself acknowledges, Arizona’s governor, secretary of state, chief justice, and senate minority leader are women. There are plenty of unequal single-sex arrangements that have not disturbed the Times’s injustice sensor, such as colleges that bar male students from their athletic facilities during certain times of the day and Phoenix’s women-only gyms. On occasion, the Times’s coverage of Yale University suggests that the paper is merely an outpost of the Yale Daily News—yet in the early 2000s, the Gray Lady ignored the story of the Yale Women’s Center’s fierce hostility to a group of male students who wanted to help with its rape prevention programs. A Women’s Center board member even made physical threats against one of the boys. The leader of the male feminists still wonders at the rejection: “I still feel pretty crappy about it,” Eric Sandberg-Zakian said to the Yale Herald in 2007. “I think if you’re a guy, and you’re told your entire life by society that you’re not supposed to respect women or their sexuality, that women are sexual objects, and you really disagree and you make the effort and you spend your time trying to change that, you go out on a limb, and then you get attacked for doing that? That’s very, very jarring.” A story not without interest for a paper seemingly interested in women’s-rights struggles—yet apparently not worth covering.
Time was when liberals would have professed to care about the dishwashers in the Phoenix Country Club, not the members who send them their dirty dishes to be washed. But the narcissism of today’s elites knows no bounds. Undoubtedly, a certain percentage of the Times’s readers found their blood boiling at its front-page exposÃ© of alleged second-class status among society’s most privileged members. With any luck, this most decadent stage of the privileged Western women’s movement is also its last.
Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor of City Journal and the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Her latest book, coauthored with Victor Davis Hanson and Steven Malanga, is The Immigration Solution.