24/02/2015 12:35 GMT | Updated 26/04/2015 06:59 BST

A Women's Club for the 21st Century: About Time

This week, I opened the doors to the new Trouble Club in Kingly Court, London. It's a full-time club for women. I'd like to say we have a swimming pool, library and a porter at the front door but we don't. It is a modest space driven by one big idea: to see what happens when you put women in charge of the conversation.


I've run a couple of pilot versions of this club, and have some initial findings. The first is that when asked to talk at women's club our speakers - from politics, fashion, philosophy and music - will often offer a title for a talk that begins with "Women in..." And I usually say: "No." And then "I just want you to talk about what you are an expert in." The reasoning is this: if we, as women, keep identifying as a minority in conversations, we become stuck in that place. So unless there's a good reason, let's forget about the 'women in...' and just do it.

The next thing is that some new members arrive apprehensive that women in a room - speakers and audience - will talk endlessly about being women. Quite the opposite. Tip the balance in favour of women, and you barely touch on gender issues.

The most striking example of this was a current affairs night I held. Called Answer Time - our answer to the BBC's Question Time - we had Mary Beard, Natalie Bennett and Therese Coffey on the panel. One new member told me afterwards she had expected the evening to be full of questions about women's place in this and that. Instead, we covered the mission to Mars, the NHS and banking that night, over a few bottles of wine. She said she'd found herself becoming quite emotional during the Q&A because it was so unusual to hear women talking like this. "It was liberating," she said.


The women's rights movement over the last 150 years has won huge victories in voting, in education (a hundred years ago male students burnt an effigy of a woman student in Cambridge), in equal pay and legal status, and continues to push forward into issues of identity, of childcare, of sexual violence - all of which is part of our talks programme.

But at the same time we need to claim our victories. They were for equality after all. Men on boards or panels or programmes don't think they represent men: women can now stop seeing themselves as representing a category, speaking for their sex. We've won an equal right to speak for ourselves as individuals. We should, and in doing so, show off that we're just as interesting, and interested in politics, tech, ideas, whatever. So the Trouble Club is a paradox.

Though it is a club for women (men are welcome to become members too), it is a place to shed the cultural weight that comes with being a woman. When you walk through the door, it is into a room of people rather more talking about what you are doing at work or what you think about the election than what bit of the Daily Mail's sidebar-of-shame has baited you today. And when you walk out, it should be feeling more confident in speaking up in the real world.

When we've done all that, we might relax and think about building that swimming pool.

The Trouble Club, London