Augusta, Ashley and Armstrong: A Call For Women To Change The World

I laughed out loud — in a sick sort of way — when I read the first line of the AP story about Sunday at The Masters:

New IBM chief Virginia Rometty was at the Masters after all.

Attention reporters and headline writers: women aren’t banned from sitting on the grounds at the Masters. They are banned from being a member.

IBM is a major sponsor; the current CEO is Virginia Rometty. She’s a woman. Her four male predecessors were all made members of Augusta National Golf Club. Rometty wasn’t. It’s a male-only private business club, donja know?

Rometty is a golfer, although she has said in interviews that she does not play frequently, but Augusta membership has long been as much of a business community as a golf one. Its members include business titans Warren Buffett and T. Boone Pickens as well as the chief executives of Augusta’s other two major sponsors: Rex Tillerson of Exxon Mobil and Randall Stephenson of AT&T.

Excuses for the behavior go round-and-round:

The defenses of these no-ladies-allowed areas has varied, from the legalistic (“it’s a private club, they can do they wish”) to the historical (“it’s tradition here”) to the separate-but-equal (“sometimes, we have women’s-only events”) to the dismissive (“there’s nothing special in there”).

However the behavior on display at Augusta doesn’t reflect IBM’s rhetoric about discrimination. Nor does it reflect IBM’s record on diversity:

IBM, for one, talks about all its business, social and recreational activities being conducted without discrimination of any kind.

The company has the record to back that up, having been among the first big employers to embrace anti-discriminatory hiring practices in the 1950s. Former CEO Lou Gerstner, whose decade-long tenure ended in 2002, increased the number of female executives by 370 percent and minority leaders by 233 percent, according to the Harvard Business Review.

So why does IBM continue to sponsor Augusta? Will it do so again in 2013?

It will unless we tell IBM that sponsoring Augusta is wrong. If there is no squeaky wheel, if there is no protest, why would IBM change its behavior?

There is precedent for action.

Citibank Advice

This is not the path out of a sexist culture.

Ten years ago, Martha Burk, the chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, called for (in a private letter to chairman Hootie Johnson) Augusta National to end its all-male membership.

What was Augusta’s response? Johnson “went into meltdown. Nearly a month later, he shot back a terse three-sentence letter… and at the same time issued a lengthy and indignant manifesto to the press.”

Burk would later regret “not allow[ing] herself to get arrested by picketing” outside of the protest site at the 2003 Masters. The club ran the tournament without sponsors for two years.

***

The atmosphere at Augusta is the flip side of how our mediated culture views women. Augusta steadfastly ignores us. But media? Media sow sexism in ads and articles that are hyper-focused on “beauty” whether real or fabricated

Last month, the tabloid and mainstream press began hypothesizing that Ashley Judd had undergone plastic surgery. Jezebel describes the frenzy:

Ashley Judd had work done! Ashley Judd is filling her face with facial fillers! Ashley Judd gets her face stung by therapeutic bees! Ashley Judd is injecting butt-fat into her face so her face looks more like a sexy butt! Ashley Judd is a liar and a coward who is terrified of aging! Ha-ha, women, we tricked you! The only thing worse than looking old is trying not to look old because we told you not to look old! Also, you’re fat!

Today Judd spoke out about that ugly side of our culture (emphasis added). Warning: many of the comments validate her essay.

The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us… our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification.

[...]
The accusations and lies, introduced to the public, now apply to me as a woman across space and time; to me as any woman and to me as every woman.

That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.

[...]
If this conversation about me is going to be had, I will do my part to insist that it is a feminist one, because it has been misogynistic from the start. Who makes the fantastic leap from being sick, or gaining some weight over the winter, to a conclusion of plastic surgery? Our culture, that’s who. The insanity has to stop… It affects each and every one of us, in multiple and nefarious ways: our self-image, how we show up in our relationships and at work, our sense of our worth, value, and potential as human beings.

Judd is not the first celebrity to speak about objectification of women but she may be the first who is also attending the Democratic National Convention as a delegate the same year.

