Men Behaving Badly

Published online July 17, 2007, 5:59 p.m. MST
COPYRIGHT 2007, Phoenix New Times

You wouldn't think, in 2007, that a restaurant would be allowed to serve only men. In this day and age, surely even the Phoenix Country Club wouldn't forbid women from entering one of its dining rooms, much less enjoying a cocktail there.

And you certainly wouldn't think that, if a female PCC member challenged the segregated Men's Grill, certain gentlemen at the club would resort to calling her a "bitch" and a "whore."

In graffiti.

On their own golf course.

These days, the Phoenix Country Club is like 1965 Selma — only instead of racists defending their lily-white elections, we've got Thurston Howell III fighting for the right to drink his gin without his wife interrupting.

It might be funny if it hadn't become so vicious.

After all, it's easy to shrug off the issue of whether rich men should be allowed to dine without rich women around, even if you don't quite see the point. Not to mention the fact that no one has ever been forced to join a country club. "My view is that people who aren't happy with a private club should leave," says William Maledon, a prominent lawyer in town and the president of the club's board of directors.

Really, it's hard to argue against his point.

But then you look at how nutty some club members have acted, and you'd think that someone violated their grandmothers with a 9-iron rather than simply pushed for fully integrated dining.

After a pair of longtime members, Logan and Barbara Van Sittert, asked for the Men's Grill to be opened to women, all hell broke loose, at least by country club standards.

Members responded by vandalizing the golf course with the above-mentioned graffiti against Barbara, according to a letter written by the Van Sittert's lawyer.

They also, apparently, vandalized Logan Van Sittert's locker. (Rumor says that a stream of urine was involved, although the board president wrote in a letter to membership that "many of the rumors" are "wildly inaccurate.") According to the Van Sitterts' lawyer, some members also confronted Logan Van Sittert at the male-only grill, calling him a "traitor" and telling him to "get out."

Bullies always seem to surface in battles like this, even at exclusive clubs. Okay, maybe especially at exclusive clubs. But based on the documentation I've seen, the board's official reaction hasn't been much better.

After the Van Sitterts filed a civil rights complaint with Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard in February, the club actually tried to strip the couple of their membership — first by attempting to expel them, and later, as a compromise, offering to buy them out.

Then, according to a letter from the couple's lawyer, the board of directors also put in a place a policy threatening to expel any member who makes "derogatory or otherwise injurious comments to the media."

You'd think we were talking about state secrets, not about men who want to eat cheeseburgers without women around.

I mean, really. This sort of thing requires a news blackout? And just because a guy dares to challenge a very old, kind of weird policy, he's a "traitor"?

All this over a restaurant!

I think F. Scott Fitzgerald was right: The rich are different than the rest of us. For one thing, they take life a lot more seriously.

For months now, the fracas over the Men's Grill has been the subject of cocktail party chatter. I'd heard the rumors, but the situation stayed just that: something to talk about, not something to write about.

Then I got a packet in the mail. Sent anonymously, of course, but clearly the goods. There was the civil rights complaint from the Van Sitterts — still pending — as well as a follow-up letter from their lawyer.

I have to admit, I began reading a bit skeptically. If women don't like the policies at PCC, why not find another club? There's also a good argument to be made that, with all the serious problems in the world, this is low on the totem pole.

Part of it, I'm sure, is generational. Like a lot of women my age, I've never considered myself a feminist. My mother is a baby boomer, not me. Her generation won the important battles long before my peers and I had bras to burn and admissions essays to write. We've always thought of ourselves as capable of just about anything, not to mention welcome pretty much everywhere — even, for us female reporters, the men's locker room. If guys want a place to eat without us, no big deal.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske