On the Value of Single-Gender Groups

Tim points to an essay on DevChix (‘a knowledgeable and very talented group of women in the tech and programming field[s]’) entitled Let’s All Evolve Past This: The Barriers Women Face in Tech Communities. It’s a valuable, thoughtful, exasperated and not-entirely-correct piece, but I want to focus on a tangential point it makes: the value of single-gender groups.

The author, one gloriajw, writes:

No matter the group or the reason for gathering, _all_ of the women-only, and most of the successful women-friendly groups to which I have belonged had a strong sense of community. They make a tremendous effort to communicate well, to be fair with each other, and to provide support related to the groups goals, sometimes even extending outside of the groups goals.

Over the past hundred years, it’s obviously been an essential change that women gain access to formerly male-only institutions. Sometimes it’s things like, oh, the House of Commons, and other times its more trivial but still symbolic.

I’m trying to think of recent examples where men have entered previously women-only groups (there are professions, but I’m thinking more of communities). None spring immediately to mind–maybe that’s because there aren’t any?

Old Girls’ Clubs

Obviously, women still have a schwack of battles left to fight and win before they’re going to achieve true equality. Maybe that’s impossible, given history and biology, but I hope note.

Once that happens, or at least once the pendulum’s amplitude shrinks, hopefully society will come around again to valuing single-gender groups.

Such groups are as old as agriculture (see, for example, the historically-based novel The Red Tent), and seem like a very natural part of our culture. As gloriajw points out, men and women do naturally communicate differently, and there ought to be places where they can do so naturally. I look forward to a time when there are ‘Old Girls’ Clubs’ and ‘Old Boys’ Clubs’, without the negative connotations those phrases currently suggest.

UPDATE: Lauren disagrees with me.


  1. Perhaps one example that I can think of is the quilting community which, traditionally, has been primarily in the woman’s domain. My mum’s been a quilter for years and she tells me that recently, there are some men out there who have tried to cross the gender barrier and try their hand at the craft.

    What is interesting to her and her quilting friends though is what these men bring to the quilting community. Unlike the majority of the women, most of the men will attempt to create works of art and will almost always cross over that border that divides crafts from art. You would never use a quilt created by a man to keep yourself warm at night – they’re for hanging on a wall.

    My mum and her friends chuckle at these men as if to say they’ve sort of missed the whole point of quilting entirely not the least of which is simply a good excuse to get together with your friends and have a good time.

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