We’ve seen plenty of “who cares” comments and “let them have it” responses in regards to Tuesday’s vote at The Australian Club that saw a motion on the “desirability” of allowing female members to join, rejected.
Such comments are understandable. How many of us would actually want to become a member, even if allowed?
But we should care about the fact so many members of this club voted to retain the status quo. They voted to retain their right to occupy these corridors of power and decision making and high-profile networking, free from female members.
This is a place where powerful men group together and then make decisions that can ultimately impact all of us. Now we know this is a place where a good proportion of these powerbrokers (around two thirds) have intentionally voted to reject one of the simplest of acts of showing they want women included in such discusions.
The collective outcome they delivered should concern all of us.
Not because we want to get in to The Australian Club as a member (seriously, I’m good).
And not because men and women shouldn’t be allowed to have male-only spaces – there is some merit in such spaces, like all-female or all-male gyms. There are also women-only clubs. There are plenty of spaces women can attend mostly among themselves for business networking and the like (although men aren’t typically excluded). And The Australian Club is far from the only male-only membership space.
The bigger issue is what this says about power in Australia, and the fact that the men within this bubble of exclusivity voted to continue this archaic practice of women being excluded.
They had a vote to change this — a vote that’s been years in the making. And yet they failed to collectively make such change.
These are board directors and CEOs. They are current and former politicians, including Malcolm Turnbull and John Howard. They are current and former judges. They are bankers and investors. These are men – like it or not – who are still sitting in positions of power and making significant decisions that impact all of us. And if they don’t currently hold those positions, then they have retired from those positions and are likely then mentoring the next generation of men behind them to step up and continue their work.
They are so often the same men who talk of merit, claiming “only the best person” is ever selected for the job.
The fact they couldn’t get the 75% plus Yes vote required to make the switch to allowing female members highlights just how many men in this bubble are determined to keep the status quo. They want their private dinners and drinks and networks. They want their boy’s club to stay just that, a boy’s club. They want to retain their St Paul’s ties free from questions or inputs from anyone who dared not attend the same schools, churches and institutions that made them who they are. No doubt they also want to keep citing “merit” when justifying why the upper echelons of leadership circles continue to look the way they do.
And let’s not even get started on the fact that they then asked a spokesWOMAN to reveal the final vote result to the media.
As Geoff Cousins’ outlined in The Australian today (the businessman has quit in disgust over the outcome of the vote), some of the reasons people cited for rejecting the motion were petty and outright ridiculous, like concerns about whether they would have to “behave differently” when having dinner. A rationale that sounds similar to a certain former vice president who said he couldn’t have dinner alone with a woman who wasn’t his wife.
Cousins’ made the move to quit saying there was no way he could sign off on gender equality statements in annual reports, while still be a member of the club.
With this vote done, let’s call on more of these male members – anyone who considers themselves even the remotest bit concerned about social justice, about equal opportunity and about ensuring voices of a more diverse range of people are heard – to quit this club in disgust. Follow Geoff Cousins’ lead, exit the building for the final time.
The décor looks pretty jab and sad anyway. Go and join a gym instead, the exercise might give you the opportunity for a good think.