Voices raised over 'sexist' quiet room

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 January, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 January, 1995, 12:00am

A BASTION of male privilege, the Quiet Room at the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, is provoking a noisy protest.

The wood-panelled preserve in the Happy Valley clubhouse is for 'Gentlemen Over Age 18 Years Only' who may sit in leather armchairs beside ornate lamps and read racing, shooting and hunting journals from a well-stocked bookcase.

Despite threats of disciplinary proceedings against any woman who dares cross the threshold into the room's rarefied atmosphere, male members such as Stephen Yam Chi-ming are demanding that it be made unisex.

When the South China Morning Post visited the Quiet Room yesterday, businessman Keith Chin, who was immersed in a newspaper, described the men-only policy as unfair.

'It should be open to ladies, too - as long as they keep quiet,' he said.

But the club's all-male, 21-member voting panel - which includes legislators Ronald Arculli and Samuel Wong Ping-wai, Kowloon Motor Bus boss John Chan Cho-chak and barrister Arjan Sakhrani QC - has rejected the calls.

Mr Yam, a barrister and central-committee member of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, accused the club of sexism and of discriminating against women by keeping them out of the luxurious Quiet Room.

'I went there with a female friend and after just a few minutes some attendants came over and asked her to leave,' Mr Yam said.

'I tried to argue, but they said she could not stay. It was very offensive and my friend, a Canadian-Chinese, was angry and humiliated.' Clubhouse manager Kurt Schwartz said: 'The club does understand that some ladies would like to use the Quiet Room. The pros and cons of maintaining its male exclusivity have been considered most carefully.' He said the Quiet Room, with its hunting scenes and fireplace was 'built and furnished as a lounge specifically for gentlemen's relaxation'.

The stewards, all of whom are men, had decided to maintain the status quo.

'I would add that the stewards' principle in this context is not discriminatory in an arbitrary sense; they simply wish to look after the interests of the majority of the club's membership, which is predominantly male,' he said.

A senior lawyer said it was 'one of the few places you can go to get away from the constant chattering of women'.

Jockey Club chief executive Major-General Guy Watkins denied the policy was discriminatory, saying it was in line with the views of most members.