As a real-life Jezebels club is exposed and shut down, surely post-#MeToo, these all-male, sleaze-fests will only be pushed further underground
It's heartening to know that in 2018 the public are able to send out a clear message that just because a group of men are rich and powerful and operating in the name of 'charity', they are not licensed to sexually harass women. Sadly, this will not be the end of the matter.
The antics of the President's Club - which appears to have been set up for the chief purpose of enabling the richest and most powerful men in the country to sample the delights of good food, expensive wine and pretty women of an evening, in exchange for a charitable donation - have been busted wide open.
This is thanks to two intrepid female reporters from the Financial Times who went undercover seeking employment as 'hostesses' at the President's Club's latest sordid event held at the Dorchester Hotel in London last week. The women reported back a truly shocking account of how they were treated on the evening which, as is tradition, was attended only by men with the hostesses acting as the female 'entertainment'.
It went off to a bad start when the undercover reporters were instructed to attend the event wearing black underwear to go with the short black skirts provided for them. They and their fellow hostesses were then subjected to an evening of being pawed over and groped, with the explicit agreement that they would accompany the men back to their hotel rooms if asked.
Alarm bells will surely be ringing for anyone who has read, or watched, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. The parallels between the President's Club and the fictional Jezebels club in the novel are astounding. Jezebels, as penned by the ever prophetic Ms Atwood, is a secret brothel or sex club frequented by the Commanders (the most powerful men in Gilead) and employs so-called 'rebellious' women as prostitutes. The Jezebels club is not officially approved by the government, as it clearly violates every law and value upheld by Gilead, but it is unofficially sanctioned as Gilead accepts that men have 'needs'.
Events happened very quickly when it came to the real-life President's Club, after it emerged just yesterday (Wednesday) that not only had these events been going on for years amongst the richest men in the country but they were being attended by the likes of MP Nadhim Zahawi, the new children and families minister, (and for my local readers – Stratford-Upon-Avon MP) and hosted by comedian, and now children's author, David Walliams.
The rate the excuses came in was quite astounding. Zahawi said he was barely there. Left early, didn't see what was going on, and swore to never attend again. His ignorance of what goes on at these events does not quite sit with the fact he has attended them before. Walliams similarly worked on the basis of denial. He left at 11.30pm. He had no idea what had been going on there and was disgusted. Hmm.
Great Ormond Street children's hospital, the chosen charity for this event, has also displayed shock at what was going on and has sent back all donations. I am amongst those who would have encouraged them to keep them. It feels in returning them, all those women essentially suffered for nothing.
We have certainly come a long way when it comes to how people realise they have to be seen to be reacting when it comes to women's rights in 2018. The fact that it took less than 24 hours from the story breaking to the President's Club disbanding, shows the new rapidity to which powerful organisations are prepared to react to public feeling on these matters. I don't think this is being done out of genuine shame or remorse but the fact the Club is no more suggests a real sea change.
But it would be naive to think that is the end of the matter – that we can go back to our lives thinking that is the end of the female petting zoo. This kind of sleaze-ball, misogynistic behaviour has been operating in plain sight for as long as business has been running – i.e. since the dawn of bartering. Women are seen by these rich powerful men as tantalising fodder to be exchanged as nonchalantly as credit card numbers.
Neither will this behaviour end. As we saw in Margaret Atwood’s novel, you can outlaw all scandalous, sexual behaviour on the outside but that just results in it being pushed even further underground. Post-#MeToo we are walking a difficult tightrope. Just as the governors of Gilead recognise in The Handmaid's tale - men will always have their urges.
So what is the solution – aside from castration? Engendering respect and compassion for fellow human beings into the hearts and minds of these powerful, hyper-macho men, so they see the error of their ways? It feels like a pipe dream.