Today, I want to talk about what Final Clubs are not. In my experience, one of the biggest boundaries to having a healthy and productive conversation about clubs is that the rhetoric and beliefs of many who believe the clubs are fundamentally wrong (as I do) are incredibly detached from reality. With that in mind, some things that the Final Clubs are not: (more in expanded post)
Final Clubs are not malevolent bastions of rape. A popular myth is that the clubs are populated with malevolent men seeking to exploit women. Not only is this a gross exaggeration, it misses the important point when it comes to gender dynamics at the clubs: they are supporting and exaggerated problematic dynamics in a completely unconscious and “innocent” way. Club members just think of themselves as guys trying to have a good time. When the line is crossed to sexual assault or to date rape, it is (in my understanding) very rarely with the kind of date-rape drugs type of circumstance. More often, it has to do with older men and younger women, alcohol, and dynamics of pressure and space. The myth of the evil rapist gets in the way of us seeing the real problem: our own culture and the way slight exaggerations of the dynamics we already accept lead so quickly to dangerous situations for women.
Final Clubs are not populated only with rich, white, snobby socialites. That’s just the PC and the Fly (kidding!). Following from the previous line of thinking, it’s important to recognize the fact that the vast majority of Final Club members are otherwise normal Harvard students, with the good and bad of the rest of us reflected similarly in them. There are tendencies toward the rich, toward white people, very much toward heterosexual men, but there is also some diversity in the clubs themselves. Again, the club system exaggerates some of the worst aspects of our everyday culture (discrimination, homophobia, sexism, etc.) but it is not always explicit and rarely uniform.
Final Clubs are not all the same. Those who treat each of the clubs as the same betray their ignorance. All of the clubs have the same overarching problem (a place to solidify unmeritocratic privilege), but the mechanism is different. The PC, which is viewed as the most financially elite club, doesn’t have major problems of gender dynamics because the only room people are allowed in is their entry room (called the Bike room), in which people simply sit and drink, no music, no dancing, no bedrooms. The Phoenix, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same level of economic elitism as the PC but has a much more serious problem with gender dynamics: they have massive parties with lots of booze, lots of hyper sexualized dancing, men controlling the door to this party, and bedrooms that people are allowed into. The Fox rarely has this type of hyper sexualized dancing or the same extent of financial elitism, and is therefore more generally benign. Each of the other clubs has its own unique (but related) set of problems.
In general, the popular depiction by those who oppose Final Clubs (that they are all bastions of rape for rich, white, heterosexual men) alienates those who have friends in clubs or have been to them because it is so disconnected from reality. More importantly, it misses the subtleties of modern injustices and the importance of serious moral analysis and decisions.