Garrick Club literally just shut the door on women protesting

  • Post last modified:March 28, 2024
  • Reading time:8 mins read

The controversial men-only Garrick Club in the heart of London did itself no favours on Thursday 28 March – after it locked the doors on women, including Labour MP Apsana Begum, attempting to deliver an open letter asking it to change policy and allow them to become members.

Garrick Club: ‘knock, knock’… ‘who’s there?’… ‘women’… ‘SLAM’

On 28 March, Dr Charlotte Proudman, Julia Needham, and Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu organised a peaceful but evocative protest outside the Garrick Club. It was over its men-only policy which has been in place for nearly 200 years.

Many of the women were high-ranking barristers and legal professionals. Yet despite the Garrick Club allowing 14 judges to be members, these women can’t because, well – they’re women. So, they took their concerns to the Garrick Club’s front door:

Garrick Club protest

The women wanted to deliver an open letter. Part of it read:

Criminal, family, civil and immigration courts often deal with extremely serious allegations of domestic abuse and violence against women, including rape, sexual assault, coercive and controlling behaviour, stalking and financial abuse.

Many cases reflect the diversity of the society in which we live; we are proud to call clients women from all walks of life, many of whom are impecunious or in low-paid work. We represent women from all over the country, including the most deprived areas. Many do not have English as their first language or secure immigration status.

The Garrick Club, along with its associated ethos, embodies a social and gendered ideology that starkly contrasts with the reality of the modern courtroom. It stands as a symbol of an entrenched anti-woman tradition comprising predominantly white male membership. We are concerned that membership perpetuates systemic discrimination against women within the highest echelons of societal influence.

In our collective assessment, maintaining membership at the Garrick Club is fundamentally incompatible with the core principles of justice, equality, and fairness, particularly for senior members of the judiciary who significantly shape jurisprudence on gender-based discrimination and inequality and gendered crimes of violence and abuse.

Like the Garrick Club, the highest levels of the judiciary do not reflect our society. Female judges remain a minority, particularly women of colour, despite efforts to increase greater diversity and inclusivity.

Irony not taught at Eton

However, seemingly oblivious to just how its actions would come across, the Garrick Club locked the doors on the women and refused to let them deliver the letter:

Clearly, these well-connected and high-ranking men fail to grasp the concept or irony. So, Labour MP Apsana Begum who was at the protest gave them a helping hand. She said:

I think it’s a no-brainer that it’s unjust and prejudicial that men can be afforded the opportunities expressly denied [to] women in terms of membership of this club…

The club, whose members include King Charles III, former prime minister Boris Johnson, actors Brian Cox, Matthew Macfadyen Benedict Cumberbatch, and Hugh Laurie, has around 1,500 mostly old members. A large number of its members occupy influential roles – from government leaders to partners at top law firms and heads of consultancies.

We’re sure that the women protesting weren’t implying they wish to hob-nob with Boris Johnson – unless we’re sorely mistaken.

Smash the patriarchy – starting with the Garrick Club

However, the principle of the situation – and what it represents in broader society – is what is at stake.

The Garrick Club had at least 14 senior male judges as members (before four resigned). This underscores the institutionalised misogyny that exists within the justice system – and may well help foment it. But this male-only environment is also a microcosm of the larger toxic patriarchy that society, both in the UK and globally, still operates under.

So, all power to the women who braved Storm Nelson on 28 March. Until the patriarchy is smashed, then doors like the Garrick Club’s will continue to be physically and metaphorically shut in women’s faces.

Featured image and additional images via Garrick Club Judges

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