Is it weird that a lot of single sex groups vet members of the same sex at parties but don’t seem to do the same for members of the opposite sex? What can people do to encourage equity?

AG: Hey and thanks for reaching out to Sexual Literacy! These questions are coming at a timely point where Harvard is talking a lot about inclusivity, social spaces, and single-gender organizations and I think people on campus are trying to navigate how to best encourage equity. I want to start just by validating that yes, it is weird. It can be really awkward to show up to a party you thought was open with a group and have some people turned away at the door because of their gender.

ML: Absolutely--if you’re planning to go out with a group of friends and suddenly you can’t all go into a party together, it can embarrassing and frustrating. Historically, single-gender institutions were founded as such over a century ago with the idea of providing men and women with separate social outlets in college. Over a century later, these same institutions oftentimes follow these antiquated practices despite a changed environment in which they exist, lending itself to extremely heteronormative behavior.

AG: We don’t mean to entirely bash on these organizations. I know many people who are members that have gotten a ton out of their involvement. People find communities, comfort, and yes--places to party, in these groups. I also don’t think that people in these clubs are making these heteronormative decisions out of spite. Rather, often I think that it choices like this can come from a well-intentioned place (for example, trying to reduce the club’s liability in letting individuals they do not know into the club) but in practice are more problematic.  

ML: As a member of a single-gender organization myself, it’s really difficult to question the institution to which you belong. There are many benefits of joining these organizations--from new friendships, alumni connections, and even parties--however it is also important to be able to look at how your group operates and seek change when you feel something is wrong or outdated. It can also be difficult to make these changes when other members or chapters of your organization do not agree, however I’ve felt from my own experience that working to show others what you and your group prioritizes is more important than any resistance you may face.

AG: So going back to your second question, I think that small changes like letting both genders in at the door or having events cosponsored across differently gendered organizations can go a long way. Obviously these doesn’t change the institutions on a national level but working from the bottom up is often a powerful way to enact change.