A Last Bastion in the Wild : Basic Men, Basic Questions: Is It Time to Give Women Their Due . . . and Take Their Dues?

<i> T. Jefferson Parker is a novelist and writer who lives in Orange County. His column appears in OC Live! the first three Thursdays of every month</i>

I belong to a club whose charter--drawn up in the ‘50s--states that only men can become members. It is a sportsmen’s club. In our case, the main sport being target shooting. We have a few acres in the high desert upon which sit a clubhouse with a huge fireplace, two trap ranges and a few trailers members use for weekend getaways. The club members built it all themselves.

Except for one weekend a month when some of the 30 active members shoot trap, the club property is very quiet. It is bordered by miles of federal and Native American land. Like most deserts, this one is rich with wildlife, if you’re patient enough to look for it. It’s the kind of place you go to get alone, get away from telephones, get away from traffic, or--if you’re one of those people who occasionally turns into someone you don’t like--get away from yourself.

Occasionally, women are there. Most often they are wives of members, sometimes daughters or friends. Once in a while a woman shooter tries her hand at our trap range.

But you’d never see one at a meeting--because they weren’t allowed membership. That was the way it had always been, and, since nobody was complaining, that appeared to be the way it would always be: a bunch of guys goofing around in the desert once in a while.


Somewhat mysteriously, however, a resolution was read a few meetings ago, which stated that club bylaws be changed to admit women as members.

It was mysterious because I hadn’t heard anyone grousing about not having women in the club; I hadn’t heard any serious discussion on the subject at all. But I came to understand that there was a faction within the club that was in favor of admitting women. I also came to understand that there was a faction strongly not in favor of doing so. The open discussion and vote was held last week.

To understand what happened, you must understand what we club members are like. I’m about to generalize here, so my judgments might be a little rounder and less specific than they might be, but such is the nature of the general.

We are what you might call basic men. We are working men. We are, for the most part, family men. We are not intellectuals and we are not dumb, but inhabit that vast middle ground. We have strong, assertive personalities. Many of us were raised in an earlier generation, one steeped in what one might call traditional male values. We are not, in the popular meaning of the word, “enlightened.” Many members are veterans of foreign wars. Most of us, I would guess, grew up in other, more rural parts of the republic than Southern California. We are men a little bit dour about contemporary life; as traditionalists we tend to think back to a time that seemed better or a least more understandable.


We cuss. We drink. We smoke. We argue. We shoot and fish and hike. We work. We try to outdo each other. We compete against other clubs. We gamble on all of it. If someone needs help, we help him. We have large trucks, large dogs, large appetites. We get together to get away. Basic men.

With the mysterious appearance of the resolution, the idea of women joining the club was dangled before us, a controversial, contemporary, potentially divisive issue. All members were notified of the general discussion. All members were urged to attend the discussion. An odd feeling of battle seemed to fill the air--so much would be revealed.

Of course, plenty of opinionizing took place between members in private. As a yearling member myself and as a person more given to listening than talking, I heard the arguments but said little.

“A few women could take over the club,” went one theory. “They’d be running everything before you knew it.”


“We should have a women’s auxiliary,” went another.

“The other clubs have women now, and it’s been a success,” went another.

“I like this club the way it is,” said some.

“We need new members, and I don’t see why they shouldn’t be women,” said others.


“My wife won’t even come up here anymore because the clubhouse is such a pigsty,” said one.

“Then we don’t need her as a member,” countered another.

“We ought to just leave well enough alone,” some believed.

“It isn’t well enough anymore--we’re dying as a club,” some answered.


“Any club without women is only half a club,” stated one member. He is an older member, much respected, a man of considerable power and experience.





So the stage was set for last week’s vote. The meeting was far from packed. The same 15 guys who usually show up showed up, but there were enough of us to make a quorum. There was still a sense of anticipation in the air, however, and we went through the old business quickly in order to get to the resolution.

The resolution allowing women as members was read, twice.

First were three or four questions that were technical in nature. Then the president, who according to the bylaws, does not vote unless as a tie-breaker, encouraged the members to speak their minds.

But, astonishingly to me a least, no one said much. A kind of uneasy silence prevailed, a silence that seemed packed with opinion, conviction, belief.


There we were, 15 basic men, with hardly a word to say on the subject that had been so vigorously addressed just a few weeks before.

One member spoke up to deliver an odd statement: “If we open this club to women and you don’t vote in my wife, I guess I’ll have to get a new wife.”

Discussion ended and ballots were handed out.

I wondered what was going on here. Where was the heartfelt disagreement, the oratory, the heated opinionizing, the debate? What was everyone waiting for?


But as I cast my vote, folded my ballot and handed it to the sergeant-at-arms, I realized that there was no discussion tonight because everyone already knew exactly how they were going to vote. Everyone seemed to realize that no amount of talk was going to change anyone’s mind, so why bother?

And even more than that, I guessed, each member felt so deeply about this issue that giving utterance to his convictions would only trivialize it.

The president counted the ballots, then called for two vice presidents to audit the count.

“Well, I guess I won’t have to vote on this one,” he said with a minor smile. “We have a unanimous vote. Resolution is passed.”