Two events in recent weeks have brought Harvard's attention to the issue of gender equality in exclusive student organizations. On September 8, seventeen undergraduate women decided to audition for a spot in the Hasty Pudding Theatrical cast, and in doing so they challenged the group's long-standing tradition of including only men in its drag shows. A few days later, the Spee Club, one of eight male final clubs, announced that it would be inviting women to participate in its punch process this fall. Some have lauded these developments as huge steps in increasing gender equality in student groups. However, others believe that these events ignore the larger problems underlying these organizations. In this HPRgument, Tasnim Ahmed and Peter Wright weigh in on what they believe are the implications of these events.


HPRgument Posts | September 20, 2015 at 9:40 pm

Why Punching Women Doesn’t Solve Everything


Recently, the Spee Club announced that it would invite women to punch for the first time in its history. At face value, this seems like a moment for Harvard women to rejoice as an all-male final club finally opens its doors to women, and not just at eleven on a Saturday night. Yet, the change doesn’t seem very profound: what problem is the Spee solving by opening up its club to female members? Though it is too early to judge whether or not this move will impact gender dynamics on campus, I do not believe that the Spee’s simply inviting women to punch solves the real problem at hand: deeply rooted misogynistic practices and a culture of exclusivity.

Since the start of this school year, the administration has placed increasing pressure on final clubs to take more responsibility for their actions. Following Dean Khurana’s outspoken criticism of the clubs, many have decreased the number of parties they hold, with some adopting members-only policies. The series of complaints against final clubs was charged last semester when the Spee released an invitation that featured women in lingerie, advertising a “pajama party.” This sparked widespread criticism of the invitation’s misogynistic impulses, reflective of a broader final club culture. This incident served to put a spotlight on male final clubs’ existing reputations for characterizing women as nothing more than sexual objects. Though this behavior does not define final club members, nor is it always observed, it was still one that deserved to be reprimanded. While the Spee issued a public apology for its actions, this apology, like their decision to invite women to punch, does not address the issue at hand, but rather diverts attention away from it. It provides them a safety net of excuses to fall back on should they be criticized.

The problem was not that these clubs did not include women, but rather that they did not know how to respect women. While the Spee may be moving towards that goal, it seems hard to believe that the parties they hold will be any different. Will the girls they accept, if they accept any, have the leverage to change the biased party culture? It is no secret that the final clubs often exhibit sexist attitudes when it comes to parties. With busloads of women being sent to attend them, and acceptance into these parties often being based on physical attractiveness, this final club culture is inappropriate for a college campus.

However, final clubs still deserve a place on this campus, because they do offer a consistent social space for Harvard students. In an effort to solve existing issues final club members have to be more transparent and active contributors to the greater discussion. There should be a more public dialogue in place between members of final clubs and the greater Harvard community. Final clubs become the center of controversies not because they are a single gender organization, but because they are a single gender organization with incredible resources and power over Harvard’s social scene. It may be impossible to share the wealth, but final clubs are definitely capable of sharing the opportunity to that wealth. While I do commend the Spee for becoming co-ed and taking a step towards inclusivity, I do not think this necessarily solves the club’s misogynistic undertones, but rather detracts from it.



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