Letter: Women didn’t kill civic clubs

Graphic by Lori Deaton

In response to letters published [in Xpress] on Nov. 28 [Let’s Get Back on Track with Civic Clubs”], Oct. 31 [“Blame Disinterest and Apathy, Not Women”] and Oct. 10 [“Changes Forced on Civic Clubs Yield Leadership Decline”]:

I am president of a local Rotary Club, and as a woman and a person under 50, my perspective on this subject diverges significantly from both Mr. Anthony E. Ponder and Ms. Margot Kornfeld.

If Mr. Ponder’s last direct interaction with a civic club was in fact in Mars Hill or East Tennessee in the 1960s, then he is woefully uninformed of the current membership trends for civic organizations. Ms. Kornfeld’s response equally misses the mark by falling into the same binary mentality Mr. Ponder espouses.

Rotary has identified multiple barriers contributing to its declining membership rosters: the cost of membership, historically rigid membership requirements, meeting times that are inconvenient for young professionals with families and a lack of focus on hands-on service projects that draw younger members. As a result, Rotary encourages clubs to reduce the financial obligation for members by making meals optional, offering more casual social opportunities and replacing formal meetings with hands-on service. Attendance requirements have changed to provide the flexibility young professionals require to balance family and work.

All professional organizations face market-based challenges. Recent studies quantify what any 30-something could attest to, which is that the millennial generation (born 1980ish to 2000ish) are the most education debt-burdened and most underpaid generation in history. Organizations established in the 20th century that fail to reconsider their value proposition to a new generation forged in the crucible of the Great Recession will absolutely wither and die.

Furthermore, these organizations often fail to address the more insidious aspects of their culture. Clubs filled with Mr. Ponders alienate potential younger members (both male and female) because the club values do not align with the more egalitarian expectations of a different generation. Personally, I have been petted and condescended to by older male members of my own profession because they see me as a daughter/granddaughter rather than a peer. Because I am stubborn as hell, I do not let these experiences deter me from participation; others may not be so inclined.

Netflix did not kill Blockbuster; ridiculous late fees did. Uber did not kill the taxi industry; limited access and fare control did. Women did not kill civic clubs; entrenched financial barriers and a mentality of exclusivity did. I am reminded of a Marine Corps slogan: “Improvise, adapt and overcome.” Neither men nor civic clubs are entitled to survival. They, just like everyone else, must improvise, adapt to, and overcome changing demographic and market conditions just like every other industry.

Tell Mr. Ponder to pull up his big girl pants, build a bridge and get over himself. Or perhaps, since he is so concerned with the torn fabric of society, he should learn to sew and then join us civic-club-crashing women in being part of the solution.

— Martha S. Bradley, Esq.

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