No women allowed

The Tattersall's Club in Brisbane, Australia, once again votes to keep women from becoming members.

Published December 19, 2006 11:00PM (EST)

Oh, boys. The Tattersall's Club -- an exclusive club in Brisbane, Australia, that's frequented by leaders in business, law and politics -- just voted not to allow women to become full-fledged members. This despite the fact that the club's (all male) leadership committee specifically recommended that women be admitted -- a recommendation that was defeated by just over 100 votes out of the club's 5,500-man membership.

As could be predicted, the vote, which represented the third such attempt in the past two years, has caused reactions of joy and outrage, depending partially on the respondent's gender and partially on which decade the respondent in question is living in.

"I think it's wonderful," one male member said about the continued ban on women. "It's a men's club, and the men like being by themselves."

Our thoughts were better summarized by a businesswoman who has been trying to become a full-fledged member: "The thought of not allowing women in a business club in today's world is just unacceptable."

Obviously, there are times when men like to be with men and women with women; not everything in the world needs to be unisex. But Tattersall's is an example of where preventing women from full membership is both inherently sexist and harmful toward women's professional lives. This is not a small-town Elks Club -- initiation costs $1,100, and Tattersall's counts among its members some of the most influential men in Australia, including Queensland Premier Peter Beattie. (He, for one, thinks women should be allowed to be members.) Barring women from membership essentially means barring them from the kind of informal professional networking that forwards people's careers.

But the weirder thing about Tattersall's is that women are allowed in as "associate" members. The halls of Tattersall's might be male dominated, but it's not like they've never seen a skirt before. The woman quoted above, for example, uses its gym and pool, and women are even listed as contacts for some of Tattersall's activity clubs.

This quirk makes it even stranger that women should be denied full membership. If they're already there, why shouldn't they have the same rights as their male peers? What, exactly, are the male members so afraid of?

I like thinking of Australia as part of the extended family of former British subjects, albeit a member with different slang expressions and a taste for Vegemite sandwiches. But in this case, unfortunately, some citizens are still treating the country like a penal colony.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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