What it's like to work in a literal boys club
My training begins with a tour — the kitchen, the break room, event spaces, and the dining room. As my new manager guides me through the club, I notice something missing. Namely, women — but it doesn’t phase me because it feels familiar. That is until we discuss where employees should change into their uniforms.
“There is an employee locker room downstairs, but women don’t really go in there,” my new manager explains.
“What do you mean women don’t go in there?” I ask, three full, blissful weeks before Donald Trump would give me a real reason to stay out of all locker rooms forever.
“Well, there’s just so many men it’s not worth it,” he says.
“So, where can I change?” I ask. My question was met with a mumbled response about a bathroom somewhere and a small shrug.
Having served on and off at a country club in my hometown near Chicago for more than six years, I thought I was accustomed to club culture. By that I mean a culture of wealthy, mostly white males who pay to belong to a hand-selected group of their peers. It’s a place to play golf, network, drink, and, of course, feel important.
“Here’s your uniform,” my manager says, holding up what is clearly a men’s vest, shirt, and tie. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s the same combo donned by my senior prom date. I’m fully being asked to check my womanhood at the door — but this I can handle. I used to play softball.
Whether it was barring Jews, Catholics, African-Americans, women, or even those who simply lived in the wrong neighborhoods, the message was clear: these places were sanctuaries of privilege for a group of men who would be steadily losing it in broader society over the coming decades. It was only after a few mid-century lawsuits that clubs were forced do away with bold-print, formal discriminatory practices; but unfortunately, a lot of them survive in unofficial capacities.
I have four white, male managers, and am surrounded by a predominantly male serving and kitchen staff.
There is a long table that sits at the end of an outdoor patio. Men will filter in throughout the day after golf to smoke, drink, and show off the fruits of their salaries. I have yet to see a woman sit there. On more than one occasion, I am referred to by name as another female server. We look nothing alike. Maybe if it happened one time I’d say it’s a mistake, but multiple times doesn’t feel like a mistake. It feels more like male members don’t bother to distinguish one woman from another.
Being outnumbered can be exhausting, but the sinking feeling that no one is actively working to have more inclusive membership practices is painful.
She doesn’t sit on the board of directors, but I later find out she’s a part of the house committee and a driving force behind the interior design of the club. It might not be the outright gesture country clubs should be making to include women, but it’s a welcome reminder that there are like-minded women working to make changes from the inside.