“Both women and men have equal opportunities to join sports-related drinking societies.” So argued an article on Cherwell.org last week, entitled ‘Why Vinnie’s should remain single-sex‘. This article runs the tired argument that has been floating around the sporting community ever since Vincent’s Club failed to gain sufficient support for removing their restriction on female membership. It argues that accepting women to Vinnie’s is not as simple as it seems, that there is more to it than voting for gender equality. A ‘Yes’ vote would actually ruin the “balance” of the gender-segregated “equivalent” clubs of Atalanta’s and Vincent’s.
The emotion felt by myself (and perhaps other sportswomen) upon reading this was one of pure frustration. Facepalm moment. Imagine your frustration at Eduroam failing to connect for a fifth time in a row; that equals about a hundredth of my anger at the continued gender exclusion prevalent in the most important sporting society in Oxford.
And that is what Vinnie’s is. Let’s be frank here; Vinnie’s is the heart of the social side of Oxford sport. To correct the previous article, Vincent’s Club is not “a drinking club for male Oxford Blues”. It is a centuries-old institution that offers the only space preserved for the sporting community to meet, mingle and discuss. And it is not solely for those who have achieved Blues; Vincent’s themselves have assured in a recent statement on this very vote that “members have always been elected for their all-round qualities: social, sporting and intellectual”. Synonymous with Vincent’s membership is supposed to be a level of personal quality and contribution to Oxford sport. Just only for men.
The reason I emphasise the unique importance that Vinnie’s holds in the sporting community of Oxford, and how membership of Vinnie’s is so much more than a place for male Blues to drink, is to refute the notion of Atalanta’s being an “equivalent” club. Atalanta’s admits any woman who has ever played a varsity match. Conversely, Vincent’s members undergo a selection process by the current committee for their all-round qualities: social, sporting, and intellectual.
Sporting achievement is preferable but not required. By not allowing women to become members of Vincent’s, sportswomen of Oxford are denied the opportunity to become members of a club that transcends merely sporting ability, based solely on their sex. This is ludicrous in 2015 when the true definition of equality is having equal opportunity and equal access. Vincent’s and Atalanta’s are not equivalent clubs. They serve different groups with different objectives.
For those unfamiliar with the clubs, Vincent’s lies through the famous ‘Blue Door’ on King Edward Street. One buzzes through (of course members have a swipe card, and women have to state the name of the male member they are visiting) and travels up to a beautiful, and recently refurbished, clubhouse, complete with leather sofas, a bar and another floor of dining/meeting room space. Vinnie’s offers an extensive menu (including a wonderful £6 Rump Steak) for lunches and dinners for members and guests every day, as well as the option to book dinners, and use the bar facilities at will. That’s not mentioning the vast array of reciprocal clubs Vincent’s members have access to: 12 at the last count, from London to Johannesburg. Pretty snazzy stuff.
Although we should by no means underplay how far Atalanta’s has come in recent years, due to the hard work of Oxford sportswomen, it is undeniably a far cry from “equivalent”. For starters, Atalanta’s has no permanent clubhouse. On Thursday and Friday afternoons, the second floor of The Varsity Club (No. 9 to old hats) is turned into a dining space for Atalanta’s members and guests. Although crew dates and dinners can now be accommodated, with the lack of a permanent clubhouse, and such a huge disparity in club resources, one cannot compare the two. And there is little on the horizon to suggest that this will change. No promise of a clubhouse, no imminent increase in resources.
â€‹So when it comes to arguments of ‘the same but separate’, it is all too easy to prove just how far Atalanta’s has to go to become anything similar to Vinnie’s. But more importantly, this misses the crucial point when it comes to arguments for gender segregation. In order for gender segregation not to be the equivalent of gender discrimination, there has to be free choice. Women should be able to join Vinnie’s, and men, shock horror, Atalanta’s.
And Atalanta’s has not done itself proud in this debate. This is meant as no personal attack on any member, or the committee, but the flaws in the ‘surveys’ conducted by Atalanta’s were astounding. Before the vote, Atalanta’s presented to resident Vinnie’s members the statistic that 89 per cent of Atalanta’s members wanted the clubs to remain distinct. This survey came after a discounted first survey, which presented 53 per cent in favour of women members, and was presented as a vote that represented the views of Oxford sportswomen. In fact, with only 91 registered members compared to the 1,114 sportswomen registered with Sport Federation this year, Atalanta’s membership makes up only a slither of Oxford sportswomen. And for the society to support a decision that has any kind of bias based on gender is even more baffling. These actions from Atalanta’s have stifled the real voice of Oxford sportswomen.
Lets get real and stop stating how nuanced and complicated this is. Yes, there are considerations to be made for the future of Atalanta’s, but that is far from the principal concern here. That concern, plain and simple, is equality. Denying women the opportunity to become a member of Vinnie’s is to discriminate against them purely on the basis of gender. No one should stand for that. Not a single Vinnie’s member, Atalanta’s member, or any sportsperson in Oxford. No more fudging this, it’s time for change.