Why now? Uproar over Caboto Club's men-only policy a sign of the times

A women's studies professor from the University of Windsor discusses how the uproar surrounding the Caboto Club's men-only members policy has been gaining traction because women are feeling more comfortable to speak out.

University of Windsor gender studies prof says women are much more willing to speak out

(Melissa Nakhavoly/CBC)

The uproar over a century-old men-only board member policy at a Windsor Italian club is a sign of the times, according to a University of Windsor gender studies instructor.

"We seem to be, for a variety of reasons, in a time when many women are much more willing to speak out about the attitudes and behaviour that leave them thinking they are not quite equal," said associate professor Anne Forrest.

Anne Forrest, associate professor of Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Windsor. (CBC Windsor)

Premier Kathleen Wynne ignited the debate over the club's policy earlier this month, when she announced she would change the venue of her town hall based on the Caboto club's policy. The event was moved to the St. Clair College Centre for the Arts.

Forrest credits the premier with bringing attention back to the issue.

"Personally, I'm excited about having a feminist premier who's not afraid to take a stand," she said.

Wynne's cancellation sparked local leaders, as well as some students to speak up.

Coun. Bill Marra said he would rescind his club membership unless the club changed its policy. Unifor's Dino Chiodo, who is set to receive the Italian of the Year award at Caboto, along with Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Matt Marchand, have reached out to the club and asked for change.

And, students in the University of Windsor women's studies program are boycotting the establishment. 

Another university group — the Social Work Student Association — cancelled an upcoming gala at the Caboto due to the club's policy, moving the event to the Serbian Centre instead. 

It's not the first time concern has been raised about the Caboto. Forrest said her department challenged the men-only policy in 2014. She said they had some press coverage but there was "little appetite (from the media) to persevere on the issue."

"I think we're in a special moment when we've now got this back on the table in conjunction with other things that women are upset about," she said.   

The club's board of directors met Thursday night to discuss their member policy and issued a brief statement to CBC.

(Caboto Club Board of Directors)

Forrest noted that there's been a lot of "male-to-male" talk about changing the club's policy, pointing to Chiodo and Marchand.

"I'd like to think that women can change things that are important all by themselves, but often that's not the case," she said. "Having other movers and shakers who are men I'm sure makes an impression."

"It's important to have allies that are willing to make a stand."