The Masters Golf Tournament is in full swing, and for the first time in history two women --Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore -- will be watching the greens in those yucky green jackets they have to wear to signal they're members of the Augusta National Golf Club. This year is the 10th anniversary of the National Council of Women's Organization (NCWO) protest over the club's exclusion of women. Confined by the Sheriff Ronnie Strength (you can't make names like this up) to a muddy field a half mile from the club gates, the action drew as many police as protesters. It also attracted its share of kooks and weirdos, not to mention sexist signs and slurs.
As head of the NCWO, I faced off with the club's then-Chairman Hootie Johnson, a good 'ol boy straight out of central casting. You could say he was the Lester Maddox of golf. The somewhat anti-climatic protest was the culmination of a year-long war in the media about "woman's place," where females ought to be allowed to go, and where to draw the line. But it was also a national argument out of the public eye. Co-workers and corporate boards alike clashed, families split right down the middle -- wives and daughters quit speaking to fathers and brothers -- and many a meal was ruined by dining-table shouting matches. Though it simmered down, the controversy never went away -- coming up every April as reliably as those azaleas at Augusta National Golf Club.
What changed, and why let women in now? Well, money was surely a factor. In partnership with a leading civil rights law firm, our women's group facilitated a couple of lawsuits, hitting companies whose CEOs were members with $80 million in settlements for their female employees. That upped the price of a game of golf -- and sex discrimination at work -- by quite a lot. Those big-buck awards also made it clear that it was never about the "rights" of a few friends getting together, as the club had so staunchly maintained. It was really about the "wrongs" of a bunch of Fortune 500 fat cats setting a very bad example for treatment of women up and down the line in corporate America.
Whether ANGC is truly acting in good faith remains to be seen. Let's hope the first two women aren't also the last two. After all, the club opened to African-American men in the 1990s, and black faces in green jackets are still mighty scarce. If other strong women are invited to join and females reach a critical mass in a reasonable time, then we can believe it's more than a token.
Was the 10-year slog, the fear from death threats and stalking, taunts, and t-shirts with our heads on pig's bodies -- and worse -- worth it? Yep. One more barrier broken, one more myth about "woman's place" shattered.
Condoleezza Rice looks like she's having a great time -- and more power to her. Someone emailed me to ask if I didn't think maybe she owes me a beer. Sure she does -- me and a lot of others standing in that muddy field a decade ago. If we hadn't been there then, women wouldn't have the right to network with their big business peers and play those manicured greens now.
We can all drink to that.
Listen to Martha Burk's audio blog on Augusta National here:
Martha Burk's book, Cult of Power: The Inside Story of the Fight to Open Augusta National Golf Club, and How it Exposed the Ingrained Corporate Sexism that Keeps Women Down , can be downloaded free from Amazon April 10-14.
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