In late January of this year, the Financial Times revealed a spate of sexual harassment allegations against notable men during a charity event organised by the so-called 'Presidents Club'.
The men-only event took place at a high-end London restaurant, The Dorchester, and has been an annual social event for the Y-chromosome possessing elites for over 30 years. There, the women's role was that of 'hostess'. Not waitress. Not guest. But hostess. Basically, an item to stand there to be goggled at and suffer the wits of the groping, ageing elites, in the hope that a slight show of cleavage will spur their conscience into action and have them divert enough blood back to their hands to write out a cheque. Around 30 women have come forward with accusations including lewd comments, groping, exposure and inquiries as to whether they were prostitutes. Since then the board of directors has resigned and the eye of the MeToo movement has fixed on the British establishment.
Why not have some good come from this mess?
No one is (publicly) defending the un-gentlemanly behaviour of these loathsome, sad and pathetic men, nor the deeds of their wandering hands. But, here is my issue. The money raised at this event varies, depending on the source, from around £280,000 to £400,000. This much needed money fills coffers of charities such as Great Ormond Street Hospital. They have since returned the money donated after the scandal broke. This, I believe, is a mistake. As someone with personal experience with this great institution, I know they incredible work they do on a daily basis. This money would have helped significantly. So why reject it? Why not have some good come from this mess?
Their world of privilege has for too long protected them from criticism
This event highlights several key elements of modern culture. Firstly, women no-longer feel the pressure to remain silent about their treatment at the hands of gropers and harassers. This is of course a great thing. Secondly, the economic and political elites (of both parties) who make up these gropers are incredibly out of touch with modern society. Their world of privilege has for too long protected them from criticism. No more. The last point however, is not a positive one. The affair, along with reaction to people like Matt Damon and Al Franken, show that perspective and nuance is being lost in the age of 280 characters. In this binary climate, the losers are mainly celebrities, both male and female, who point this out. The current cultural movement from and for women's workplace rights is of course a positive step forward for our society. Twitter has allowed these stories to be told and spread, but it also is a place that more than any other where nuance and debate dies.
The Presidents Club was exposed for its recent scandal where young women were exploited by wealthy and powerful men. Allegedly senior businessmen who attended the all-male charity event were caught groping and propositioning the female hostesses, hostesses who were explicitly told to wear black underwear and heels. There are even reports that the men participated in an auction for lap dances and plastic surgery for their wives.
The Presidents Club charitable trust has been running events and fundraising for 33 years and has raised millions of pounds to help disadvantaged and underprivileged children. However, following the recent scandal, charities such as the children’s hospital Evelina London aims to disband and decline or return the funding from the Presidents Club.
The charities, in an attempt to separate themselves from the negative press surrounding the sexual harassment and assault scandal, are being criticised for rejecting the donations of a claimed raised amount of £20 million. Money that could help to treat children, or to improve the hospital units, and much more. Surely the money is at better use where it can do some good rather than returning it.
Surely the money is at better use where it can do some good rather than returning it
Other issues with the return of the money are the legal complications. Charities have to provide extensive evidence that rejecting the money is the right thing for the charity and giving money back after acceptance is even more complicated. Personally, I believe that the money they have been given can do more good than harm. Whilst the sexual harassment by these men cannot be undone no matter how horrific and entirely unacceptable I deem it, children’s lives can be saved with this money.
Many people believe these issues have occurred due to men-only business clubs or events, especially who hire female only hostesses. This is out-dated and perpetuates a sexist culture rather than a safe space to discuss sensitive issues without fear of judgement, as originally intended. There are beliefs, at this level, that there are not enough equally high-powered women which sheds a light on the pre-existing sexism and gender imbalance within our society.
Why are these types of events deemed acceptable?
The Presidents Club is an extreme example of how the system can go wrong. Women at this event objectified for the purpose of entertainment is justification enough to ban all meetings of this type; or in turn banning all female-only meetings. Why are having these types of events which encouraging sexist behaviours by excluding women and using female hostesses’ sexuality, and alcohol consumption, in an attempt to receive higher donations, acceptable?
Does the blame fall on the organisers for encouraging such behaviour, or the business men for acting on this behaviour? I do not believe it is fair or just to place blame on the women who were sexually harassed for working the event. Many of these women use the event to get more work for the rest of the year; or for wearing the lingerie and high heels, they were simply following their boss’s orders, without which they would have not been allowed to work.