Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Into the Bunker...

Filton Golf Course
Golf Courses - Common Sense Under Threat
News from the BBC suggests a long awaited new front is about to be opened by the forces of political correctness. Their brand new shiny Panzer is a green paper proposing a "Single Equality Bill" targeting private clubs, with the usual suspects playing the media role as villains. Yes in the red corner, we have...The Working Man's Club (music hall style booing and hissing etc. from the right) and in the blue corner, the most evil, insidious type of body in the known universe, The Golf Club (squeals of genuine outrage from the left). As usual it isn't so much an "Equality" bill as an "Enforced Uniformity" bill.

The BBC take is that:
"The Single Equality Bill will mean clubs can no longer restrict access to women at certain times or be banned from the running of the organisation."

and some clubs apparently,

"restrict access to the club house."

but very generously,

"Clubs with single sex admission policies will be able to continue."
BBC News

As it happens I've been to a few Working Men's Clubs and had a good night out but I'm going to have to concentrate on the golf club side to illustrate just how stupid something that seems so superficially reasonable like this can be.

I've got a fairly ambivalent attitude to golf these days. On television it's a sport, like cricket and tennis, that I'd rather watch in edited highlight form; for all the skill and sporting prowess I simply find it dull watched live. Worse than that, the poison dwarf is a big golfer, as anyone who has the misfortune to encounter him in the mother ship, bedecked in his club sweater, when he's only on the third hole of his full eighteen hole shot-by-shot analysis of his last round. The problem is that despite all of this I actually really like the game, on the odd occasion on which I have the time to have one of my fairly inept attempts to play it. Moreover it's a bit of a family tradition; my grandfather was a reasonably good golfer, my father was, and still is, a very good one, my grandmother played and, albeit only taking it up after retirement, even my mother plays now, all at the same club.

Will this club fall foul of the proposed new law? Actually yes it will. Saturday morning is the preserve of a men's medal competition and, though I think it may now have changed, when I was a junior member there was a men's billiards room and a lady's tea room. So does this give rise to mass discontentment among lady members? Not that I'm aware of, in fact most of them on the rare occasion that I've ever heard it discussed seem to have been more than happy with the reduced subscription rate that comes with the occasionally restricted access to the course. If and when the ladies wish to organise an event of their own, the male golfers are equally accommodating and are also accepting of the fact that simple demand dictates that there are far less such occasions when they may not use the course and as such they pay more for their privileges.

There are no restrictions for women on voting rights in the management of the club, which I agree would be unacceptable. It hardly matters though because if there was demand for a change, a happy compromise would be found long before any poll was called, especially considering the number of lady golfers with more than a little influence over a male golfer to whom they are married.

What legislation like this does is give the opportunity for one disaffected person to use the power of the courts to upset a very happily balanced apple cart. There would probably not even be a need to show that they were were personally disadvantaged by the arrangements, just that they existed and offered an opportunity to take a cheap shot.

The classic counter argument is the "what would you think if it were black golfers who had different rules" one. It sounds good, but at the end of the day is complete bullshit. While men and women can and do play golf together, my father and grandmother once wining the family fourball competition, for all the handicapping rules, there is a tendency to end up playing in same sex groupings. There are probably a lot of reasons for this, some of which are simply social ones, but even with handicaps an option there is also a desire to play, when it becomes more competitive, with players of a similar ability where compensatory factors like the tee used or big handicap differences play less of a role. Not simply for physiological reasons, but also of the different amounts of time, on average, spent on the game it would be highly unusual to have a perfectly equal balance in playing ability within a club between men and women.

For reasons of practically then, not prejudice, then they tend to compete separately, and as it happens for reasons of demand most competitive fixtures tend to be arranged on the male side of the club. No such reasonable excuse of practicality could be made on the grounds of race, it could only be based on prejudice. The situations are not equivalent.

The original article did not mention, in its first edition, a different set of provisions ensuring the right to breastfeed, wherever, whenever, which I only spotted later. I'm a bit more ambivalent on this one.

From a molecular biology background background I of course very much endorse breastfeeding as the healthy option. It really does not offend me in the slightest, and yes, it is a perfectly natural thing to do. But let's be honest there are lots of other perfectly natural things that we don't do at the dinner table. Most have the women I know well who have had children have breastfed and have had a generally feminist outlook and thought nothing of breastfeeding sat around in someone's living room. I've never known one though who felt the need to breastfeed at the table in a restaurant; they wouldn't think twice about what any strangers thought, let alone worry that their friends may disapprove, but they almost unanimously thought it a the wrong kind of place to do it in a nice relaxed way, so would always find a comfortable corner somewhere they could spend a few minutes bonding with the baby. Frankly, they also knew that it gave everyone else a few minutes break from the little one, who as pleased was we may have been to have out with us, they knew could get a little dominating of proceedings for those of us less child centered than themselves.

In the end yes, any restaurant making a big scene about a breastfeeding is making a bit of a spectacle of themselves and would be best avoided in future, but I'm not any keener on the minority of mothers who seem to pick out the most public place possible to feed the baby as an assertion of their rights.

Frankly the idea that everyone should be marvelously tolerant of babies or young children in all circumstances, at all times, breastfeeding or not, is not in of itself, a fundamental human right of the the child or the parents anyway. I don't know if restaurants can set a minimum age limit beyond that prescribed by law, as pubs can, but if they cannot, they should be granted that right. It's not as if there is a dearth of child friendly restaurants. I think it's perfectly reasonable that on some occasions you should be able to pick out somewhere for a special occasion where you know that you won't be subject to the charms and delights of other peoples children below the age when they they can be expected to respect the general style and atmosphere of the venue.

While I'm at it...a message to parents who whoop and cheer on suburban trains as their children run up and down the carriage screaming and climbing up every seat back and hand rail. You are breeding a self-centred little brat.

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