No women allowed

Last week, Monday July 6, the Guardian reports

The Garrick Club, one of London’s last remaining gentlemen’s clubs, has voted to continue its policy of not admitting women as members. At the club’s annual general meeting at the Palace theatre on Tottenham Court Road, 50.5% voted in favour of allowing females to join. The club requires a two-thirds majority before rules can be changed.

Oh well, you may be thinking…it’s a private club; freedom of association; people are allowed to choose their friends; there has to be somewhere people can just…just…

The decision to continue to exclude women is significant because the Garrick Club has a place at the heart of the British establishment, with supreme court judges, cabinet ministers, academics, senior civil servants, diplomats and journalists among its members, as well as well-known actors.

See that’s why this is shit. It’s the same way all those “private” decisions to take the clients out for a night with the lads or an afternoon on the golf course with the lads are shit – they shut women out of the places where contacts are made and cemented, deals are done, networks are woven, decisions are discussed, plans are formed. It’s not actually private.

Another member said he had been undecided about how to vote. He asked: “I’m a huge supporter of all things anti-racist, non-gender and anti-ageist but why shouldn’t we have one or two places where chaps can get together?”

Like, oh, say, parliament and the universities. Fair’s fair, eh?

The Garrick is one of a handful of gentlemen’s clubs in London that still refuses to allow women members, along with White’s – where David Cameron was a member until he became leader of the Conservative party – Pratt’s, Boodles, Brooks’s, the Turf Club and the Travellers Club. At various points over the past 30 years, establishments such as the Reform Club, the Athenaeum and the Carlton Club have voted to admit women.

That’s a pretty significant handful.

When the 2010 Equality Act was drafted, there was some discussion by Labour MPs of whether the legislation could be used to make these clubs illegal, but this proved impossible without simultaneously making it illegal to have, for example, women-only swimming clubs. The act banned clubs from excluding people on the basis of colour but allowed them to continue excluding women.

Well actually the act banned clubs from excluding men on the basis of colour – men, not people. (Don’t talk to me about women-only swimming clubs. Those aren’t where the deals are done.)

With a large number of members well past retirement age, many Garrick members protest that the club is no longer a bastion of male influence where crucial networking takes place, preferring to cast it as a gentle backwater, where people go to relax and retreat from their professional lives. Only a few concede that it is still an important place for making informal but useful work-related connections.

Men, dammit. Where men go to relax and retreat from their professional lives. If you say “people” you’re just veiling the exclusion.

But there has been growing antipathy among women in the legal profession towards a club that welcomes so many male QCs and judges, yet excludes women. Baroness Hale, Britain’s most senior female judge, the first and only woman among 12 supreme court judges (several of whom are Garrick club members), has expressed outrage at the club’s continued exclusion of women. “I regard it as quite shocking that so many of my colleagues belong to the Garrick, but they don’t see what all the fuss is about,” she told a law diversity forum. She said judges “should be committed to the principle of equality for all”.

Well she would say that, wouldn’t she – she’s a woman.


  1. iknklast says

    In the town where I grew up (Edmond, OK), a local businessman decided to open his own golf club, because the one in town had wanted to host a major tournament, which meant they could no longer exclude women or people of color. The idea of women on a golf course was so galling that this man had to open his own. I presume it was mostly women; they lifted the ban on people of color several years earlier than on women, and he continued to play there. It was when they lifted the ban on women that he had to go rogue and build a proper golf course for proper people (read: men) where they didn’t let in unpleasant elements (read: women)

  2. laekvk says

    boys clubs are garbage dumps anyhow, any self respecting non-butch lady would be happier literally anywhere else.

  3. Beth says

    (Don’t talk to me about women-only swimming clubs. Those aren’t where the deals are done.)

    How do we distinguish between which public organizations are seats of power and should not exclude others on the basis of gender, and which public organizations are not subject to such considerations and can legally restrict membership to one gender?

    I find it difficult to articulate this difference, but I don’t see how to legally allow women only clubs without also allowing men only clubs without managing to do so.

  4. Beth says

    I think there are two issues with the influx of women and minorities that are in tension. One, such individuals used to be specifically excluded from participation. Two, now that we’ve managed to break down the barriers that were once there, we are making demands to refurbish the metaphorical clubhouse more to our liking. This is then perceived by original members as a double affront and their attitude is often, “if you don’t like it, then leave”.

    Harsh treatment of these interlopers can be seen to serve two purposes. It puts the individual in their place, establishing the harasser as the dominant of the two and it drives some of those people completely away. From the Internet. From the Old Boys Club. From STEM fields.

  5. John Morales says

    Beth @4, it’s hardly a public organisation!

    It is one of the oldest, highly esteemed and exclusive members club in the world […]
    New candidates must be proposed by an existing member before election in a secret ballot, the original assurance of the committee being “that it would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted”.

    (Admittance is not just a matter of inclination and wealth)

  6. =8)-DX says

    @Malachite #2

    Recently I went on a women-only swimming trip. What did we discuss? Tim Hunt!

    You failed the Bechdel test!

    Yeah I was really wondering about the “women-only” events/clubs/organisations. As a counter-argument against feminist deconstruction of male-only-public-spaces it seems relevant, but then men aren’t excluded from conferences on women’s issues, from feminist organisations.. are there actually any public activities that exclude men? I know I was able to participate in our baby-swimming lessons 9 years back, even though I felt a little dorkish with all the mums and our kid.

    Question: are there significant men-excluding groups where men would like to participate? In my country there’s never any explicit rejection of anyone based on gender, but more the influence of culture and habit.

    Oh sorry.

  7. Garrett says

    I think this is an interesting issue. I definitely think that clubs like the Garrick should be open to women, but is there a place for any men only clubs or organizations? Or is that always akin to wanting whites only clubs?

    As a white man, I would like to hear others’ opinions. I think there is some room for men’s groups in specific contexts (e.g., therapy, addiction, swimming?), but I don’t know where a line can be reasonably drawn. It also seems like a blanket ban on men’s clubs sort of reinforces the idea that male is the default, and female is other. Then again, I don’t think there’s ever a good reason to have a white’s only group, so I really don’t know.

    Anyways, just my thoughts. I’d like to know what others think.

  8. nrdo says

    The common thread among organizations like sports teams that could legitimately be exempt from non-discrimination laws is that they tend to involve the physical, anatomical differences of the participants, but it is difficult to envision a clear rule. As much as it would be nice to solve this with a law, this may be something that can only be solved through slow cultural evolution; intentionally socializing boys and girls to be comfortable playing and working together.

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