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You Can’t Sit With Us

Written by - Bluebella

CEO and Founder Emily Bendell challenges the Garrick Club’s male-only members policy

The Garrick Club is nestled in the heart of Covent Garden, London’s vibrant and exciting theatreland. It is a monument to the arts, literature, and sophisticated society, founded in 1831 with the express purpose of functioning as a meeting place for creative minds, where “patrons of the drama and its professors were to be brought together”.

That is, as long as those patrons and professors are men.
Read the Times article here

The Garrick Club has a male-only membership policy, with women only permitted to attend as guests when accompanied by a club member. Even in this capacity, they are not allowed to pay for anything themselves, relying instead on the generosity of the Garrick Club member in their lives.

So far, so 1831.

Except now its 2020, and in 2020 we have a tendency to demand better from our iconic cultural institutions, places that should be working towards inclusivity and diversity rather than hanging on to outmoded societal divisions. Our very own Founder and CEO Emily Bendell has decided to challenge this exclusion of women from club membership. Wishing to become a member herself, Emily has started legal action against the Garrick Club by claiming its ban on female members is in breach of UK Equality Law.
Read the Telegraph article here

Represented by solicitors, Leigh Day, and discrimination and equality barrister, Jennifer Danvers of Cloisters Chambers, Emily has sent a Letter Before Action to the Garrick Club, outlining that through its direct discrimination against women the club is acting in breach of the Equality Act of 2010.

The letter states:

“By (a) stating that use of the Garrick Club is restricted to ‘gentlemen members only’, (b) only allowing men to become members and use all of the services it offers, and, (c) treating women who attend the club differently to men (for example, by not allowing them to pay for themselves), the Garrick Club treats women less favourably than it treats men.”
Read the Guardian article here

Says Emily “I understand that some organisations exclude based on gender or race in order to try and address serious imbalances and under representations in our society. I am a member of various women’s networks in the business community. But that is not the case here. The Garrick is a place of serious power and influence, and a service provider, that has no good reason for excluding women”

This is not the first time the Garrick Club has been called to account for its arbitrary gender policy. Many of the club’s famous patrons, including Damian Lewis, Hugh Bonneville and Stephen Fry, have spoken in favour of updating the Garrick Club rules to include the possibility of female members. In 2015, a bid was called on the issue, with 55% of the club’s membership voting in favour of allowing women the full privileges of being a club member.

Says Emily: “The key question we have to ask ourselves here is why, in 2020, the Garrick is still so reluctant to exclude women? The idea that women somehow detract from the culture of the club rather than add to it, or that men are unable to ‘be themselves’ around female members is deeply troubling”

Read the Dailymail article here
However, a two thirds majority had been set, meaning the motion was not passed and the ban remained. Whilst the club did mention revisiting the vote in five years’ time, no such vote has been proposed so far in 2020.

Read the Evening Standard article here and follow the progress of Emily’s action on Instagram and via the Bluebella blog.
Read the article in The Daily Telegraph
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