Washington's first all-women, full-facility private club opened up here last night, offering professional women their own haven for "networking," while threatening to put a new spin on the meaning of sexual discrimination.
"Yes, we do discriminate," says Jody Murphy, president of the privately owned Executive Club, "but I don't think it's the same kind of bias men have had towards women. I am seen as less-than-welcome in their facilities."
Men will be allowed to dine at the club as guests, but that's all.
By the time the club is fully developed, it should be more than able to hold its own among the old boy club network. Last night, about 500 members and possibles (plus a few men) drank champagne and wandered through what is promised to be the beginning of a huge complex. Currently located in a Connecticut Avenue storefront between Dupont Circle and N Street, the club plans to take over half of that block eventually.
"It has potential," observed Robin Weir, hairdresser to Nancy Reagan and one of the men there.
Soon there will be: two penthouse dining rooms, a full gym, two swimming pools, dance classes, a conference room and library, a concierge, a manicurist and a masseuse. The carpeting is forest green, the walls alternate between pink and green, the furniture also pink and green. Membership requires two sponsors and costs $2,000 for initiation, plus $65 per month.
The idea, of course, is that women will be able to cut their own multimillion-dollar corporate deals during their saunas and private lunches. "Networking," says Murphy. "Men have be doing it over beer and golf for years.
"I intend it to be a sought-after place for lunch," she says, "and give women a certain kind of power in that sense. Let's face it, a certain amount of business has always been done in the dining room and I hate to be trivial, but there is always the question of who will pay the check. There is power in that. This will be some place where there will be no question who pays."
Private clubs have long been familiar to Washington's privileged men. Among the more elite are the Metropolitan Club, the Cosmos Club, Burning Tree Golf Club and the University Club. Last June, the University Club broke precedent and voted to allow women members.
"I believe that most of those clubs will eventually accept women," says Murphy, "but it could be years before women are fully assimilated, before they have access to the back room and not just the dining room. I didn't want to wait that long."
Murphy says she and her two partners, Maryann Pavetto and Tena Thompson, opted to bar men for many reasons, one of which was to make a statement.
"We wanted to make it clear that we could raise the money ourselves and have our own private space," she says.
Plans for the club have been in the making for the past two years. Murphy, a former career counselor, at first thought it would be worthwhile to buy a couple of town houses where women could go and have a glass of wine after work. "It became clear that no one has time for a glass of wine, and that we had to offer more," she says.
The club has already signed up 170 members, and plans to have 1,000 when the facility is finished. But there is always the underlying question of whether that many women, in the end, will pay $2,000 to be with other women. It has long been a frustration of the women's movement that more people pay lip service to the advancement of women than actually take part in it.
"I am not offering something for everybody," says Murphy. "There is a market that wants a facility like this. Not all of Washington will want to join a women's club. And the difference between us and the men's clubs is really an attitude issue. We will make men feel comfortable as guests."