- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 1, 2003

ALEXANDRIA, Va., Dec. 17 (UPI) — Women serve on the Supreme Court, head the National Security Council, run businesses of every stripe and have been astronauts for decades. But if you measure by recent headlines, none of that matters. The aspirations of American women are apparently riding on this vital question: Why can't a woman be a member at Augusta National Golf Club?

As a woman who actually supports the idea of single-gender membership organizations, I have found myself in many heated conversations with both women and men friends, almost to the point of being ridiculed as a drawling backward Southerner or scorned as an out-of-touch elitist.

The drawl I speak with pride — but an elitist? Not even close.

None of this — whether seen as idle finger-pointing or overtly hostile aggression — has persuaded me to abandon my position of vociferously defending Augusta Nationals 70-year-old traditions of privacy and men-only membership.

That is because of this basic point: Exclusivity does not equal discrimination.

However distressing it is to my feminist friends, it is perfectly acceptable for men to seek a place and time for camaraderie and fellowship with other men, just as it is legitimate and morally proper for women to seek camaraderie and fellowship with other women. No, more than acceptable — it is a cherished part of American life and the richness of our culture.

How often must it be restated that the freedom to associate is a right. Those who choose to rant selectively against the Augusta National also are protected by that same First Amendment, except that the right to speak freely does not assure the right to be taken seriously.

It is ludicrous also to accept without question the idea that Martha Burk of the National Council of Women's Organizations has assembled all the women of America to sing in her chorus of outrage. She hasn’t. Take a deep breath, for instance, and listen to how Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins recently described the club.

"I loved it for the wisteria and the dogwoods. I loved the immaculate greenness, the traditional food. I've loved the fact that it is unchanging, that each time I go back I can count on the pimento cheese sandwiches in the green wrappers, and the peach cobbler, and the hushed grandeur of the place because it's a tradition-bound, invitation-only private club, and I would defend both privacy and tradition with a gun," she wrote.

The question remains, should these moral inquisitors have their way in the name of pseudo gender equality? Please. A better question is this: when will they give this issue a rest?

Martha Burk has dressed herself in the robes of a judge, imperially overseeing the court of public opinion. A bellicose I'm-right-and-you're-wrong judge, at that. "The Masters," she says, "is not tied at the hip to this club (and) could be held somewhere else."

Looking ahead to next April, she announced that she intends to have a motorcycle gang join her for a protest outside the gates of the tournament. "That," she declared "will give the good old boys the vapors."

While the Hell's Angels chew on that one, it's worth noting that this type of stridency is nothing new to Ms. Burk. In a 1993 article in The Nation, she said that her women's group favors "street activism," and "zap actions." In addition to the zapping, she said the next year "I am in favor of quotas. I think we should give men half the top jobs in business and government, whether they deserve them or not. And we should give them half the bottom jobs, too — low-paid child care, typing pools, public-toilet cleaning and the like. Fair is fair."

She also says that, "Gender balance in all appointments should be firm government policy, if not the law of the land. If women get a few more appointments than men for a while, so be it."

It is my hope that Augusta National won't allow their tournament to be held hostage. Some traditions and rights are worth fighting for. At Augusta, one of these is the choice that members share with other groups — to set their own policies. Staying faithful to the Masters, which includes fidelity to the memory of Bobby Jones and all the honor brought to the tournament by past champions, is another.

I sincerely hope that Augusta, whether on the greens or off, will stay the course.

(Patricia F. Meagher is a writer and owns a small business.)

("Outside View" commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in a variety of important global issues.)

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