****

As I try to make sense of these seemingly disparate news items, my mind keeps circling back a discussion about compassion last week with Karen Armstrong, scholar, author and founder of The Charter For Compassion, and Tori Murden McClure, president of Spaulding university and author of A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean.

In simple terms, Armstrong and McClure were encouraging us to live life with the golden rule, an ethic of reciprocity, as a central force.

Do unto others as you would have done to you.

This simple philosophy of life is mirrored in the teachings of all the world’s religions:

  • “Do not return evil to your adversary; Requite with kindness the one who does evil to you, Maintain justice for your enemy, Be friendly to your enemy.” (2000 BCE)
  • “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” – The Torah, Leviticus 19:18 (1400 BCE)
  • The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” – The Torah, Leviticus 19:34 (1400 BCE)
  • “I will be as careful for you as I should be for myself in the same need.” Homer (Calypso to Odysseus, 8th century BCE)
  • “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” – Confucius (6th century BCE)
  • “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” – Udana-Varga 5:18 (6th century BCE)
  • “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain and regard your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” – Taoism
  • “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” – Matthew 7:12
  • “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” – Muhammad

If for several thousand years the golden rule has been a central tenet of the world’s religions, what does it say about the human animal that we ignore it right and left?

What does it say about American culture, a culture more overtly religious than any other industrialized nation?

It says we preach but don’t do. It says we wear our religion on Sunday. It says we let money rule.

If the leaders of Augusta lived by the golden rule, if they could not profit off of their current behavior, they would not be discriminating against 51% of the population.

If the media were run by leaders who lived by the golden rule, if they could not profit off of their behavior, our airwaves and magazine racks would not be chock full of crap like that heaped on Ashley Judd.

How can we change this world?

Judd talks about the insidious nature of misogyny, but we can’t change it until we recognize it.

First, we have to acknowledge that these behaviors run afoul not only of the golden rule but simple humanity. (There are none so blind as those who will not see.) Second, we have to change our own thought processes, a natural outgrowth of opening our eyes. Only then we can mindfully exercise our autonomy, our personal power, and then change how we behave.

We may choose to share an article like this one with our Facebook friends. We may choose to publicly protest. We may choose to tell corporations that enable this sort of behavior with their advertising dollars that we will no longer buy their products. We might even tell politicians that they need to get on board. (What a transformed world that would be!)

But whatever we do, we need to keep the golden rule close to our heart to avoid engaging in the very negative behaviors we are trying to change.

I think that was the key to the teachings of Jesus and Ghandi and Martin Luther King. Their conscious rejection of the status quo was executed as positive change, as acts that could not be ignored, not because they fomented violence but because they nurtured self-awareness.

5 Comments

  1. I am still shocked that people missed the sexism directed at Hillary Clinton during her campaign…. from both R’s and D’s. For some reason, sexism is still publicly tolerated while racism is publicly scorned (and rightfully so).

    I dont get it. I really dont.

    As for white wealthy southern Georgia…. not exactly a total shocker that they are holding on to old bigotry. Half of those folks are still fighting the civil war. I recall attending a laser show on a giant rock somewhere in suburban Georgia…Cobb county I believe… that show was nothing but a celebration of a lost war and a time we should never return to.

  2. Hi, ShannonLee – that would have been Stone Mountain, I’m guessing. Augusta is north Georgia! (Well, Northeast)

    I agree — there was a lot of sexist chatter surrounding Hillary’s campaign. Too much. :-/

  3. I agree!

    Jus’ sayin’: August ‘discriminates’ against more than just 51% of the population. They will take money for dues from any man (afaik), however therein lies the run. I can’t join. I live in MA and do not have the extra money for such dues (not that I play golf anyways).

  4. Yeah, I know… I meant to write that more along the lines of…

    southern state georgia.. not the southern part of Georgia.

    I was in Atlanta last month… man they have done some really nice things in their downtown area.

    and yes, it was Stone Mt.

  5. @SL – ;-)

    @Rcountme – thanks!

    I’m fascinated that my motorcycle/geek circle (of mostly white middle-aged guys) thinks that the IBM/Augusta issue is “just business” and that the Augusta policy is, well, OK. The decision point is IBM’s. There is also a hint that corporations should make decisions strictly on direct impact on bottom line.

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