Martha at the Masters

One of golf's most prestigious tournaments -- the Masters -- took place last weekend at one of golf's most prestigious courses, Augusta National.

It was a truly disappointing event.

The disappointment didn't come from Chairman of Augusta National William "Hootie" Johnson's stubborn refusal to allow a female golfer to join the club. That was to be expected.

Nor was disappointment caused by the backlash toward feminist activist Martha Burk whose campaign against good old fashioned sexist discrimination was blamed for putting a damper on the Masters 2003. (How dare she?) The backlash too was expected.

It wasn't even the media falsely reporting that Mike Weir was the first Canadian to win a Major golf tournament (Sandra Post has won three) that got me down. Who could expect better?

What surprised me about the 67th Masters was the lack of support for Burk's campaign.

The "Burk versus Hootie" controversy began about a year ago when Burk wrote a letter encouraging Hootie to invite a woman to join the club's exclusive membership. His response was a flat "no." Augusta is a private club and, as such, can discriminate as it sees fit.

Burk and supporters then targeted PGA Tour sponsors. Hootie responded that he wasn't going to take orders from a woman. Burk gathered about 7000 signatures and was granted a permit to hold an official protest. Hootie called Burk names and stood firmly by the club's men-only policy.

As the controversy grew in the days leading up to the tournament, expectations for a large protest frightened organizers and encouraged supporters.

Am I the only one who envisioned the streets of Augusta, Georgia, being trampled by thousands of women with big signs and loud voices united by the fight for equality?

All I got was a lousy National Post article that reported a "paltry two dozen women" showed up.

That's it?

Rather than uniting women, Burk's effort on behalf of female golfers exaggerated a sharp division between them: the one that lies between women who want to challenge the status quo and those who don't want to rock the boat.

Do we need to be reminded that without women's fights for rights we wouldn't be able to vote or go to university or own property or to be full persons under the law?

Aparently some do. One woman there to disrupt the protest called Burk "ridiculous." Others were furious that this "feminist" was ruining the event.

Perhaps the pathetic turnout was because few women actually want to join Augusta or because the right to golf at a fancy course is not women's top priority. But here's the thing: it does matter. The fight, while seemingly trivial, is powerful symbolically. It's a case of elite men telling us what we can and can't do. Now where have I heard that one before?

This dispute goes deeper than just a boys' club locking its doors to some people based on what's between their legs. (Or, rather, what isn't.) One man attended Burk's protest holding a sign that read: "MAKE ME DINNER!" The other side demanded that Burk iron his shirts.

The fact that a hootie-tootie -- or, er, a hoity-toity -- golf course, whose membership list is a who's-who of corporate America, is using its power to exclude women shows that this battle is about who has control and hanging on to power.

Canadian journalist Laura Robinson wrote in Black Tights: Women, Sport and Sexuality that "boys will never become well-rounded men if they don't learn to play together with girls in a fair, equitable, and inclusive fashion." How true. She asks: "How can [boys] be expected to become men who treat women as equals if they are constantly being encouraged to participate in activities that exclude females as inferior?" Good question.

If Hootie's elite men can't play a friendly game of golf with a female co-member, chances are they can't include women in much else.

It's about time women started supporting one another in the struggle for equality, because, frankly my dear, no one else will. The Hooties of this world will never give up power willingly and as long as women stand divided, we'll all continue to play together on men's turf, both on and off the course.

Jenn Ruddy is a freelance writer from Saskatchewan. She is a feminist and an avid golfer -- proof that the two can go hand-in-hand.

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