I was recently reading an article in The New York Times about the fact that the Golden Gate Mothers’ Group (GGMG), a fantastic organization in San Francisco where I once served as a board member, does not allow men to join (because they are not mothers). The article was written in such a way that the reader is supposed to be SHOCKED. What are we supposed to be so shocked about? That there exists a group that excludes others? To me, it was more shocking that a man was being excluded… from anything!
My initial reaction was “that is terrible! Everyone should be included!” But… why? Many groups have criteria around membership – Rhodes Scholars, National Merit Finalists, sororities, fraternities, firefighters unions. Membership is something that has meaning to the people that ARE included. And in this case the GGMG, a non profit that is privately run (doesn’t take any tax dollars), should be able to have a group that is just for women. Right? Well it’s really not that simple. Which is why I find it frustrating that in one of the few cases where there is a club that excludes men (and then a man actually wants to join it), it somehow makes The New York Times.
First, I think we are all clear on the fact that excluding group members based on certain things – religion, sexual preference, race, to name a few – is never appropriate. And usually, the next thing on this list is gender. However, I have noticed that excluding based on gender is something that goes on all the time. Usually it’s just one gender group that is being excluded, though. Meaning that for 100 men’s groups (excluding women) there is one women’s group (excluding men). Actually I made that statistic up, but it sounds about right.
Which is why I find it frustrating that in one of the few cases where there is a club that excludes men (and then a man actually wants to join it), it somehow makes The New York Times. So I guess my very mature point to be made is this: since men exclude women all the time, we should be able to do it back. (This is reminding me of an argument my kids had tonight about pinching.) While I don’t love that there is such a vast number of men-only clubs, I do accept that they have a right to exist.
Second, of course I don’t like the fact that gay dads, single dads and SAH dads are — due to the fact they are male — excluded from a mother’s club. They deserve a great support structure too. Makes it a little tough to support the no men policy. But in this particular case, GGMG is not the only game in town. There are other options, such as the much bigger, more established and also well-run Berkeley Parents’ Network, that is for moms AND dads.
Third, the GGMG is a support group for its members. And by support I mean members feel support when they share excruciating details about post delivery blood, sweat and tears. Hemorrhoids, fallen bladders, nipple ailments, painful sex. I have heard frank discussions amongst mothers club members about the shock of carrying on with ordinary life while being excruciatingly lonely or having terrible feelings of inadequacy. There are things discussed that are incredibly personal (and not often discussed in public), yet seem to affect so many.
While there is no question that men could add an interesting dimension to these conversations, I know that many women would feel uncomfortable discussing these issues with a man in the room. But I can see that this brings us right back to the place where any number of men’s clubs say that “things just wouldn’t be the same” with a woman in the room.
And now you can see why I was not on the debate team in high school. This all sort of makes my head hurt.
While I don’t love that there is such a vast number of men-only clubs, I do accept that they have a right to exist. Same goes for a mothers’ group. If the GGMG allows men to join, should they also allow non-parents? What about local business owners? And then what happened to the charter of the founding members to be a support group for MOMS? Perhaps there is a way that the GGMG could allow dads to join, and make a separate forum within the club for women to have online conversations that are “just for women.” Even that gets a little tricky. See what I mean — not that simple. Do you ever have days where you just wish for an easy answer?