According to critics, the all-male final clubs were reprehensible because they were unfair to the women they excluded. They provided clear paths to money and power via a network that worked like a private LinkedIn for the rich.
In the 1990s women founded all-female organizations to complement the all-male final clubs. There are now five such female clubs: the Bee, the IC, La Vie, the Pleiades, and the Sabliere. But the all-male clubs still dominate social life on campus. Only male clubs own real estate. Their mansions are scattered around Harvard Square and are worth millions.
Several of the final clubs, chiefly the Porcellian and the A.D., forbid the presence of guests of either gender in the clubhouse. As a member pointed out to the Crimson, if the clubs were to admit women, the “sexual misconduct” there could only rise.
In 2015 the Fox initiated nine women into its ranks as provisional members. “In selecting those women, we followed the formal Fox voting practices by which every Fox has been elected to the club throughout its history,” club representatives wrote in the Crimson. “The only criterion for their membership was, ‘Will she be my friend?’”
Critics point out that opening the punch process to women still keeps them in a submissive position with respect to the clubs: “This is what it really looked like at the Spee this fall: You have 40 or 50 twenty-something-year-old guys inviting 18- and 19-year-old women into a historically all-male institution with no female guidance and no oversight.”
According to a plan first floated by the Harvard administration in 2016, if single-sex social clubs do not “transition” into a full acceptance of “Harvard values of non-discrimination” by going gender-neutral, any outed members would be forbidden to represent Harvard as a captain of a sports team or an elected leader of their class, and they would not receive Harvard’s backing for scholarships or other postgraduate honors.
The latest plan would ban outright the participation by Harvard students in “final clubs, fraternities or sororities, or other similar private, exclusionary social organizations.” Under such a ban any undergraduate found participating in these organizations would be expelled or suspended.
Critics argue this violates the right to freedom of association. To get at 500 male final-club members, Harvard would sacrifice 400 female ones, plus nearly 700 members of other sororities and fraternities. Because all the male clubs own their buildings and support themselves, the university can’t legally stamp out these clubs for being single-gender.