I read the undercover report of the Presidents Club Gala when I was travelling home from work on Wednesday. In case you haven’t heard, it was about a male-only charity event, where their specially selected hostesses for the evening report being groped and propositioned as well as encouraged to get drunk on the job. By the time I arrived home, I was ready to do a bit of sick in my mouth. I wished I could have un-read everything I’d just read because it left me feeling dirty, queasy and extremely sad.
Because I’d initially seen it shared by the promotors of the No More Page 3 Campaign on Facebook, I actually thought it would remain low profile news. I guess, because it seems totally unsurprising that this sort of thing would be allowed to go on. I assumed it would be one of those shocking underground news stories that no-one ever gets to hear about because it doesn’t come from mainstream media, but when you read it think: People have got to be told about this! Someone’s got to do something!
So on the one hand, I was thrilled when it then exploded on social media and was given headline status on BBC news. Thank the lord! That’s one less story to offer up to the town crier in order to get the word out.
But of course, with mainstream media comes mainstream misogyny, and in this case, it came from every Tom, Dick and Harry tearing the women involved to shreds from behind the comfort and safety of a laptop screen. “Why didn’t the women object?” they said. “They knew what they were signing up for!” they said. “Feminism has ruined EVERYTHING!” they said…or, they probably said.
It's interesting when you look at the reactions from the men on the guest list, and members of the public voicing their opinions online. In contrast to the knee-jerk response of utter disgust experienced by most decent people, the other comments seem to fall into one of three categories.
Firstly, there are the disparagers. These are the ones who are claiming the women are overreacting and that feminism has ruined everything, and they're right… in a way. Feminism has gone and ruined everything; everything that condones sexual harassment and promotes the objectification of women that is. I can see why that would be annoying for some people.
But given that the majority of people have all moved on somewhat since the 1950s, these disparaging, accusatory comments towards the women involved have absolutely no value. They come from an angry place in angry people because the status quo has not only been challenged, it's been publicly shamed, and it means that some people won't be able to continue as they were. These guys simply don't like change. The status quo had been working out quite nicely for them and now here we are telling them that groping women is NOT COOL anymore. That’s not an easy pill to swallow.
Then there are the people with the distraction technique. They say things like, "Oh but there are women-only events too, where men are groped and sexually harassed. Let’s talk about THAT shall we?"
Yes, let’s talk about that as a completely separate case because that too, sounds very serious. Gather your evidence, bring it to the table and we'll gladly discuss. In the meantime, let’s talk about THIS shall we? Seeing as it’s happening right now.
Since when did, “Yeah but they were doing it too!” get anyone out of trouble? What they’re trying to do here is distract us with something shiny in the hope that we forget all about those manhandled vaginas we were just talking about. Let’s all agree not to fall for that one shall we?
The other category includes the ones feigning complete ignorance, and this seems to be every single guest at the party. What exactly were they all looking at if it wasn't the room full of pretty women, or their high-profile comrades? It doesn't say much about the acumen of our top politicians, businessmen and financiers if they didn't notice any of the apparent orgy that was going on right under their noses....Perhaps someone was pointing at something shiny?
Regardless of whether they actually noticed what was going on not (the jury’s still out on that one), the very fact that they accepted an invitation to a 'men-only' gala that came with a caveat about groping, one where the compare opened with the announcement "Welcome to the most un-PC event of the year" and one where they were given the chance to win plastic surgery to spice up their wife (yuk), should be enough to make them hang their heads in shame.
Seeing as we're in the climate of dishing out accusatory remarks: Why didn't any of these men object? Why didn't they report it to the police? Why didn't anybody stand up and go, "Sod this for a laugh, I'm going home for a cup of tea and a nice cuddle with my wife”?
(I might also point out that there's usually no need for people to resign from their jobs, disband a club or shut down a charity after a perfectly innocent event, so y'know, there's that too... )
Whatever the tactics people are using to absolve themselves or others of blame, when you string them up like this, they start to look so very paper-thin. I don’t know what, if anything, will come out of the report but I will enjoy the thought of every guilty person there quaking over who’s next to be named and shamed. The group that entered The Dorchester as The Presidents Club last Thursday evening, are starting to look more and more like the Society for Sad Little Men. And if they’re looking for a re-brand after their recent demise, I’ll give them that one for free.