This year’s British Open Championship will be held at Muirfield. It is one of the three courses in Britain which have been used for the Open and are all male courses. It has reignited the debate about sexism in golf. There are various ways to look at this issue, and here are my two cents.
Gender equality can be a sensitive subject. In many cases it’s just as subjective. Does the man display chivalry by footing the bill? How about the one who gives up his seat in a waiting lounge to a lady? Those are cases in which the question involves action on the part of the man, and can be dissected in a variety of ways. Isn’t the man questioning the lady’s economic status by insisting on footing the bill? When he rises to vacate his seat for a lady, does he also raise the thought that he is more capable of standing for longer periods than her? Maybe the lady is the independent sort, and wants to split the bill. Maybe it hurts her pride to see a man vacate his seat for her when she is equally capable of standing as the man is.
Again, in those cases the question of gender equality is subjective, and hinges on the actions on the part of the man. But when the question is simple, cut and dry, and involves the blatant exclusion of women from an activity, that causes a lot of raised eyebrows. An example of that is when female presence is frowned upon at golf links. Or completely banned. Even today, there are various golf courses which follow the stone age old tradition of keeping the greens a men-only zone. The knee-jerk reaction to that would be to jump to the conclusion that the premise for this exclusion is thoughtless sexism. Musing into it with some context makes us realize otherwise.
The Augusta National Golf Club’s chairman Hootie Johnson has said: “Our membership is single gender just as many other organizations and clubs all across America. These would include Junior Leagues, sororities, fraternities, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and countless others. And we all have a moral and legal right to organize our clubs the way we wish.”
There have been protests from the National Council of Women’s Organizations, and people have taken to picketing outside of events at the club. They did allow two ladies to be a part of the club in 2012 – Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, the latter a partner of Rainwater Inc.
What could be the reason for making the links an exclusive X chromosome zone? Is it sexist to ban them? One way to look at it is that a women’s place is in the kitchen. One can’t play a very competitive football or basketball match with players of both genders. Either the men are going too hard on the ladies and are sexist pigs, or they are going too soft on them and are, sexist pigs. The main reason is something else.
Forget for a minute that you are discussing the exclusion of women from a sports club. Look at it as just a club. The presence of ladies puts constraints on the conversation and mood of a gathering of men. Not to say that men just swear loud, drink, bleach and burp when not in mixed company. Some might, but even the most civilized put a leash on their demeanor when in the presence of ladies. Think of an all-men pub or sports bar. Men go there to unwind, let their tongues wag freely and bask in the testosterone soaked environment. No one questions if those gatherings are sexist. It is perfectly acceptable to have places with gender exclusive gatherings without the question of sexism arising. A men only darts club is acceptable. So is a sports bar, a pub and a gym. When looking at a golf club as a women free zone, one should not talk about how women are being seen as unfit for it. We should recognize it for what it is, a place for men to unwind and catch up with their buddies. It’s not so much as women being deemed unworthy as it is about creating an all male environment. Guy talk takes place on the greens. Guys talk in a more unguarded manner when there are no girls around.
Bob Costas of NBC has said of sexism in golf: “Look, this is an issue. And this is not Nightline or Meet the Press, we understand that, but this is an issue, and it’s an elephant in the room and we’re going to address it. As concisely as we can, but we’re going to address it so that our heads are not in the collective sand trap.”
Can we get the elephant out by giving it its own room? Is creation of all women golf clubs the solution to men monopolizing the 18th hole? Fun fact, the Calcutta Ladies Golf Club actually has fewer ladies than the Tollygunge Golf Club. Usually, people accompany their spouses to the golf clubs. That leads to increased membership at the clubs where both genders are allowed. Women aren’t unwelcome at the club premises, but just on the links. “We aren’t closed-door, wives and girlfriends can come out and have lunch. Really, the only thing they women can’t do is play the golf course,” PGA professional Scott Walter has said of Bear Creek Golf Club.
Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Morgan Freeman on racism:
Wallace: Black History Month you find…
Freeman: You’re going to relegate my history to a month?
Wallace: Oh come on?
Freeman: What do you do with yours? Which month is white history month?
Wallace: [pause] Well, I’m Jewish.
Freeman: Okay. Which month is Jewish history month?
Wallace: There isn’t one.
Freeman: Oh, Oh. Why not? Do you want one?
Freeman: Right. I don’t either. I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.
Wallace: How are you going to get rid of racism?
Freeman: Stop talking about it.
There is a parallel here. Do guys want the club to be exclusive to men? No. They want to be able to bring their spouses to the club, but just relegate them to the club once in a while when they want to take to the course with their buddies. It is not to suggest that we should just ignore the fact that there are certain places on the golf links where men prefer to be with men. It is something to acknowledge and move on from. It isn’t a sexist issue unless we make it one. The links are a place for locker room talk, not watercooler talk. But as a courtesy in many places, it is not implicitly stated that guys prefer to be with guys only while on the links. A silent understanding exists.
For the 18th hole at the links, or a golf course for that matter, being an all male zone is no more sexist than an all men sports bar is.
DISCLAIMER – This article represents the views of the author, and not those of the site.Published 27 Apr 2013, 00:37 IST