HAIRDRESSER Clark Clementsen had exactly what the Junior League values so highly - a commitment to helping the needy. He was a longtime volunteer at a league-supported child-advocacy center, did free makeovers for battered women at a league-sponsored shelter, and bought tickets to the league's fashion shows.
But Mr. Clementsen is male, and while all-male bastions like the Rotary Club have been admitting women for years, the all-women Junior League isn't ready to follow suit.
Clementsen started seriously thinking about applying in 1987, when a client became one of the first women admitted into the San Jose Rotary Club - a move mandated by the US Supreme Court, which ruled women were being denied the business opportunities that arose at Rotary meetings.
Clementsen submitted his name for membership but received no response. Devastated, he says: "It's the height of discrimination. It's unbelievable."
His harsh words have led some of his Junior League clients, who had expected Clark to accept the rejection gracefully, to turn their backs on him. One client left him completely.
At the league's international headquarters in New York, executive director Holly Sloan defends the no-men policy, saying the gender policy is not an issue of discrimination, but of equality.
"Women have been excluded historically from the decisionmaking processes of our communities," Ms. Sloan says. "Groups like the Junior League and others help to ensure that women's voices are included."
In fact, just last spring, all 293 league chapters overwhelmingly voted to keep men out.
Men have inquired about joining the 95-year-old league in the past, but no one ever filed a legal challenge. And Clementsen says he has no intention of filing a lawsuit, either.
But in the tradition of women who fought for equal rights, he plans to continue to submit his name to the league each year and paper his walls with any rejection letters.
"I've never been a pioneer. This is my first experience," he says. "I feel good knowing that ultimately, even if there are only 10 men who join worldwide, that means there are 20 hands to help."