Thursday, 1 October 2020

Incidental Achievement

The other day I read about a woman who is trying to challenge the rules that allow a London club to have an all-male membership. Leaving aside how annoying it would be if she won for all the wives of current club members - (at present, those women can rest assured that their husbands are bellowing at other men, as they toss down drinks in the club rooms, untempted by high achieving unattached females prowling the premises in search of suitable partners) - it seems somehow pathetic to insist like this. Although maybe it is just that this particular person has taken the policy of Groucho I-would-never-want-to-belong-to-a-club-that-would-have-me-as-a-member Marx a little too much to heart.

As far as I'm concerned, the correct way for women to break down barriers is to do it incidentally, without actually trying or even particularly wanting to. The kind of thing I have in mind is perfectly illustrated by the following anecdote, contained within a description of Nicolas Coleridge’s grandfather, in a memoir by the younger Coleridge called The Glossy Years:

His chief loves were racing, golf and unconditional support of the Conservative Party. He spent much time drinking pink gins at the Carlton Club in St James’s and it was here that, from time to time, family dinners would take place. We would all assemble in the lobby, in our suits and ties, and then would follow the ceremony of ‘going upstairs’. Female visitors, in those days, were not allowed to walk up the sweeping club staircase, but had to use a lift. So my grandmother, mother, aunt and so on would be ushered into a coffin-sized lift, while the men strode up the staircase, under the portraits of former Tory Prime Ministers, to meet the lift at the top of the staircase. This ‘no ladies on the stairs’ rule persisted until Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party, and thus an honorary member of the Carlton Club. At this point, it was quietly dropped, since no one dared explain it to her.

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