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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 April 2007, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Where are women still not allowed?
The Magazine answers...

Club-house at St Andrews
A number of golf clubs in St Andrews are all-male

The national network of working men's clubs is offering women the full fruits of membership for the first time, allowing them to visit clubs across the country. So is there anywhere women can't go anymore?

In the ancient world all-male societies and festivals were common. And there was even the odd all-female event too.

Julius Caesar divorced his wife Pompeia after a man, Clodius, infiltrated the all-female ritual of Bona Dea at his house, disguised as a woman.

All-male bastions have been the subject of a slow, steady assault over the past few decades. Institutions where women are not allowed seem positively un-21st Century.

But masculine sanctuaries can still be found in a dwindling number of golf, working men's and gentlemen's clubs.

Some golf clubs, eight working men's clubs and White's 'gentlemen's club' among those that don't allow women members

Kevin Smyth, general secretary of the Working Men's Club and Institute Union, says women have been starting to make their way into its association of clubs - including trade union clubs and political clubs - for some time.

But there are eight clubs across the country who still completely refuse to admit women, he says.

A regular feature in the BBC News Magazine - aiming to answer some of the questions behind the headlines

He doesn't want to name names, but says there is one venue in north-west England which is so keen on its all-male traditions it hires only male barmen and cleaners.

At the other end of the social spectrum from the heavy drinkers of heavy industry is the world of the London "gentlemen's clubs".

Perhaps the best-known of all these is fictional. PG Wodehouse's Drones Club was populated by such notables as Bertie Wooster, Bingo Little and Gussie Fink-Nottle who whiled away their time throwing cards into a hat.

Tony Blair giving a speech to the Women's Institute in 2000 and receiving a slow hand-clap
Some male visitors to the Women's Institute do not enjoy it

In the real world, White's is the truest to the ethos of the gentleman's club, remaining strictly male members only.

David Cameron weathered a micro-kerfuffle when he admitted during the Tory leadership race he was a member, suggesting this was mainly for the purpose of lunching with his father.

"I don't think we have to be politically correct in every aspect of our life," he suggested at the time.

But perhaps the most exclusive club in the UK, the Marylebone Cricket Club, opened its doors to women in 1999. The only catch is that, aside from a number of female luminaries appointed as honorary members, women - like men - will have to join the waiting list. It currently stands at 18 years.

Golf war

In the world of golf, many battles have been fought over men-only clubs.

Some of golf's oldest and most prestigious names, including the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, Royal St George's Golf Club in Sandwich, Kent, and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield, are men only.

Duncan Weir, director of golf development at the game's ruling body, the R&A, emphasises that most these days are mixed, and many women are taking on administrative jobs at their clubs.

Mr Weir, who admits he is a member of two all-male clubs, says: "Some of the older and more established clubs are some of those more likely to have remained all male.

A female member is welcomed to the MCC
Women can join the MCC if they don't mind waiting 18 years

"Where you find an all-male club you might very well find an all-female club."

There is a smaller number of all-female clubs than all-male clubs, but officials explain this with the ratio of male to female golfers.

Much the same situation occurs in the world of gay nightclubs.

There is a small but significant number of male-only gay club nights. There is a smaller number of lesbian female-only nights.

And like the Bona Dea, there are some widely-practised all-female rituals in British society, namely Women's Institute meetings.

The organisation has been trying to shed its image as an esoteric society of jam-makers, but it has no plans to admit men as members. Men can attend some events as visitors, but not the monthly social occasions.

A spokeswoman concedes: "They probably wouldn't want to go either."

Below is a selection of your comments.

