When I was a fiery young woman (circa 1995-2004) I used to get quite exercised about the inequality of “men only” institutions. I made a stand at work once whereby I refused to attend an event in Portmarnock Golf Club because they don’t allow women to become full members. I also made some full-hearted and some half-hearted attempts at college to organise “women only” endeavours in response to activities “the men” were engaged in, as if by making this statement the men would suddenly take note of my point, acknowledge the inequality of it all and adjust their behaviour accordingly. Of course they usually mocked myself and my sisters in solidarity for behaving exactly as they expected.
Now that I’m a mellowed 33, I feel sorry for the pathetic efforts of gender biased organisations to exclude women purely for the sake of excluding women, (who wants to join those misogynists anyway?) but I now very much see the merit in single gender pursuits. Men and women interact and live beautifully together – as they should – but men also get great value from spending time in each others’ exclusive company. As do women. The genders talk about things, express themselves in a certain way and learn things from their brethren and sistren* that they never would if the opposite sex were present. My own life is enriched by a regular dose of “women only” congregations that give me great feminine power and energy but I certainly don’t engage in them to the exclusion of positive male relationships and a good healthy injection of mixed gender socialisation. If any of the elements of this gender separation/fusion were missing from my life, I’d be all the sorrier and poorer for it.
The jaws of a few of my male colleagues dropped at lunch today when I declared myself all for single gender clubs. One even called me “controversial” but there’s terrible logic in it, really. How would the spirit of the Dublin women’s mini marathon – the biggest all women’s event of its kind in the world – be crushed, for example, if they were forced to also allow men to legitimately enter? Although it would be terribly PC, it would take from the essence of an event that annually empowers women who wouldn’t ordinarily exercise regularly to train for and take part in a significant fundraising event. A double whammy for the ladies. I think there’s a strong argument for encouraging some element of single gender socialisation so that boys and girls, men and women, can get to know themselves through learning from each other and exploring what it is to be “male” or “female”.
Of course I frame this in the context of both genders having equal access to the same rights. If there’s a women’s mini marathon and men would like a men’s mini marathon? Go. for. it.
Ditto the opposite of course. Even in my softer touch days, I refuse to support preferential treatment for men to the disadvantage of women in any walk of life.
I will be – and this is really the essence of my point – encouraging my son to take part in some “boys own” activities. I think it will be important for developing and understanding his sense of self to spend time beating his chest and running naked in the woods, or whatever, with other males. In the same vein, it’s important for me that he grows up to respect and understand women and it’s my job to expose him to this too. If I had a girl, I’d be doing exactly the same thing to make sure that she had “woman time” as well as learning to build positive relationships with men.
So in my book “no girls allowed” is allowed. In the right context, with the right balance, in a holistic way. And sometimes, for the sake of grounding and re-engaging with my woman’s heart and spirit, for me “no boys allowed” is an absolute must.
*believe it or not, that’s a real word! I just looked it up – Oxford says so. Fits perfectly here doesn’t it?