The Garrick Club, the exclusive and beautiful nest which fosters and cares for the best artistic and literary minds of England, has just severed its age-old bond with the Century Club, its American counterpart, over the fact that the Garrick still doesn’t allow women to be members. They are allowed on the premises, providing they are a guest of a member of the club. For the New York Association, such discrimination is too much too bear, and, after a bitter internal dispute, its members voted in favour of severing their relationship with the London Club. Members of the Garrick failed to comment on the event, except for one, who said the Century was “a crap club anyway“.
This event may seem insignificant ; after all, it just concerns a “bunch of old farts” who revel in their bastion of privileges, as a member of the Club said in 1992 when a controversial vote over the very problem took place.
However, I don’t think it insignificant. I think it highlights perfectly the general attitude towards sexism ; not only is it deemed unimportant, but it is accepted, and justified.
Just imagine a gentleman’s club which would forbid Black people – or White, for that matters – to become members in the name of tradition ; just imagine the uproar if a tennis club only allowed Asian people to enter the premises accompanied by a Caucasian person ; just imagine the indignation if the MCC forbid Jews to get wasted on Dom Pérignon and snore in their gryffindorish attire on the bench of Lord’s like their fellow Christian countrymen. It would be a major scandal, and rightly so.
However, the blatant sexism of the Garrick Club doesn’t even raise eyebrows. Moreover, it should be noted that it isn’t alone in this discrimination : there are sixty gentlemen’s club in London : 21 at least don’t allow female membership, and the Caledonian Club doesn’t give them voting rights. The University Women Club doesn’t permit male membership, which is just as discriminatory.
If a Club had a racist or discriminatory policy, no respectable public figure would accept to be associated with it in any way. And yet, there is no shame in being a member of a sexist association which thinks women have to be chaperoned by a man, which allows its members to explain to the press that “conversational jousting would end in tears before tea-time if women were on the receiving end of the sport” (Peregrine Worthorne), and which, last October, was forced by the Equality Act to allow women guests to sit at its center table in the Coffee Room.
There is an institution, and a respected one nonetheless, which literally had to be forced to allow women to sit where they want. Such a prohibition seems futile, childish, and yet it is nauseating. Only six-year-olds and bigoted fools create spaces where the Other isn’t allowed to be.
Sexism is the last prejudice which stands firm against rationality. I was particularly surprised – and bitterly disappointed – to learn that Stephen Fry, among others, is a member of the Garrick Club. I really like Stephen Fry. I have read / heard / watched / downloaded / googled / twittered most of his opinions and works, and they contain strong, passionate and beautiful arguments against superstition, intolerance and prejudice. He is one the most vocal advocates of scientific progress and rational thinking, which teaches us to think outside the box and to challenge preconceived opinions.
And yet, he is a member of a club which prides itself on the epitome of prejudice and justifies it by tradition. Tradition perpetuates and makes excuses for things that have nothing else to stand on. They stay where they are, just because they were before ; tradition is tautologic, archaic and dangerous. It is nothing but institutionalized stagnation. Everything that Stephen Fry generally fights against.
There is no reason whatsoever that could justify intelligent people to be members of such an institution. Except that sexism is the last prejudice to stay unchallenged, and that apparently, it is not that important.