Do women still need all-women’s social clubs? An article in yesterday’s New York Times about the Ebell Club of Los Angeles asks the question.
The club, one of the first of its kind in the country, is now struggling with a 21st-century problem: how to convince modern women that such a club has contemporary value to them.
“You can find in this club something you cannot find on Facebook, in wine bars, or any number of places which offer social interaction: genuine friendship and mutual concern,” said Shirlee Haizlip, the club’s current president. “It is a wondrous thing to be constantly surrounded by three generations of women.”
Women’s clubs were established in American life shortly after the Civil War. “It was a time women all over the country decided a woman’s place is not in the home, that they needed to get out,” said Karen J. Blair, a history professor and expert on women’s clubs at Central Washington University. “So they got together to study literature, history, philosophy and poetry.”
But…attracting women — who began to leave the women’s clubs nationally around the 1970s — is a battle. Ms. Haizlip said that membership had recently increased to 480, up from 325 in 1993, but that her goal was to get back to at least 1,000 women, still far shy from the number during the club’s glory days. Membership efforts now focus on women from 30 to 40 years old, with programs on things like child rearing and mind-body workshops.
It is an effort all women’s clubs face. The membership of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs is 10 percent of what it was in the middle of the last century, when the federation had 100,000 members, said its spokeswoman, Michele Mount.
“Women’s clubs are a victim of our own success,” Ms. Mount said. “The past presidents of these clubs would have been C.E.O.’s, and now they are that instead of being members of clubs.”
Has women’s lib made women’s clubs like the Ebell obsolete? Now that women can get an education and go to work, do they need these clubs as an alternative to being stuck at home? Now that men and women work and socialize on a much more level playing field, why have single-sex gathering places at all?
Personally, I love the idea of women’s groups and creating women’s space. But these days, do we even need to gather in person to socialize the way our foremothers did? After all, we’re all here. On the internets. Socializing, learning, sharing, helping each other out.
Now that women are less can reach out in cyberspace from the comfort of our own homes, are we less likely to bond with women in our meatspace? Have women’s socialization needs changed as our roles in society have changed? Would y’all like to join a club like Ebell?