The Irritations of Modern Life: 74. men-only clubs

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The Independent Culture
I HAVE often wondered what men do in all-male clubs. Million-pound deals? Homosexual rituals? Men, especially if they belong to the Garrick Club, are reticent, giving the impression that it involves little more than long lunches, at which they get slightly squiffy and eat nursery food. Yet, as soon as someone proposes changing the law to force such clubs to admit women, it is as if the very foundations of civilisation had begun to shudder.

"A grotesque curtailment of freedom of association - an almost totalitarian assertion that the state should be able to decide with whom you can spend your own free time on property private to you..." is how The Daily Telegraph greeted the news that the Government is thinking of banning men-only establishments. Yikes! Next thing you know, Tony Blair will be personally knocking on Telegraph readers' doors, pushing a female across the threshold and instructing them to talk to her.

Of course, there are few subjects so likely to fire up a right-wing leader- writer. The age-old right of the British upper classes to exclude outsiders is slowly being whittled away. The Reform Club has admitted women for years; even Lord's is not the bastion it was. What's left for the man who sometimes feels the need to be with people who, not to put too fine a point on it, aren't going to go all funny and exhibit symptoms of pre- menstrual tension?

Men's clubs are an anachronism. Their very existence institutionalises discrimination, draping it with a veil of respectability. When I witnessed the reaction to this mild move towards equality, I felt as if I'd been transported back to a time when misogyny was so firmly taken for granted that most people didn't even have a name for it. Now we do, and it's not acceptable. The bad news for club bores, tucking into bread-and-butter pudding in Covent Garden - or, indeed, a working men's club in Halifax - is that the time has come to grow up.