To Make a Difference, Stay Don’t Go

I love a good resignation. The drama! The flounce! The sense of moral superiority! Better then a day at the races to watch, and to be the one resigning! I feel giddy just thinking about it.

So my attention was snagged when the high-profile resignations of the chief executive of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Trevor Green and one of the nation’s most senior diplomats Ian Wilcock resigned from the Athenaeum club in Melbourne earlier this year. The Athenaeum is one of a number of exclusive associations that invites membership from prominent professionals and community leaders of intelligence and good character, as long as they are men.

The club’s ongoing refusal to consider membership applications from women was unacceptable to both Green and Wilcock. “I cannot fully express how disappointed I am with the outcome of the decision not to make the club available to female membership,” Green wrote when he hung up his towel. Said Wilcock: “I do not wish to spend any more time pretending to respect the sensitivities of…men who…want to retreat to some kind of boys’ treehouse where they might be untroubled by half the human race.”

Let me state one thing very clearly: I see Green and Wilcock as highly ethical men. Their willingness to stick their head above the parapet for the opposite sex, bucking the Athenaeum’s 140-year tradition and the at-times underhanded tactics of the club’s anti-women leadership, is more than worthy of praise.

But even more praise-worthy are the men who are so desperate to, as Wilcock put it “coax the club in to the 1970s” that they haven’t resigned. Instead, they’ve stayed on to re-group and continue the fight.

I feel sure that, having fought so hard for the club to open their doors to women, upstanding men like Former Victorian Liberal Party state director John Ridley, Graeme Samuel, Eddie McGuire, Terry Moran, Jack Smorgon, former Hawthorn president Ian Dicker and former federal health minister Michael Wooldridge would have been bitterly disappointed when the vote was lost. But despite being told in unequivocal terms to pull their heads in, these men have battled on.

A resignation, even a high-profile one, is a splash in the pan. A day at most of media sizzle-a piece in the back pages of the \ newspaper and then, gone. Not enough exposure of the issue to get the public so hopping mad they start barracking for change and when all the fizz and sparkle dies away, the same old organization is still standing, but now minus one of the brave and principled members who could have forced a change.

This is the problem with leaving-you are gone. However, noble the intentions, resignations designed to draw attention to an injustice can, numbers being what they are, perpetuate it.

This is essentially what has happened to Australia’s Christian communities. Progressive Christians, unable to cope with the turning away of the Church from achieving social and environmental justice and world peace, have deserted in droves. The consequence? A volcanic expansion of the influence of those who remain and, as a consequence, a Church even more focused on personal moral issues like abortion.

Sometimes there is no choice. Sometimes the rot in Denmark is so deep and pervasive that the only solution is to flee the state. But sometimes, no matter how satisfying a good resignation can be, a real difference can only be made if you stay, not go.

Publication history

To Make a Difference, Stay Don't Go  Sunday Sun-Herald