THE LAST WORD

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The Independent Online
Here's to the "forces of Conservatism" and a brisk homophobic slap on the back to clubs like the Carlton and the Garrick. All-male clubs are, apparently, to be banned under the Equal Opportunities Bill expected in the next session of Parliament. As a woman, I bewail the fact. For places like this fulfil an important social function - skimming rancid men off the surface of society.

Upper-class men's clubs, be they in the heart of London or in a suburban golf course, are useful because they provide a place where England's batsmen, the House of Lords, or the ordination of women in the Church of England can be lamented without anybody else having to hear it. They should be allowed to continue.

There should, though, also be clubs devoted to catering exclusively for the needs of women. When we have places up and down the country where women can gather to smoke slim panatellas and sip chardonnay, it will be all the more important that there are port and cigar bolt-holes for the men - for those whose children are past babysitting age anyway.

Our clubs won't have names like White's, Pratt's and the Turf. We'll call them Opal's, Bitch's and the Celestial Sphere. We'll eat salmon with avocado, lime and coriander, watch Ally McBeal and have an aromatherapy treatment room with a six-pack male masseur.

You won't find us discussing questions like whether the 1990s has shown that you can't have it all. The fact that one half of the human race has been having it all since the Garden of Eden tells us all we need to know.

At our clubs, which school we went to will be irrelevant because nobody will have heard of Lordswood Girls and Westhill Comprehensive anyway. There will be differences between us, nonetheless. Women called Annabel and Felicity - who work in PR and ask: "Which is nearer, Birmingham or Manchester?" - will be hauled before the Prime Minister as evidence of the North/South divide. Sisters who come in looking stunning in clothes that cost 50p from Oxfam and pounds 2.50 from the Salvation Army will be made to buy drinks for the rest of us who can't find anything that fits apart from a scarf and a paperback novel.

We wouldn't actually ban men from our clubs, because we wouldn't need to. We'd simply say that a condition of membership is that you remember people's birthdays, sit with your knees less than two feet apart on a crowded tube and don't clunk the loose change in your pockets when you are feeling out of your depth socially.

If a man should come into one of our clubs, we would do our best to make him feel welcome. We would stand at the bar and stare at him as he sat down. Then one of us would wink and say: "Cheer up darling, it may never happen."

We'd ask him up for a drink and then one of us would put an arm round him, let a hand slip down to his neat, tight butt, and whisper: "You look like the kind of guy who'd give me oral sex when I'm menstruating."

There would be no need to ban men from our all-female domain because men are so scared of friendships between women that they don't hang around when we get together. Why would a word like "gossip" have become a derogatory term if men had not been afraid of our power?

Men, on the other hand, struggle to be intimate with anyone other than their partners and therefore need to have the law on their side. I think the Equal Opportunities Bill should not only allow men to continue to meet in exclusively male environments but also make it compulsory for them to do so - at least once a week.

Going silent or playing a game of golf when they are upset should be outlawed. Men should be made to meet up with other men on a regular basis, give each other a big hug and a kiss and tell each other how they are feeling.

There will be greater happiness between the sexes only when men are not dependent on women to meet all their emotional needs. Helping men to become emotionally articulate is developing true equality of opportunity.

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