Saturday, November 17, 2007

STILL SOME RESISTANCE: Though women are now allowed, these three who tried to enter the Men's Bar last night were run out the door by a merry-making male member the moment they walked in. -- ST PHOTO: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN

Cricket Club gives women full access after 155 years
The last off-limits room - the Men's Bar - opened to them this month
By Arti Mulchand

THE final bastion of male exclusivity at the Singapore Cricket Club has come crumbling down - women have finally won elbow room at its Men's Bar & Billiards Room.
It is the only room at the 155-year-old club, and probably the entire country, that has stayed off-limits to women - till now.

The club, which started in 1852 as a 'For Men Only' hut on the Padang, took its time breaking from that mould.

So harsh was the ban on women that they could not even peek inside the door - the penalty was a chiding for their male partners from the committee. And to rub some salt into it, he would have to buy a round of drinks for the entire bar to boot, revealed club president Anwarul Haque with a laugh.

But since Nov 3, by-laws have been changed to allow women to move freely in and out of the room they only ever saw once a year, on New Year's Eve.

Over the years, the segregation had its detractors, who lambasted it as a throwback to the club's colonial past. But Mr Haque said protests were 'feeble', and besides, some female members did not mind giving their husbands a space of their own.

So why change the rules now?

Some of the club's 3,500 members said it has been prompted less by the desire to bridge the gender divide than to boost the bottom line.

The club's renovation, completed exactly a year ago, saw the men gain more privacy than many could stomach when the Men's Bar was moved from the first floor to the basement, so space could be better utilised.

Not only did they lose their view of the Padang, but the new spot was dark, with lower ceilings, and 'not very nice', some members said.

Business took a hit as drinkers gravitated towards Stumps, a unisex sports bar created on the first floor.

Still, the change means the final barrier to equality of the sexes has been removed, something that has been a long time coming.

From the time the club opened, women - when allowed to be there - often occupied an upper pavilion and left the club by a rear staircase, never passing through the main area where men were watching sports or the bar, said club member and writer Ilsa Sharp, who documented the club's history.

It was in 1938 when they were finally allowed to be associate members of the club. That same year, the gents got the Men's Bar, a space that could not be invaded.

It was close to six decades later that women inched closer to equality: In 1996, they could become full members, vote and run for office.

That was 'real emancipation' said Ms Sharp, even if the men still wanted to 'get together to tell absolutely filthy jokes'.

The switch was made without fanfare so club members could 'ease into it', said Mr Haque, though he added that some women had wandered downstairs over the last few nights.

And what do the ladies think? Said member and former committee member Margaret Cunico: 'If there's a lack of demand, it makes sense to lift the restriction. To leave it there for symbolic sake is to undervalue what it's best for... I think there will be some women who go there.'

Still, having to welcome the women in is an idea that will clearly take some time to sink in. When three women tried to enter while The Straits Times was visiting the bar last night, one merry-making male member ran them out the door the moment they walked in.

His confusion, perhaps, is understandable, since some changes take longer than others: the search is on for a new name, but for now, the sign on the door still says 'Men's Bar & Billiards Room'.

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