Groucho Marx famously declared he would not deign to become a member of any club that would have him. The Groucho, on Soho’s Dean Street, might not have had the pleasure of inviting him in, but it does bare his name and has become famous as a hole in the wall retreat for creatives from Damien Hirst to Damon Albarn. How Groucho would have fared in such company will never be known (he died eight years before the club opened in 1985), but our guess is he may have swallowed his words (and a pint or two).
Across town on the far side of Soho, Drury Lane’s The Garrick Club is in the middle of its own membership debate. This time it isn’t namesakes casually declaring they won’t join, it’s a former prime minister’s wife joining the call for equal membership.
The campaign to force the men-only Garrick Club to admit women has been underway for sometime now but gained steam this week when Cherie Blair joined the fight, signing a petition to allow female lawyers the same networking opportunities as their male counterpoints.
“Forty-five years ago, I was left standing outside the Garrick while my supervisor took my fellow pupil Tony Blair inside. It’s outrageous that so little progress has been made since then,” Blair wrote on the petition, which has been signed by hundreds of top female QCs, barristers and solicitors.
“We believe that membership of the Garrick cannot be consistent with a commitment to equality and diversity. We urge the Garrick’s members to consider whether they would remain members of a club that excluded based on race, religion, or sexuality. We invite the members of the Garrick to behave ethically, to call a vote and to vote in favour of admitting women,” wrote the petition’s founders, adding “When women are excluded without good reason or cast as ‘guests’ – good enough to be wined and dined but not to belong – in a forum in which professionally advantageous invisible connections are made, it undermines the position of women and feeds the conscious or unconscious bias of men.”
It’s a vital move, and one that shouldn’t be necessary in 2021. Such antiquated policies should never have had a place in society. This isn’t, however, the first time that reformers have tried to make the Garrick’s policy fair. Until now, (as the need for a new petition would suggest) all previous attempts have failed.
In 2011 Lady Hale, the first woman among 12 supreme court judges and later the only female president of the court so far said “I regard it as quite shocking that so many of my colleagues belong to the Garrick, but they don’t see what all the fuss is about.” She went on to highlight that judges “should be committed to the principle of equality for all”.
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