The Garrick Club in London has just voted to stay only for men. Well, in fact its members voted by a tiny majority to allow women, but the majority wasn’t enough to satisfy club rules. So this pretty posh private members’ club in central London will stay male (and, I bet, wealthy and white).
The columnist Martin Daubney has been celebrating the decision. In a blog post, he says it’s great for men to have spaces away from women so they can open up about their feelings and not feel the need to pose and preen. Daubney implies that when women are in the room, men shut down emotional talk and instead stand around flexing their muscles for the benefit of the women. I don’t doubt that this happens for some men (maybe many men). But I don’t think we should celebrate the continuation of that. I think we should be asking why men can’t open up around women and why they can’t be around women without a sexual undercurrent.
I know a few straight men who would be pretty offended by Daubney’s suggestion that they can’t keep their minds focused when women are present. Is Daubney, who used to edit the Loaded lads’ mag and now blogs about men for the Daily Telegraph, really saying that when women are in the room “most men change”? Yes, he is.
Even if there is evidence of that, I would say we should be working together to improve our non-sexual relations. Sexual desire is natural and it needs to be free but it is possible to concentrate on other things. If I were a woman in Daubney’s company now that he’s said this, I think I’d be second guessing what I say and what I do with my hands all the time. I’d also feel really crappy, if I knew him well, that he couldn’t open up with me. If I were a really good female friend of his and I read his post, I’d be sad to think that there is something I can’t ever give him. I can’t ever give him a man-hug and talk to him man-to-man—which is what Daubney needs.
I find that really gloomy, actually. I’m so lucky that I have male and female friends I can open up to, straight and gay. It’s taken me a long time to collect these excellent people, but now I have them I know I can talk to them. Different things come up with different people, and this largely doesn’t depend on what bits they have between their legs or whether or not I’m generally attracted to the other 3.5 billion members of their sex. It’s just unconditional friendship, right?
Daubney included ‘most’ when he said “most men change” because, I guess, he’s not counting gay men. I’m wondering if this means his call for more men-only spaces would exclude gay men. If he’s worried about how constrained straight men feel in mixed-sex spaces, would he also worry that in a male-only space, the gays will turn into winking muscle-flexers who can’t concentrate on the conversation? Let there be no doubt about it: in a male-only space there will be gay men, or at least men who’ve felt homosexual attraction at one point in their lives. And I am sure that the Garrick Club—in the heart of London—has gay members. How does Daubney feel about the gay men who go there? I guess he’ll never know because he probably finds it hard to talk to them because gays are too much like women?
Daubney pulls another neat trick in his blog about the Garrick. He talks about the law and he talks about equality. He says the law doesn’t prohibit same-sex clubs, that women-only clubs exist, and that women are not generally calling for a ban on same-sex clubs. Many of the comments below Daubney’s post pick up on these points about equality. Equality is a popular argument to have, but it is simplistic. In fact, these arguments all make up one big fat red herring. They don’t really get to the heart of the debate about whether we should have same-sex spaces or, if we do, what they say about our views on each other.
Here’s why. If a group of people want to get together in a certain way that doesn’t harm someone else, they should not be prohibited from that. Of course you can’t use equality legislation to ban people from meeting. You’d be curtailing their freedom to do as they please. I am not at all perturbed by same-sex spaces just as I am not perturbed that some people want to get together on a Saturday morning in a field and swap old records over a car boot, or others want to get together in a room on a Friday to pray. People getting together for a shared interest don’t threaten me, just as mosques don’t threaten me even though I’m not a Muslim.
But it is the shared interest that is the real point here. Daubney implies that men have a shared interest in being men, and women have a shared interest in being women. He’s correct to note that plenty of women-only spaces exist in the form of saunas, gyms and taxis—and that most men don’t protest this. I guess I have plenty of things in common with men that I don’t share with women. These include: having a dick, and, erm… oh wait, I can’t think of anything else.
So the question is: when I want to relate to another person, how important is it for us each to have a dick? If I want sex with him, a dick each is pretty important. If I want to talk about the kind of sex I like with another person who understands that from experience, one dick apiece is important too. But that’s about it. If I want to talk about Darwin or music or trips or worries or hopes or the mystery ingredient in Pepsi Max, the other person doesn’t need to have a dick at all. They can be totally dick-free and I can still get on with them. It’s kind of sad for the members of the Garrick who need their friends to have dicks in order to have conversations. (Unless they’re only talking about dick-related things, but I seriously doubt that. I’m sure they also talk about cars and whiskey and how superb Judi Dench is when she plays M.)
So the reason why I think the point about equality and the law is a red herring is because in a free society, of course the right to get together is upheld. Very few people would argue that (very few people do, as Daubney points out). Instead, the debate that Daubney unwittingly gets into is about why sex and gender matter so much.
I’d like to know exactly what it is about Daubney’s masculinity that feels vulnerable when women are around.