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Is It Wrong to Go to a Guys-Only Night?

My wife and I recently moved to a new area. Within weeks, we were invited to an array of social gatherings. One invitation was for me only. Married guys gather at someone’s house to play a parlor game, drink beer and talk. The gathering is framed as a social club that is explicitly for men only, with the aim of creating a space away from family life to relax and speak freely. My wife resents being excluded on the basis of her gender. We’re the only ones who don’t have kids, and therefore have no child-care responsibilities, so we don’t see any obvious reason she couldn’t join. She’s actually much more at home bantering over a 1xbet özel çekilişler beer and a cigar than I am. She says she appreciates the social outlet for me (she also appreciates our spending time with the gents and their families at other times), but no one has yet created a reciprocal space for the wives to gather without their husbands and children. How should we feel about gender-exclusionary spaces in 2024? — Name Withheld

From the Ethicist:

If we were talking about the men’s club in “The Stepford Wives” — OK, that would be a hard no. But the social significance of gender is such that single-gender gatherings can sometimes offer something that their members legitimately value. I learned this when, as an undergraduate studying medicine, I joined a group of feminist medical students. (In the United Kingdom, where I attended university, medical training typically begins with a baccalaureate degree.) After a few meetings, I realized that my presence, as the only male, was inhibiting some of the conversations, and I stopped going. They were kind enough not to expel me first.

In the situation you’re describing, the spouses are all women. But I suspect that, regardless of gender, lots of people sometimes enjoy socializing away from spouses and children. They’re a particular sort of person around their family, and they think it’s nice not to be that person from time to time. It’s even possible that some of the wives in your neighborhood wouldn’t want their disporting husbands to be joined by another woman. Possibly, too, some are glad to have a break from their husbands.

Although I’m personally not a huge fan of all-male socialization, I know that there are lots of women who like spending some of their time in all-female groups, and that there are lots of men who like spending some of their time in all-male groups. (New fathers, for instance, sometimes want to talk candidly about issues that arise from their experiences.) And of course, there can be same-sex gatherings that are, say, specifically for gay people. As a rule, these groups aren’t hostile to the uninvited; they just want some hangout time without them.

To acknowledge the obvious, some identity-based groups don’t pass the smell test. The way we think about professional and social groups such as the Asian American Journalists Association or, for that matter, the Black Girl Social Club is very different from the way we would think about the nefarious White Club that Suzan-Lori Parks posits in a recent play. The difference has to do with how they relate to larger issues of power and prejudice. The Black women’s clubs that emerged in the late 19th century meant to combat exclusion; the later White Citizens’ Councils aimed to preserve it.

But that’s a lot of baggage to lay on this guys-only night out, or in. A same-gender social group doesn’t have to be morally troubling, and it’s clear that you hang out in other configurations too. This doesn’t mean your wife’s objections can be brushed aside. Perhaps someone should create that reciprocal social space for the wives, letting the men hold down the family fort; your wife, in fact, might see if there’s interest. You might also discuss your wife’s feelings with the group. Raise the idea that she be allowed to enjoy the games, beer and cigars. For that matter, how would they feel about a one-spouse rule, as opposed to a husbands-only rule, possibly with alternating spouses?

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