The Garrick Club row is the height of elitist feminism

Working-class women gain nothing from rich women being allowed to join a rich men’s club.

Lisa McKenzie

Topics Feminism Politics UK

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The Garrick Club has experienced a bit of a revolution over the past few months. The 193-year-old private members’ club in central London had come under sustained attack for its men-only membership policy. Until last week, when it was announced that the Garrick would finally be opening up its membership to women, with Dame Judi Dench set to become the first female member.

I, like many others, had never heard of the Garrick until earlier this year, when the Guardian took up the campaign for women to be allowed in. Apparently, members include ‘levelling up’ secretary Michael Gove, actors Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, and even King Charles – among countless other elite men in media, politics and the cultural industries.

Ultimately, whether or not well-off women are allowed to sit in what amounts to a posh London living room is utterly inconsequential to myself and other working-class Brits. Yet the Garrick’s decision to start admitting women is being treated as a victory for equality on a par with female suffrage. The reality is that the furore over the Garrick is yet another fashionable cause for Guardian columnists and performatively progressive middle-class women. It has virtually nothing to do with the lives of ordinary women.

The Garrick will remain an ‘old boy’s club’, albeit now with women involved, too. The working classes know little about the goings-on of such institutions, but we do know that this is where deals, ideas and all-important social capital are traded. These exclusive clubs and networks are what the middle and upper classes rely on to keep their positions intact and to ensure those positions are reproduced, generation after generation.

The Garrick is an extension of Oxbridge universities, which are, in turn, an extension of the fee-paying private schools. Such is the importance of these networks that, in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, rich families will still spend upwards of £12,000 per term so that their children might gain access to them. These are all places from which the working classes are purposefully excluded, so that the middle and upper classes can comfortably network among their own.

Opening up one more of these spaces to wealthy and influential women is meaningless to those worried about feeding their families and which bus route will be axed next. To become a member of the Garrick Club not only do you have to be invited in, but you also have to pay £1,600 each year for the privilege. It is a telling indictment of the chattering classes that this is a cause they have decided to champion.

There is an uncomfortable truth here that those middle-class feminists heading up the Garrick campaign refuse to acknowledge. While they may portray themselves as victims, they remain hugely successful people steeped in class privilege. They are also incredibly reliant on the labour of working-class women. Wealthy feminists prefer to talk about their cleaners as being like ‘friends’ and insist that they pay them a ‘living wage’. But those of us who know cleaners, nannies and housekeepers know that anyone wealthy enough to not have to clean their own toilet will barely notice the working-class people who surround their existence.

I have nothing personally against Judi Dench or any of the other women who campaigned to gain entry to the Garrick. But let’s not pretend that this means anything other than elite women getting themselves into spaces where they can reinforce their own privilege. I can’t help but wonder if these wealthy women will direct the same energy into fighting for the women who clean the Garrick’s carpets, scrub its toilets and empty its bins.

Lisa McKenzie is a working-class academic.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Feminism Politics UK


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