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Royal, ancient … but finally engendering some equality

AS Scotland saunters towards a fateful decision on its future there are certain things the nation lacks.

A clear policy on a post-independence currency, for one, or a settled view of how much in the way of black gold lies under the sea. Lower down the list, but important to those in the market for omens, is much in the way of signs and wonders.

You know the type of thing: If ravens leave the Tower of London the kingdom will fall; skies raining fish; earthquakes - all that portentous, end-of-days jazz. Currently, the best Scotland could offer by way of a sign that something weird was happening would be a Glaswegian visiting an Edinburgh friend and being offered tea without resort to threats of violence. Or the Edinburgh friend going the other way and finding a Glasgow street free of litter.

The entire nation, then, should be grateful to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews for supplying a clear signal that the times they are indeed a changin', and irrevocably so.

This week it was announced the 260-year-old institution is to hold a vote on whether women should be admitted to the club. As it happens, the ballot will take place on September 18, the same day as the independence poll. Honestly, you wait ages for a historic vote to come along …

And it is momentous. Though the R&A's membership policy had been an issue for some time, the balloon well and truly went up last year. UK government ministers spoke out against it. The First Minister, a man who likes his golf as much as he used to adore his grub, boycotted the Open, organised by the R&A, to show where he stood. Commentators planted flags on the moral high ground and demanded a change in ways. More importantly, sponsors began to grow restive. It is never good business practice to alienate half the customer base, and bans on women were simply not good PR.

According to reports yesterday, Muirfield, where last year's Open was held, might be about to follow the R&A's example. The ravens are not quite leaving the tower, but reformist hearts are a flutter.

The signs and wonders do not stop there. Three years ago, the UK government urged more FTSE 100 companies to invite women on to their boards and set a target of 25%. Progress has been slow but steady, with numbers climbing from 12.5% to 20.7% this year. With a concerted push, reckons Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, the target can be met in 2015.

While more FTSE 100 companies are welcoming women into the boardroom, the magazine Girl Talk has taken the current R&A route and banned one from its pages. Miley Cyrus is the name, and being outrageously raunchy is her game. Ms Cyrus, a former child star, used to have an image that was as pure as Snow White. But as Mae West said, she has drifted.

In common with many another female artist, the ex-Hannah Montana actress has come to the conclusion the best way to sell records is to take her kit off and stick out her tongue, and her backside, at the fuddy daddies and mummies who say she is setting a poor example.

Though Cyrus has succeeded in generating lots of press for herself, Girl Talk, aimed at seven to 12-year-olds, has decided she will not be gracing their pages. "Our readers like pop stars," said Bea Appleby, the editor, "but we need to make sure we balance it out and feature people who aren't dancing around in a sexy way wearing nearly nothing."

Those people will include Jessica Ennis-Hill, the Olympic gold medal winner, and Taylor Swift, the singer-songwriter who at 24 is just three years older than Cyrus but light years ahead when it comes to fashioning her image.

Taken together, a golf club vote, a few more female directors, and a shift in editorial policy at a magazine for girls may not amount to much in the hill-of-beans stakes. That it has taken the R&A this long to mosey into the 21st century remains a ridiculous state of affairs. As for Mr Cable congratulating himself on the Coalition's efforts in boosting women's representation in the boardroom closer to the 25% target, one might well ask why the bar is not being set at 50% to reflect the proportion of women in society. And while Girl Talk deserves a hug for taking a stand on twerking female celebrities such as Cyrus, the publishing world, and women's magazines in particular, are still guilty of punting negative images of women. Some of the too-thin models look as though they would not have the energy to run a bath never mind 200 metres, Ennis-Hill-style. And of course all these matters, important as they are, are strictly first-world problems compared to the struggles of women in the developing world.

For all that, we should give credit where it is due. Whatever gains are being made, day by day, week by week, are not arriving courtesy of fairies at the bottom of the garden. Progress starts with someone, somewhere, deciding that up with this they will not put, and speaking out in the hope that others will agree. In a UK that remains cool towards quotas and reluctant to fully enforce some of the equality legislation on the statute books - equal pay across the board, anyone? - that is as radical as it gets for now.

Lots of baby steps, then, but at least they are heading in the right direction. It is telling, though, that the women now in positions of power are those who grew up with the idea that feminism, to borrow a phrase from another time and another issue, was a process, not an event. One wonders if the generation coming up now - the Girl Talk readers, the teenage pupils, the university students, those lucky enough to be in their first job - appreciate how difficult it was to reach this point, and how tough it will be for them as they take the fight further. When the women directors story ran on television, for example, a crew went to a secondary school to ask some female pupils for their opinions. One young woman did not seem to see the advance as something which affected her life much. She believed that if she simply worked hard enough, others would naturally see her potential and reward her accordingly. Oh to be young and innocent again.

While young women today live and work in a more equal society, they have so many odds stacked against them - whether they be economic odds (more competition for fewer jobs), sexual (the poisonous effects of internet porn) or social. Their fighting will be done on different fronts, but they will need allies just the same, however unlikely those associates may at first appear. All of which is an all-round-the-golf-course way of saying to the R&A, welcome to the sisterhood, brothers.

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