Is Scotland really full of sexist Neanderthals?

Picture of part of a golf course, with temporary spectator's stands, on a rolling green landscape with a path through bushes in the foreground, and village buildings in the backgroundScotland’s handicap? Sexist golf clubs | Kevin McKenna | Comment is free | The Observer

There seems to be a trend recently with Kevin McKenna’s articles in the Observer, which is to depict Scotland as a land beset by misogyny and inhabited by an awful lot of sexist Neanderthals. Today, it’s Scottish golf clubs (in particular Muirfield, which hosts the Open this month) which refuse to admit women as members; two weeks ago, it was about “how sick Scottish society remains in the way women are viewed”, chiefly on the basis of a story about one Glasgow nightclub which installed one-way glass mirrors so that men could spy on women at the washbasin (not in the toilet itself as commonly reported). Neither of these things are particularly reflective of Scottish society or attitudes as similar things can, and frequently do, happen elsewhere.

To take the golf club example, I agree with the central claim that golf clubs should not discriminate, a stance which the country’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, has backed by refusing to attend the Open this year. It would be fairly easy to introduce legislation that bans sexual discrimination in such organisations unless there is a pressing reason for it to be one sex or the other (e.g. the club is for sufferers of a particular disease that only affects one sex, such as prostate or ovarian cancer). Golf is a sport that is played by men and women across the world, and is played by individuals, not teams, fully clothed (unlike, say, football). There is no reason why clubs should not allow women to be members and have access to the course without having to pay inflated one-off rates.

An engraving of the Garrick Club in King Street, near Covent Garden, London in 1864, with people, horses and carts outsideHowever, Scotland is not the only place where there are men-only clubs that host international golf tournaments — the USA is another example. And we have other clubs in the UK which refuse to admit women members, including the well-known London clubs such as the Garrick which are attended by male politicians, lawyers and journalists. A number of these clubs have in fact voted to admit women members over the years, but the Garrick attracted controversy when it voted against admitting women as members in the late 1990s. There was an article in the Guardian which made the point that these are the “backrooms” where deals are made, and excluding women from them disadvantages female politicians and journalists (who are denied access to politicians for interview), so excluding women is indirectly discriminatory. The club has still not changed its policy, and there has been no legislation.

McKenna takes a personal dig at the members of Scottish golf clubs in general, claiming that they were full of old men in urine-stained trousers. I think his point is that golf is really a tedious game mostly played by boring old duffers and that membership really wouldn’t interest him, but it should be open to anyone who really is interested. The same can be true of any other sport — I dislike football intensely and almost never watch it, even if England are playing in the World Cup quarter-finals, and rarely even watch tennis unless Andy Murray is playing. Sport is rampantly sexist everywhere, though, not just Scottish golf. Only yesterday, the BBC reporter John Inverdale remarked that the French Wimbledon ladies’ champion Marion Bartoli was “never going to be a looker”, and the dresses worn by many female players seem designed to show off their underwear (such incidents are sometimes played in slow motion on TV, as in at least one incident in this tournament), giving the impression that ladies’ tennis is not really about the tennis.

A picture of a man standing in front of a window, through which you can see women standing at washbasinsAs for the previous article, the decision by that nightclub to invade its female customers’ privacy is a disgraceful one and one that the licensing authorities should have more sanction over (presumably, the loophole was unintentional, but it was closed for a week in mid-June, the biggest punishment the board could impose), but again, this is the sort of thing that could happen anywhere and just happened that it was in Glasgow and there is, of course, much more to Scotland than Glasgow. In other places, including London, it has taken public campaigns to reduce the numbers of sex clubs in urban areas where they are blamed for attracting men who sexually harass women in the surrounding areas. Nightclubs in general are not known for being salubrious places of sober entertainment; there are places in England as well where they emit male and female drunks who can be found fighting in the street, or lying in the gutter with their underwear (considerably less modest than a tennis player’s) exposed, as you can see on any ITV4 reality cop show. We also have murders in nightclubs, as happened here in Kingston last year (the trial is ongoing).

The fact that this happens, and that there is a high incidence of rape, does not prove that Scotland has a “mediaeval” attitude to women. That refers to such things as women not having the choice of who they do or do not marry; the high incidence of rape is a very modern problem and there are issues of low rape conviction rates and attitudes that blame victims for causing their assaults pretty much everywhere. He claims that the lowered crime rate is accounted for by a fall in “minor crime”, while the sexual assault rate has risen sharply, but the article he links to puts the rise in reported sexual assaults to raised awareness from the Jimmy Savile scandal. In any case, a fall in “minor crime” makes the streets safer to walk on, so you do not have to worry about having your handbag or mobile phone stolen or just subjected to random violence or abuse, while the majority of rapes do not take place in the street.

His biography states that he is “is a former deputy editor of the Herald and executive editor of the Daily Mail in Scotland”, so it could be that his articles are an attempt to undermine Scotland’s reputation as a place with a progressive mainstream for anyone tempted to secede to free the country from English Tory domination or the possibility of that ever happening again. All the problems he mentions happen throughout the UK and whatever the economic or geo-political cases for or against Scottish independence, the country does not need England to teach it any lessons on how to respect women.

Images: Jim Barton, sourced from Geograph; Wikimedia Commons, Google Images

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