The Presidents Club Charity Dinner – blurred lines?

Words by: Robyn van Jaarsveldt, Downtown in Business

The Presidents Club Charity Dinner has become the latest hot story to join the long list of shocking events exposing exactly how ‘men behave badly’. In the usual fashion, everyone is shocked, no one witnessed inappropriate behaviour and well, she should have known better.

There are some specific facts that need to be cleared before conclusions and judgements are drawn about the Presidents Club Charity Dinner. The hostesses were paid £150 plus £25 for their cab (while for some this amount might not seem worth the effort, for others it is a means to an end). The hostesses were provided with a uniform upon arrival at the venue for them to wear throughout the evening, and they had to sign a non-disclosure agreement preventing the hostesses from speaking about the evening’s activities outside of the event.

Organisers and contributors all seem surprised by the behaviour of the guests given the ‘high calibre’ of businessmen attending the event. What is particularly interesting is how the Presidents Club Charity Dinner was presented to the all-male guests; a secretive women free fundraiser, announced to be the “most un-PC event of the year” by host Johnny Gould, with burlesque dancers, and a night in a Soho’s Windmill strip club as one of the auctioned prizes. It seems only obvious that these subliminal suggestions caused guests to blur the lines between hostess, escort, and prostitute.

As a woman who once worked in this industry, being told to wear black underwear and “sexy shoes” is not unusual. Often the poor quality of the uniforms require black underwear. I never thought that this was me agreeing to object myself to harassment at any of my jobs. One can only assume that the hostesses on that evening felt the same. Being told that the guests would be “annoying”, well, that’s actually just a given when around inebriated people in this line of work. Agreeing to deal with annoying guests does not sound like consent to be hugged, have your hand held, legs touched and random arms wrapped around your body. I wonder how this conversation is still happening in 2018. Why is someone affectionally touching a complete stranger they have never met before, uninvited, and without consent?

An acquaintance once suggested to me that Harvey Weinstein’s sexual desires made him a victim to career-driven women, who exploited his vulnerability to get famous. The culture of victim blaming is nothing short of strange; “what was the victim wearing”, “why were they walking alone”, “they were drunk”, “what did they do to deserve it”, “is victim the correct term”. I wonder if society turns on victims because it is incomprehensible that a member of our community would do something despicable to another without being prompted. It does happen, we are not short of examples; Donald Trump, Larry Nassar, Brock Turner, to name some high-profile cases. More so the long-term effects of victimhood are quickly forgotten. Some are not shy of threatening a victim’s career or safety in exchange for silence. Losing all to expose a predator is a privilege not many have.

I am not suggesting we move into a vanilla world deprived of sexuality and fun nights out but it’s exhausting that this narrative seems to never change. When the Weinstein’s of the world are exposed, do other offenders fear that they will be the next to go, or is it business as usual? This is why the Presidents Club Charity Dinner has caught the spotlight; if business leaders behave like this, I question the example being set for employees, colleagues, associates, and their children. The Presidents Club Charity Dinner makes me wonder if gender equality really is what we all strive to achieve, or if some just pretend to get feminists off their horny backs.

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