Should women – or men – be barred from an organisation?

In recent days, there’s been something of a kerfuffle in the Letters page of The Irish Times, about the notion of male-only organisations. The group under the gun at the moment is an Irish-American one called the Society of the Friendly Sons of St Patrick (SFSSP), with its name clearly indicating it’s for men only.  The Society has for many decades been a major charity fund-raising organization  – in fact I remember approaching them as a university student in search of funding. But a number of commentators have been highly critical of the fact that there should be such an organization that excludes women.

It’s a plausible argument – why shouldn’t women be given the right to join any organisation? But I have yet to see a GAA county football or hurling team include women. There are of course GAA women’s football teams (or ‘Ladies’, as the GAA quaintly calls them) and it would appear that this segregation of the sexes is a happy enough arrangement. It’s based, I would imagine, not on denying women’s rights but around the fact that men tend to be bigger, stronger and therefore more effective football players. The same applies to soccer. Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal – lots of English clubs have a flourishing women’s team. There are women and men tournaments under the same roof, as it were – there’s a Men’s Wimbledon championship and a Women’s Wimbledon championship: parallel but separate. Although Wimbledon also has a mixed doubles tournament.

Some golf clubs fought for decades to keep women from becoming full members – some may still do that – but now most welcome them on equal terms with everyone else. The Women’s Institute in Britain, which has thousands of members, has no qualms in turning away any male – although I don’t know of a recorded  instance where a man applied. In general, when you leave the world of sport, it gets harder to justify the exclusion of women. Or men.

Always quick to protect the vulnerable and open to new thinking, the Orange Order has, within its ranks, a Women’s Order.  Who knew? The Catholic Church also makes room for women through its many religious orders, but the door to priesthood remains firmly locked and barred.

My own view is that totally integrated organisations of men and women, on an equal footing, is always more logical and productive. But then I’m biased: I’ve always found women more interesting than men.

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