It was revealed yesterday that for the last 33 years, there has been a charity dinner hosted at the Dorchester Hotel that does not permit women to attend. A move so sexist I almost laughed.
The President’s Club Charity which this year was raising money for the Great Ormond Street Hospital, extended an invitation to 360 figures from British business, politics and finance. Providing they’re a man, of course.
The entertainment at this event included the company of 130 specifically hired ‘hostesses’ who, according to the Financial Times, had been instructed to wear ‘skimpy black outfits, with matching underwear and high heels.” Many of these women, a lot of them students, have since come forward to say that they were groped, sexually harassed and propositioned whilst working.
Someone on Twitter reacted to this with a comment suggesting that these women knew what they were getting into by applying for a role like this and in doing so exampled a classic case of victim blaming and takes us nicely to the root of the problem.
The overwhelming ignorance surrounding a very prevalent issue in the UK’s capital; sexism in it’s simplest form.
Because whilst it may come as a shock to some that this dinner not only happened, but has been happening for the last 33 years, let’s not forget that for the last 300 years, events like this have been going on every night in London, unchecked, not even spared a thought.
I’m talking of course, about Gentlemen’s Clubs,
All over London they exist and they thrive. As the world goes mad for period dramas on Netflix, we watch in bemusement as Hugh Bonneville, or someone perceived to be equally pompous, gets in their expensive car to a smokey, dimly lit room in the centre of London, sucking on cigars and setting the world to rights over a whisky with women offered to them on a plate, completely unaware that this is still practised behaviour.
I am still unable to enter rooms in the city I call home on account of my gender, unless I’m willing to work in them, and even then there’s every chance I won’t meet the criteria. Rooms far more important and impressive than the men’s loos at my local burger joint at any rate.
Unbelievably there are clubs in London that don’t allow women as members, and if they do, there are strict rule for us to adhere to. At the Garrick, for example, women can go as guests but are unable to be members in their own right, with club rules dictating that once in, women don’t sit at the central dining table.
It has recently been announced that a Gentlemen’s Club is opening in Munich that doesn’t allow the women to speak unless they are spoken to.
The Countenance Club’s membership costs up to €1 million and is rumoured to only accept women to work in the club if they are taller than 1.75m, under 35 and weigh less than 9 stone.
A promising business venture? Only time will tell…
And it’s not just the prestigious clubs reserved for men of the upper classes, a quick google will show you venue upon venue offering lap dances to any men willing to pay for them. Although women are not denied entry in such a conclusive way, I suspect they are not welcome additions.
All over the world there is entertainment being arranged, specifically for men. And although one could argue that there is plenty out there reserved for women; book clubs, bridge nights, WI conventions, we can’t ignore the fact that by excluding women from the spaces in which some of the UK’s most powerful men reside, we are enabling a society riddled with injustice.
Powerful men in every important industry in the UK are visiting these clubs, seemingly unaware of a problem.
There was an observation made by Baroness Hale, Britains’ most senior female judge, in 2011 that she regards it as ‘quite shocking that so many of my colleagues belong to the Garrick Club but they don’t see what all the fuss is about.” Judges, she said “should be committed to the principle of equality for all.”
She raises an interesting point, the fact that judges, of all people. can not only turn a blind eye but partake in this speaks volumes.
Theoretically it’s not the end of the world, until of course you are a woman in an industry affected. And there are lots of women in that position. A woman who misses out on a deal because she wasn’t there to have her say. A woman not considered for a role because she simply wasn’t present. A woman who cannot be taken seriously because the only women these men are exposed to at the time of thinking are ones that are paid to be there.
The humiliation that comes with being undervalued at such a basic level is catastrophic.
Clubs could no longer get away with turning away members on account of their race, ethnicity or sexuality. This would not be accepted, at least not so blatantly, so why, why are they still able to discriminate against people on account of their gender?
In the 2010 Equality Act, legislation settled on banning clubs from excluding people on the basis of colour, but let them keep rejecting women. This couldn’t be done without facing the parallel ban on women’s swimmings groups and the like.
The fact that a swimming group could genuinely be considered a parallel to one of these clubs would be laughable, if it wasn’t so distressing.
There is the obvious issue of sexual harassment; of women being exploited, of the seedy nature of these goings on, this idea that women can still be ‘bought’ by men that can afford it and this is something else that needs to be considered.
Although there is the argument put forward by that person on Twitter, that these women knew what they were getting themselves into, it’s just not as simple as that. To work as hostess, and then, as one women came forward to claim after working at the infamous dinner in the Dorchester, be flashed by a man, is not acceptable and not, I suspect what she thought she was getting herself in for. Let’s remember, that women rarely ask for that.
To only be permitted entry into one of these clubs if you are willing to wear matching underwear, speak once spoken to, and let’s face it, be incredible vulnerable to sexual harassment is not, I repeat not, equality.
To think, all of this goes on despite the fact we currently have a female Prime Minister. The most powerful person in Government excluded from afterwork drinks with a large chunk of her Cabinet because, well, she’s a woman. Lady Margaret Thatcher was the only female member of the Carlton after being given an honour membership in 1975. A nice gesture I suppose.
Anthony Lejeune said of these clubs in his 1979 book The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London that they are “a place where a man goes to be among his own kind.”
This is surely not the way we think anymore? And if it is, I don’t know what’s wrong with an hour spent in a steam room.
This whole issue reeks of injustice and goes far beyond one badly judged dinner. In light of this scandal, the President’s Club Charity has now closed but this issue is more than just one dinner getting ‘out of hand’. Two weeks ago The Windmill Theatre, a club that ‘introduced nude women to London audiences in the 1930s’ lost it’s license when it was found to have broken the ‘no touching rule’.
A rule which, by the way, should never need to be laid down.
That happened under the radar. No big song and dance. Illegal in the wider world, frowned upon in these clubs, and we hardly know a thing about them.
As long as the men at the top are still able to have this warped and discriminatory way of thinking, equality is something we can only dream of. This belief that they need their own space to do what boys do. This idea that you can respect your female colleagues, adore your wife and want the best and brightest future for your daughters, all the while part of an establishment that promotes both exploitation and inequality is a not only not realistic, but frightening beyond belief.
This isn’t a roll your eyes and ask ‘what are they like?!’ situation, this is a fundamental injustice and a cripplingly damaging way of existing.
We cannot continue to openly discriminate, to turn a blind eye.
Either these clubs need to close their doors for good. or open them, to everyone.