what Final Clubs are not (final clubs part 2)

This week, I’m writing about Final Clubs in some attempt to get to the basics of what is clearly a pretty fundamental issue of Harvard undergraduate life: socially, politically and economically. Day before yesterday, I tried to outline of some basic facts about the structure of clubs that will act as a starting point for this conversation. If anyone has anything to add to them, please do.

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 illegal. They are private institutions separate from the University (since the 80s, as was pointed out in the comments of my previous post) and therefore do not have to comply with federal court decisions on discrimination etc.

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.

UPDATE: To read two future posts on clubs that go more directly to what is wrong, check out my thoughts and Chimaobi’s.

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4 responses to “what Final Clubs are not (final clubs part 2)

  1. Good post. There’s a lot of so-called “hyper-sexualized dancing” in lots of places though, from dorm parties, to BSA parties in dining halls, to clubs, and music videos.

  2. As far as hypersexualized dancing goes, you might as well throw in your average high school prom, house party, or nightclub. And as far as the Phoenix goes, my understanding is that no non-members are allowed above the lounge area. Above that is off limits, and members who take non-members above are subject to punishment. But more importantly, you attend college. There is drinking, sex, and dancing at college. Even at Harvard, despite the better attempts by some people to make that not so. I hate how critics of final clubs tend to make a normal party scene become wrought with danger and violent sexual excess. The same power that an older man or woman would have over a younger one exists outside of these clubs, the same sense of ownership that members have over non-members could be similar to that which a Harvard senior has over a Harvard freshman, and the boundaries that are often crossed when there is sexualized dancing are crossed everywhere there is that– not just at final clubs. If you are going to critique final clubs critique them on the grounds that they solidify and exacerbate privelge by institutionalizing social networks– but then again, that is the name of our world capitalist game, and you would have to critique just about every damn thing, including the school you go to.

  3. thanks for the comment guess what. a few thoughts about hypersexualized dancing, then your second point.

    First, you are absolutely right that hypersexualized dancing happens every where and that many of the problematic things that happen at clubs are mirrored by other places. That is exactly why I said that what we really need to see is: “our own culture and the way slight exaggerations of the dynamics we already accept lead so quickly to dangerous situations for women.” You’re actually quite wrong about the Phoenix, I know multiple women who have been upstairs and outside of the lounge area, a friend of mine was once asked if she wanted to see it, at which point the guy sat on a bed and came on to her. She said she wanted to leave and he was quite agressive about convincing her to stay saying things like “oh come on, you came up here, you must want it.” At that point, she left. Now, she was a junior with a lot of experience in clubs. Imagine if she had been a freshman…

    I have talked to members of the Phoenix, they know this happens, some of them are concerned about it, no one is punished. AGAIN, this is not to say that this is the norm, but when you combine a space dominated by aggressive males (which club members, as social people, tend to be) with booze and the power of the door, you exaggerate the problem that already exists.

    And that’s the problem, the clubs take normal patterns, sexualized dancing and meat-market gender roles that you would see at any dance club etc., add the power of the door (other than those who know the members, the cute girls with the least clothes get in) and the reality that men control the space, the booze and the status. You are absolutely right to point out that the same things exist outside of the clubs (are you ok with it there?), but I think it would be naive to believe that the club setting doesn’t make them worse.

    Your second point, that clubs “exacerbate privilege by institutionalizing social networks,” will be the subject of my post tomorrow.

  4. Let the Dance Revolution Begin

    To continue with the hypersexual dancing theme:

    In stark contrast to the repertoire, nonverbal communication skills, spontaneity and finesse required of partygoers when swing was big, today’s dance standards demand little more than a small range of spine angles and enough balance to maintain a knee-bent stance while imitating a mating hedgehog. Personally, I find this style of dancing boring and unstimulating, not to mention occasionally creepy and degrading. What scant variation there is typically comes from us women since, according to the meat-market gender roles Andrew mentioned, we are the sellers and men are the buyers (in a sense, girl-on-girl dancing is our way of advertising). Worse yet, despite the rudimentary nature of grinding, many people (mostly men, in my experience, but my sampling pool is admittedly skewed) seem incapable of keeping a beat with their hips.

    Fortunately, just as we are not slaves to language conventions (see the discussion on Western culture), neither are we doomed to wriggle mindlessly. Isn’t it about time we asked a bit more of ourselves and found a better way to boogey?

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