Intersections of Race, Class and Gender in Country Clubs.
Although it isn’t often done, Jessica Holden Sherwood writes in her study “The View from the Country Club: Wealthy Whites and the Matrix of Privilege,” that it is important to “look-up” and examine the dominating class. Though arguably it is more difficult, especially in regards to social class, because “the privileged are thought of as elusive subjects of study.” (Ferguson, p. 230)
Sherwood chooses to focus her ethnographic study on exclusive country clubs for two reasons:
1) The “people there are unusually privileged” (Ferguson , p. 229)
2) The clubs are “cogs in a complex machinery.” Along with private schools and exclusive neighborhoods, country clubs “provide important opportunities for face-to-face interaction and solidarity building among wealthy people.” (Ferguson, p 230)
Sherwood looked at the most “exclusive and prestigious social clubs” in her area. She reached out to her own personal contacts and through a network of referrals interviewed thirty-eight club members from four different country clubs. (Ferguson, p 230)
The clubs are as follows:
* Oldfamily has a 100 year old history, and is possibly at the top of the prestige hierarchy.
* Rosary is also a 100 year old club, but is Irish Catholic.
* Suburban is “‘new money’ and has “an attendant lack of refinement.”
* Northern is a different type of club as it is out of the area, less prestigious and somewhat of a “battleground of women’s status.” (Ferguson, p. 230)
Like the Greensboro Country Club shown in the photo below, admission at all four country clubs is by selective invitation. (Ferguson, p. 230)
Sherwood goes on to show how class intersects with race and gender.
Exclusion from the club is accounted for in two ways:
1) Members argue that there is no meaningful exclusion taking place and cite ‘affordability’ as the only limiting factor OR
2) More commonly, members excuse and/or justify exclusion. They may pawn off responsibility. For example, one Rosary member remarks, “There’s a bunch of old guys apparently that run the place.” (Ferguson, p. 231)
The gender roles within the clubs are traditional and male dominated. Men qualify for the country club through income and assets. “Women generally qualify as wives or inheriting daughters.” (Ferguson, p. 231)
Although, a few of the upper-class members are non-white, even the non-whites who do belong “are assimilated enough so that they do not disturb the comfort zones that dominate.” (Ferguson, p. 231)
There are two ways the white homogeneity is explained by members:
1) It is justified by claiming affordability is the only hurdle. “Interviewees simply point out that nonwhites are, on a whole, less likely to be able to afford to belong.” (Ferguson, p 231) OR
2) They emphasize how much heterogeneity there is by comparing it to membership in the past, or comparing their membership to other clubs. (Ferguson, p. 232)
In addition, “the non-white members in this study are all men.” (Ferguson, p. 233) Unsurprisingly, there are still country clubs around today that don’t allow women as members. In fact, the Muirfield Golf Course voted last year in 2016 to uphold its ban on female members and was subsequently banned from hosting The Open.
Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Stugeon tweeted this is response…
As a result of being banned from certain clubs, women are often left out of networking or political events. As reported in Fortune Magazine, just last year Ohio Rep. Jim Renacci hosted a fundraiser at the Sharon Golf Club which restricts women from entering.
When people refer to political "boys' clubs" they're usually speaking metaphorically. Not this time. Next week, Ohio…fortune.com
And even in clubs that do allow women, their status generally remains lower than men’s within the club. For example, they may not be able to vote or hold leadership positions, or they may have fewer privileges at the club. (Ferguson, p. 233).
Both men and women largely ignore the issue of gender inequality, from which three themes emerge:
1) Marriage and Money: The working assumption is that all club members are straight and producing children, where the woman’s role is largely domestic. Most of the members are married couples in a breadwinner-homemaker marriage. Homemakers are viewed as lower-status by both the male and female club members. (Ferguson, p. 233)
2) Femininity Civility: Country club members are influenced by emphasized femininity or “femininity organized as an adaptation to men’s power, and emphasizing compliance, nurturance and empathy as womanly virtues.” (Ferguson, p. 234) The women do not want to be seen as disagreeable, controversial or lacking in manners. (Ferguson, p. 234)
3) Genteel Masculine Dominance: At a top tier club like Oldfamily, the men’s privilege is so certain, that men rule their families with a “quiet control.” These clubs appear on the outside to be more egalitarian. However, at other clubs, overt sexism is more rampant because the men are less elite and are “more motivated to enforce masculine privileges in their clubs.” (Ferguson, p. 235) Oldfamily members often attribute the other club’s sexism to their non-WASPyness. For example, they may assume the sexism is cultural as in the case of the Italian club “Venetian.” (Ferguson, p. 236)
When questioned about white homogeneity, all four clubs’ members point out how another club is worse than their own in regards to sexism. (Ferguson, p. 236)
Why are these concepts important to the field of LIS?
At first, it was difficult for me to connect this study to the field of LIS, until I began to think of the library as the “anti-country club.” From there, it was easier to see how the library could play a role. For example, exclusion is inherent to the country club, where as inclusion should be inherent to the library. It should not build invisible barriers preventing people of certain classes, genders or races/ethnicity from accessing information. And since country clubs are also places to make connections to important members of the community, the library should also make an effort to bring in “makers and shakers” so that the community might have access to their ideas and influence.
[Golf Channel]. (2016, May 19). Morning Drive: Muirfield Members Say No To Women 5/19/16 | Golf Channel [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ic_8_yMpWL8
NicolaSturgeon. (2016, May 19). Scotland has women leaders in every walk of life. It is 2016. This is simply indefensible. [Tweet]. https://twitter.com/NicolaSturgeon/status/733252630810636288?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.independent.co.uk%2Fsport%2Fgolf%2Fmuirfield-golf-course-votes-against-allowing-women-members-to-risk-sexism-backlash-and-open-a7037436.html
Photograph and caption of a Family at the Country Club. Greensboro Country Club. http://www.greensborocc.org/Default.aspx?p=DynamicModule&pageid=353015&ssid=258722&vnf=1
Sherwood, J. (2016). The View from the Country Club. In S. Ferguson (2nd). Race Gender Sexuality and Class (2nd), (pp. 229–239). Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications.
Zarya, V. (2016, July 15) No Women Are Allowed At This Congressman’s Country Club Fundraiser. Fortune. Retrieved from: http://fortune.com/2016/07/15/jim-renacci-no-women/