Working Theory

by Michael Reed

Me?

I do employment law for the Free Representation Unit.

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michael at workingtheory.co.uk

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I'm not a member of the Garrick, so I can't resign, but...

07 July 2015

The Garrick Club has voted not to permit women to join. I think this is wrong, for all the obvious reasons.1

But I have been giving some thought to the argument that there are women-only clubs and therefore why not a men-only club?

First of all, it’s important to note that many women’s clubs are not actually women-only. For example, the Temple Women’s Forum – while obviously primarily for female barristers – doesn’t exclude men from their meetings.

But the crucial point is that women-only clubs are also women-focussed. The point of the Temple Women’s Forum is to have meetings and events focussed on the experience of being a woman at the Bar and to discuss issues that arise from that. The point of women’s sporting clubs is for women to practice and compete in a sport where competition is divided by gender.

If someone wanted to set up a Temple Men’s Forum to discuss the issues of men at the Bar I don’t think anyone would have any problem with that. They might – as I think I would – slightly wonder whether there were really enough male specific issues at the Bar to sustain it.

But if someone replied that there was a group of men who wanted to discuss how to balance their careers with being a good husband and father; how to manage paternity leave from the Bar when their children were born; what elements of traditional ideas of masculinity have value worth preserving, and what was simply sexist nonsense that should be disgarded; and other similar issues I could see the point. And, even if I didn’t, I don’t think people would be objecting. In the same way nobody is troubled by a men-only rugby club.

Clubs like the Garrick are not male-focussed. Their purpose is general: to socialise and network. Which are activities which are not gendered (or jolly well shouldn’t be). By excluding women, you’re cutting them off from the opportunity to socialise and network – disadvantaging them both socially and career terms. You also cast them as the other, by excluding them from a common social experience. None of this can be justified.

And none of this applies, in anything like the same way, to organisations like the Temple Women’s Forum, women’s sports clubs or their real / hypothetical male equivilents.

All of this is also, incidently, why there is no problem with organisations like the Society of Black Lawyers and the Bar Lesbian and Gay Group; but it would be outrageous for an organisation like the Employment Law Bar Association to restrict its membership to white heterosexual employment barristers.


Hat tip to Dinah Rose QC whose tweets on this triggered my thoughts.

  1. Including, but obviously not most importantly, the fact that I’d really appreciate it if other members of my gender would stop making us all look simultaneously foolish and misogynistic.

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