It's not only golf clubs that ban you for having a vagina

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Sarah Biddlecombe

It's 2016, a year in which India's first female fighter pilots will take to the skies and the first British woman to win an Olympic boxing title is gearing up for a double gold in Rio.

But despite our slow and uphill battle to grasp at least some level of gender equality, we still have a long way to go: a point that is perfectly, and pathetically, illustrated by the insistence of some men-only clubs to cling onto their precious, women-free status.

One such club is Muirfield golf club in Scotland, whose members yesterday voted against allowing women to join their ranks. Changing their membership to include women required a majority vote of two-thirds, but only 64% of the club's all-male members chose in favour of the move.

Henry Fairweather, captain of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers

Henry Fairweather, captain of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, outside Muirfield

While the decision to ban women from joining their club is archaic in itself, the reasoning put forward by members unmasked them as the true misogynists that they are.

“The introduction of lady members is bound to create difficulties,” warned a letter signed by members of the club.

And what difficulties would these “lady members” create if they were granted access?

Under a headline named “the risks”, the letter highlights quibbles including the club’s match system, their foursomes play and even their “lunch arrangements”.

It suggests that women would feel “uncomfortable” if they were admitted to join the club and that their “much admired” and “speedy play” would be “endangered”.

“It will take a very special lady golfer to be able to do all the things that are expected of them in the template which is suggested and the ladies’ membership as a whole may not meet this standard,” it concludes.

While we could be forgiven for thinking such a letter was written 100 years ago, rather than earlier this week, the club will at least be forfeited for their unjust decision: they will no longer be allowed to host professional golf championship The Open unless they concede to let women join their club.

Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the governing body R&A, told the BBC, "The Open is one of the world's great sporting events and going forward we will not stage the Championship at a venue that does not admit women as members."

The club has also come under fire from several high profile politicians and sports figures: SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon took to Twitter to brand the club’s decision “simply indefensible” while English golfer Melissa Reid told the BBC it was “embarrassing”, adding, “I wouldn't play there, because I'd be going against what I believe.”

Men only

But in a further blow to women’s equality, this year’s Open is due to be held at Royal Troon, yet another Scottish golf club that does not admit members of the fairer sex.

So is sexism simply rampant in golf? Joe Ellison, a keen golfer and deputy editor of, believes we still have a long way to go before we can claim equality in the sport.

“While there’s been great progress in women’s golf in the UK, it will still take a few years until we see a level playing field.

“This is mostly due to the fact that these esteemed courses have long waiting lists going on 10 years, so even if Murfield or Troon suddenly allowed female members, it wouldn’t be an overnight fix.”

And it appears there needs to be a change among the members themselves before golf clubs will start to be equal stomping grounds for both men and women.

“I’ve always found clubhouses to be very alpha male environments where women are quite literally seen as trophy wives,” says Ellison. “‘Gentleman Only, Ladies Forbidden’ goes the old acronym.”

Thankfully there are few male-only golf clubs left in England, but it is only recently that women have been admitted into their ranks. Royal St George’s club in Kent only abolished its ban on women last year, while the Royal and Ancient club in St Andrews was men-only enclaves for 260 years until finally joining the 21st century in 2014.

"I’ve always found clubhouses to be very alpha male environments"

"I’ve always found clubhouses to be very alpha male environments"

No women here, please

Unfortunately it is not just the world of golf that excludes women. Women were only admitted to join the Marylebone Cricket Club in 1998 after the club had operated a male-only policy for 211 years, and the Repton Boys Boxing Gym in Derbyshire have only recently admitted female members.

And there are still a handful of gentlemen’s clubs operating outdated and sexist entry policies in the UK, most notably The Garrick in London, whose members voted to maintain their male-only status just last year.

An elitist club whose members include respected cabinet ministers, academics and supreme court judges, as well as high-profile figures such as Stephen Fry, Hugh Bonneville and Jeremy Paxman, there were three former Conservative MPs and 11 QCs included in those who voted to keep women out.

One member told The Guardian that he voted to keep women out because, “Men behave differently if there are no women there. There is camaraderie, banter.”

“Having women members would change the nature of the club,” he added.

Inside The Garrick club

Inside The Garrick club

A worldwide problem

Sadly, members of The Garrick aren't the only ones who believe having female members would be a detriment to the ethos of their club. In 2014, one of Britain’s oldest working men’s clubs, the Anstice Memorial Institute in Shropshire, even opted to permanently close its doors rather than admit female members. The club had been in operation for 148 years.

And this utterly outdated concept of maintaining male-only clubs extends across the world. Women are still resolutely banned from joining the prestigious Porcellian club at Harvard University, which has been operating since 1771 and welcomed members including former US president Theodore Roosevelt into its ranks.

The club’s blatantly sexist attitude was exposed just last month, when its president Charles M. Storey was forced to resign after saying that allowing women to join the ogranisation could result in them being victims of “non-consensual sexual contact”. 

Other notable men-only clubs still in operation include The Adventurers’ Club of Los Angeles and The Australian Club of Sydney

So what can be done in the face of such ridiculousness? 

Yes, women can fight for the right to become members of these antiquated societies - but whether we'd want to or not is another question.

As the brilliant Michelle Obama once said: "You don't want to be with a boy who's too stupid to appreciate a smart woman."

If these clubs don't want us, we don't want them either. Door, please...


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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Features Editor at Stylist

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