Last February, blogger Jillian Page wrote about an incident that involved one of her male naturist readers for the Montreal Gazette. Apparently, despite being vetted and approved as a potential member, he was turned away from “a naturist organisation” because he could not find a woman to partner him. He didn’t have to be in a relationship with her, they just wanted to have two new members one of each gender, to ensure an arbitrary ratio between men and women was maintained. This basically sums up two perennial problems in naturism: “the single male issue” and the “not enough women issue”, and I consider them to be opposites of the same coin.
I prefer to use the phrase ‘unaccompanied male’ rather than single male. It may seem rather pedantic but many of the men that wish to join a naturist club do have a partner, it is just that they are not interested in going naked in public. They are, however, comfortable for their partner to do so without them. It also needs to be said that it cannot be assumed that the missing partner is someone of the opposite gender.
Here in the UK, many of our naturist clubs are private restricting membership accordingly and they have found their own solution to the unaccompanied male issue over the years, some fairer than others. I remember asking to join a club once and the experience put me off applying to any other. A nice couple came to ask me a few questions, but what their questioning boiled down to was “How frequently was I going to visit the club?” Thinking of all the other things I like to do, I proposed once a month. As the vetting couple left, they did let slip one piece of information. The club had recently advertised for new members (something I hadn’t seen BTW) and all the applications they received were from men, but mine was the only one they had decided to pursue. I was refused membership and they wouldn’t to say why. Was it because I am single? Who knows or care? I had already made up my mind to turn down their membership if it had been offered, as I thought the club was very secretive and always thought that this held back naturism, not advanced it. Nor did I think it very progressive and lacked ambition.
Similar tales have cropped up over the intervening years on one forum or another from other unaccompanied males, yet the clubs seemed to be deaf to these pleas and did nothing to address the problem. And it was all perfectly legal, as a private club had the right to restrict to whom and under what terms membership was offered. The various Acts against discrimination only covered it as a place of employment.
Since 1st October 2010, however, this has not been the case. On that date the provisions under the Equalities Act 2010 came into force. A single piece of legislation that simplifies the law on discrimination and removes inconsistencies from between earlier legislation; it also strengthens it in ways that effect private clubs. A club can no longer refuse membership or grant it on less favourable terms to an existing member or a potential member because they have a protected characteristic. These are: disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. If this legislation has passed by your club’s management then perhaps the booklet “Equalities Act 2010: What do I need to know?” from the Government Equalities Office should be their bedtime reading. As a service provider, naturist clubs will need to be mindful of the Act’s provisions and consider the consequences if they continue to operate in a discriminatory fashion. While the booklet offers many examples (often using a golf club) there is perhaps one unique source of discrimination by naturist clubs and that is the waiting list. Under the 2010 Act it would be discriminatory to have a waiting list that consists only of men. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission is also a good source of advice should you need it.
Much of what I’ve written so far is about discrimination and, for once, it is we men who feel discriminated against. But let me make myself clear, I am against all discrimination and have no time for the ‘isms’ of this world. Yet clearly our social norms are male dominated and I think we should consider male attitudes towards women and viewing them as sexual objects (even unconsciously), sometimes reinforced by other women ingrained with male attitudes, as the root cause of why so many women are reluctant to even try social nudity.
If a woman is persuaded by her partner to try naturism at a beach – official or unofficial – both of them are always thinking about the unseen voyeur, even if there are none, while in the artificial club atmosphere testosterone possibly dominates and ‘the mating game’, even when it isn’t on the cards, becomes an issue. Maybe, given that, women who enjoy being naked have found their own solution. In a two-part post from 2012 for the f word, CP Reece explained that she considered herself as a nudist from the age of seven, although it was unlikely that she would have used that tag, having refused to do the ‘towel dance’ on an unnamed beach at her mother’s insistence. As a young adult Reece would search out some lonely spot to swim naked or to sunbath and there is no reason not to suppose that there are other women doing exactly the same now.
If naturism is to be considered more seriously by women then surely it must do something to address their concerns, real or imagined, in order to give women a chance to participate in social nudity. For that to happen, naturism needs to undertake the most difficult task of changing social attitudes, but this has been done before. Slavery was brought to an end in this country and its empire (although sadly, it still exists) in the 19th century by a change in social attitude. In the 20th, society’s attitudes towards the LGBT community were changed because they engaged with society and not withdraw from it, although this is still a project on the go. So why shouldn’t the 21st century see a social change disconnecting a person’s naked body and the sex act. None at all I say, but then we go back to last month’s subject of the need for social engagement.
But there is something else that clubs could do, to help themselves and naturism as a whole. While it is true the Equalities Act 2010 prevents discrimination against either men or women, it does allow for positive discrimination in limited circumstances. Clubs could offer women only taster sessions to encourage either reluctant partner’s to try naturism for themselves without feeling as if they are in some kind of ‘market’, or for the simply curious to satisfy it and to see what social nudity is about. Even if the company they are keeping is the same gender, it is at least a start and membership may increase as a result.
So why am I skating on thin ice? Well, when I look down I see a penis and as much as I try to empathise with women, it is unlikely that I will truly understand them (or women, men if the truth be told) so everything I’ve written above from the female point of view could be way off target. If it is then I apologise. But the ice is even thinner when I look round the table at our management meetings that we hold twice a year. It’s all men and while we have invited female guests to these meetings (Sam Hawcroft and Judith Stinchcombe for instance) it is no substitute for women in the group giving us the benefit of their wisdom. So, dear female reader, what do we have to do to persuade you to give us some of your time? Either comment below or send an email direct to me.