is an admonition in the Bible about the folly of straining at a gnat while
swallowing a camel. It refers
to focusing on something relatively small and insignificant, while
ignoring something else of great import.
In her current
Council of Women’s Organizations president Martha Burk is focused
intimately on a gnat, while having camels for breakfast with juice and toast.
Ms. Burk, as the head
of NCWO, wields immense power to focus media attention, financial
resources, and organizational strength on issues important to women.
She and NCWO are to be commended for many of their efforts, especially
those relative to health care.
But amazingly, she has recently chosen to focus her power on a
tiny gnat (um, I mean, a terrible injustice)--that monstrous
destroyer of women’s lives: Augusta
National Golf Club.
Augusta National is a
300-member private club for men. Wives of members can play golf there, as well as female guests of
members. Membership itself is
restricted to men.
Ms. Burk has decided that women should be allowed
to become full members at Augusta--even though Supreme Court interpretations
of constitutional protections allow wide latitude to small private clubs.
she has appeared on television and radio, using her bully pulpit to
pressure the club’s Chairman, William “Hootie” Johnson, to change
policy. When he wouldn’t
surrender under duress, she threatened to organize a boycott of commercial
sponsors of the CBS broadcast of The Masters--an invitational golf
tournament hosted by Augusta National, which attracts the best players on
the PGA tour. Chairman Johnson responded by proactively recalling all
sponsorships, and replacing lost advertising revenue with private funds.
Ms. Burk then threatened CBS itself with a boycott.
Brick wall there, too.
acquired the club’s supposedly private membership list, and is
contacting members individually. The
implied threat seems to be that she could turn her publicity and boycott
machine onto the members’ personal places of employment in an effort to
pressure them to vote for change.
Said Martha Burk:
"Augusta has to open up or it has to stop wanting
to be what it is, which is the premier golf venue and a club of great
influence. The CEOs who are members are going to be under extreme
Martha Burk’s world, it seems that rights of free association apply to all
American citizens…except, of course, to those who become successful male CEOs.
It is ironic that if
Augusta National moved to alter its protocol, the several dozens of
women who might eventually join would already have to be very rich, very
powerful, or both in order to even qualify for membership—these people
are certainly neither helpless nor voiceless nor victims.
Even women who might seem most eager to join are
not necessarily welcoming NCWO’s advocacy on their behalf.
Nancy Lopez, a three-time Ladies Pro Golfers Association champion,
was asked her opinion. Much
to the consternation of Ms. Burk, Lopez said that Augusta should be
allowed to remain as it is.
(By the way, LPGA membership is restricted to
people who were “born a woman.” Somehow,
though, I don’t feel oppressed by my exclusion from the LPGA, even
though there are definite business advantages that can only be found
there. Even so, maybe Ms. Burk will
take up that cause next.)
Ms. Burk’s actions
remind me of a similar incident about twelve years ago.
On Long Island, NY, the operators of a pet cemetery had been
selling private plots for the burial of deceased pets.
It turned out that the owners were tossing Muffy and Bootsie into a
common hole out back. When
this was discovered, the pet owners were beside themselves with anger, and
the media had a field day (more like a week, actually) airing tearful
Well, into the fray
sashays La Toya Jackson--yes, Michael’s sister.
She shows up on local television expressing her solidarity with the
grieving pet owners, offering herself up as a spokesperson to give
voice to their victimization.
The pet owners were
incredulous. They took barely
a moment to laugh her out of town before returning to their lives.
A la La Toya, Ms. Burk
has presented herself as the heroic advocate for voiceless victims of
oppression. In some milieus
I’m sure she is just that. But
once again, any potential “victims” here would have to be among the
richest or most powerful American women to even qualify for Augusta
membership. It is hard to imagine that they are relieved to see Ms.
Burk riding to their "rescue."
This would be amusing
if it didn’t have a serious flip-side.
We can fairly assume
that NCWO is actively engaged in good causes.
But in terms of resources, it’s a zero sum game.
Every dollar and every minute invested on millionaire women is a
dollar and a minute that could have been invested helping women who are
truly voiceless and victimized.
As long as there
continue to be women who are battered into submission by abusive partners,
who need shelter and counseling and a sympathetic ear (a true
“camel”), why on earth is Ms. Burk diverting financial and media
resources to help a few rich and powerful women play golf at this country
club instead of that one (a “gnat” if there ever was one)?
As long as there
continue to be countries where women are bought and sold into slavery (a
massive “camel”), why is Ms. Burk diluting precious organizational
resources to pressure corporations to divest themselves of a small,
private golf club? Why not use those same resources to pressure corporations to
divest themselves of involvement in those countries which currently allow
enslavement of women--as was done with apartheid-era South Africa?
Can’t you just hear
a battered woman say: “Don’t
you worry about me, Martha. You
go on and help Barbara Streisand and Mrs. Fields.
I’ll be just fine over here.”
Ms. Burk, bless your
heart. Now that you have such
a fine gnat to examine, how do you like your camel—poached or sunny-side