Details of an annual mens-only charity gala turned almost predictably disgraceful have emerged. Last Thursday night, The President’s Club charitable trust held their traditional fundraising event at London’s Dorchester Hotel. Some 360 men from across the spectrums of business, politics and finance gathered to the alleged rallying cry of a warm welcome “to the most un-PC event of the year” – an event supposedly held to raise money and awareness for children’s charities across the globe.
In a report published yesterday by the Financial Times, they announced that they'd sent a number of undercover reporters to the gala – posing simply as a few of the 130 female hostesses selected for the exclusive event. Madison Marriage, one of these journalists in attendance, has since gone virally public with her story.
Marriage told BBC Newsnight that she herself - alongside many more of the hostesses – experienced sexual harassment and inappropriate touching all throughout the evening: “I was groped several times and I know there are numerous other hostesses who said the same thing happened to them,” she said. She then described it as a “hands up skirts, hands on bums but also hands on hips, hands on stomachs, arms going round your waist unexpectedly” kind of situation. Unwanted romantic advanced were also common - “one of the strangest things was you could be talking to a man and he’d suddenly start holding your hand.”
The FT further stated that a number of hostesses reported the men ‘repeatedly’ harassing them; with claims coming to light that one unnamed ‘society figure’ had told a hostess that he wanted her to “down that glass [of champagne], rip off [her] knickers and dance on that table”, and another “had exposed his penis” an unspecified amount of times during the course of the evening. Exploring these allegations further, the Independent then went on to say that the evening included auctions, where free lap dances at a Soho club and vouchers for plastic surgery - that could be used to “add spice to your wife” - were open for bids.
All of the hostesses hired for the evening were gathered by the agency Artista – which the FT alleges required the women to be “tall, thin and pretty” (what else?), and told them to wear “black, sexy shoes”, matching black underwear and to do their hair and make-up suitably for a “smart, sexy place”. Why one should have to grade the sexiness of a pair of shoes or their hair-do to work for a supposed charity function, who knows?
In predictable fashion, the men in attendance - and some not even in attendance - have jumped to the event’s defence. The President’s Club charity itself has claimed to be ‘appalled by the allegations of bad behaviour’, which, for one, is appalling in itself with the way it refuses to label the ‘bad behaviour’ for what it is — sexual misconduct. They were also pretty quick to remind its audience of the millions of pounds it had raised for disadvantaged children.
Using its charitable work as an excuse and distraction from the claims seems to be a recurring theme here. WPP – the world’s biggest advertising agency, who sponsored a table on the night – have publically withdrawn their future support of any President’s Club charity events. WPP boss, Sir Martin Sorrell, called the outcome ‘regrettable' before essentially defending the President's Club in sight of the money that they raise for charity. Even Caroline Dandridge herself - Artista's founder - when approached by the FT, stood on the side of the men she had warned her employees about during interviews for the job: “This is a really important charity fundraising event that has been running for 33 years and raises huge amounts of money for disadvantaged and underprivileged children’s charities. I am not aware of any reports of sexual harassment and with the calibre of guest, I would be astonished.”
But weren’t we astonished when the claims against Weinstein came out? Or against any of the high 'calibre' public figures that have been accused of harassment and assault since? This event is one of many sure to be taking place globally, and with even POTUS going around ‘grabbing pussy’ and remaining untouchable due to the misplaced comradery of the men around him, is there any more room for us to truly even be surprised anymore?
Sexist culture is still very much alive and kicking in the world of business, yet no amount of money or power in this world excuses assault. The clock's finally running out for a man’s charitable and professional achievements to be celebrated more than his harassment of women is denounced. In other words, #TimesUp, fellas.