The National Association of Round Tables is still a "mens only" organisation, despite pressure on it over recent years to allow women, despite there being a National Association of Ladies Cirlces.
Gene, Watford, Herts

While not exactly a club there are still female only colleges at Oxford and Cambridge Universities that admit undergraduates according to less stringent criteria than their mixed counterparts.
James Cork, London

I see nothing wrong with clubs being male or female only. For instance - there are a large number of female only gyms around these days - designed I imagine for women who feel uncomfortable exercising in front of men. What's the problem with that? Nothing I can see. Similarly if clubs designed for other purposes exist for similar reasons I can see no problems either. Its only when the actual purpose of these clubs is clearly sexist that we should worry.
SCF, London

There are always going to be things such as ladies' nights where women get in cheap or free to clubs, which is just as sexist. Also there are plenty of gyms which are women only because women don't want men ogling them whilst working out (which is fair enough). Personally I have no problems with clubs etc. being open to both sexes, but I do think there are times when it is nice and healthy to be able to go somewhere for men only where you don't have to listen to talk about makeup or where women can go where they won't be chatted up and can be free from men. I'm all for equality both ways, but I think it is good to celebrate our differences as long as we are not derogatory towards others.
Julian, UK

Despite being an ardent feminist, I'm not that bothered about male-only clubs, as long as there are an equal amount of women-only clubs. There are times when I'm quite happy to not be around men, and I'm sure men greatly enjoy being able to let their guts hang out, express radically unfeminist views, fart as much as they want and drink until they pass out without women seeing them
Michelle, London

I strongly disagree with the whole concept of women being allowed into "gentleman's clubs". The whole idea of them is to allow men to be... men. At the same time, I also see nothing wrong with "ladies' clubs" being for women only. After all, allowing the opposite sex into either kind of defeats the point of them.

I'm not sexist in any way - I believe all sporting clubs should allow women and men alike.
Peter, Suffolk, UK

Peter, if you honestly think that men can't be men when women are around then you're clearly exercising some sort of value judgement about gender and that is sexism. Sexist doesn't mean you dislike women, it's about discriminating between genders purely on the basis of gender.
Oliver, UK

Maybe the worst example is the Caledonian Club in London. I am married into a Scottish family and my wife bought a membership to her father many years ago. She herself could only become an associate member since she was "only" a female - but she has been an associate member for the last 15 years.

When her father died she was not allowed to continue because of her sex. I then applied for a membership, being born in Norway with strong links to Scotland. We married in Scotland, I have worked in Scotland and my wife is from a Scottish family. I was denied membership because I was not Scottish and my wife could not renew her membership because she was "only" a female.
John Helle, London

I'm not sexist at all. I think all Gentlemans Clubs should have attractive bar maids. I'm a Freemason, and we have female waiting staff at the dinner after the meetings. There are also Lady Freemasons lodges, and the Order of the Eastern Star (mainly US, I agree) which I understand takes initiates from both sexes.
Ian, Buckinghamshire

There shouldn't be Gentlemen only bars in sports clubs. they should be inclusive as possible. However, a club that is founded purely for the purpose of being men only, should be allowed to remain to be men only. However, I do get the feeling that this recent shift from the Working Men's Clubs is more to do with generating extra revenue as opposed to political correctness.
Andy Britton, Canterbury, Kent

There are a decreasing number of men's clubs left in the country, but there are an increasing number of female only clubs, bars and events across the country, of which the BBC appears to be unaware. Does this mean that the BBC is taking a sexist approach to this vexed question of separation of the sexes?
Robert Russell, London

I have a friend who is a golf pro at a mixed club in England. During a committee meeting a lady member remarked that she had received a great many complaints from lady golfers that whilst walking in front of the club house they were disgusted with the bad language coming from the men only bar. The committee, obviously, took remedial action straight away - they banned lady members from walking in front of the club house. Problem solved!
James, Jersey

I can assure Michelle of London that a trip out to about any High Street on a Saturday night will show that "being able to let their guts hang out, express radically unfeminist views, fart as much as they want and drink until they pass out" are not anywhere near male-dominated behaviours.
Adrian, Welwyn Garden City

I attend a women-only college at university, and while I do not hold myself to be a feminist, I wouldn't want it to go mixed for the world. Single-sex clubs and organisations create a more subtle atmosphere in which one can totally be oneself, and not even realise it. I support both ends of the spectrum, so long as there is interaction, and some events which allow members of the opposite sex, both gentlemen and ladies' clubs have a valid place. And let's be honest, if gentleman's clubs ARE made up of misogynistic old men, FAR better that they pay their expensive membership and keep themselves out of normal people's way!
El, UK


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