In Defence of Women-Only Spaces

Muirfield golf club in East Lothian has lost the right to host the 2016 Open championship after voting against reversing its ban on female members. The backlash against their controversial men-only policy hasn’t always attracted the most progressive of responses; veteran BBC Golf commentator Peter Aliss remarked that women wanting to join the prestigious golf club “better get married to somebody who’s a member”, while a letter circulated by members opposing the change detailed their concerns that the inclusion of women would threaten ‘our foursomes play, our match system… our lunch arrangements’.

The argument arising time and time again in Muirfield’s defence is that, if women-only spaces, such as gyms and swimming pools, are acceptable, then why shouldn’t men be allowed their own spaces? While this may seem to some to be a reasonable equivalence, it dramatically misses the point: namely that women in male spaces are seen as an inconvenience, an irritation, a disturbance to ‘lunch arrangements’, while women-only spaces are intended to keep women safe.

The clothing required for women to exercise comfortably in any practical sense – leggings, shorts, swimsuits – is so often interpreted by some men as an invitation to sexualise, through staring, making lewd remarks, and in some cases, sexually harassing. A jog in the park is too often interrupted by the wolf-whistles of middle-aged men; a trip to the gym commentated on lewdly by a group of weightlifting boys. It doesn’t seem unreasonable for women to want to be able to swim without encountering a public masturbator in the sauna.

While women’s-only spaces are designed to provide a safe haven away from the patriarchy, the intention of men’s-only clubs is to uphold it. I can’t help but feel the reason women are seen as a threat to ‘lunch arrangements’ is because they threaten the possibility of conducting sexist conversations unchecked. Male-only clubs allow the old-boys network of rich white men (a single round of golf at Muirfield, for example, costs £220) to continue making deals and conducting ‘unofficial’ board meetings in which few can participate. Both, in a sense, are a result of male privilege; but while one is for women’s safety, the other intends to uphold male dominance.

[Clare Patterson – @clurrpatterson]

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