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The President’s Club, MeToo and a difficult conversation

Two things I believe to be true in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Firstly, that many men have been put in positions of power over women, which they have abused to varying degrees. Secondly, that this is at least partly a result of the way our society teaches men to behave. The former statement is accusatory: there are men who have done bad things. The second is explanatory: here is a reason why they do those things. The former sounds like a blanket condemnation, while the latter feels uncomfortably like an excuse. But if I believe both these things to be true, how do I go about having a conversation with men I love about sexual violence and consent?

This post will naturally discuss consent, sexual assault and other similar things. I’ve tried to avoid going into gruesome detail and simply linked out to full accounts/reporting where possible. 

I wrote this blog yesterday, just hours before the Financial Times published their exposé of the Presidents Club Charity Dinner – a ‘men only’ event where rich arseholes stroke their own egos by bidding on charity lots while aggressively groping young women who have been hired to host the event. Having had their phones confiscated and been uniformly dressed in tight, short black dresses, these women were then thrown to the lions. And by ‘lions’ I mean rich arsehole men. Many of the women were frightened, most were not told that it was in their job description to allow themselves to be pawed and stroked and groped. And this is just one example among many of women being treated as if what we want doesn’t matter. We are not there to take part in the world – to bid on charity lots or network or even maybe do our jobs. We are decoration. We are toys. We are tight black dresses and high heels and fear but we should suck it up because, well, what did we expect?

The answer, my friends, is ‘better.’ We expected better. If #MeToo means anything to me, it means that we expect better of the men in our lives.

These expectations are not being met, so now it’s time to demand.

Monsters and men

When I talk to men I love about Weinstein, they are universally horrified. How did this man – this monster – manage to get away with it for so long? They sympathise, and make the right noises, and listen as I regale them with similar tales: creepy men on night buses, or dudes pushing themselves on women on the tube, or friends of mine touching me up when I was passed out drunk at Uni. They tut and sigh and say how bad it is. In the wake of the FT investigation, many will make the same noises.

But when we talk about Aziz Ansari, and Grace’s story about the date she went on with him which involved coercion and stepping over boundaries, many of them are ready with a ‘but.’

“But… that’s not the same, is it?”

“It’s not ‘as bad.'”

What they often mean is: we’ve all done something like this, haven’t we? We’ve all misjudged a situation, or pushed too hard then regretted it? We’ve all been bad at ‘seduction’?

If I genuinely believe – as I said at the beginning – that men (and especially straight men) are given truly awful messages about sex and dating, then I need to also believe that many of these men genuinely don’t understand what the problem is here.

That’s a tricky thing for me to do. It hurts, because I cannot quite get my head around a view of the world which would read Grace’s account of her date and see absolutely nothing wrong (just as I would struggle to get my head round a view that called for Ansari’s head, but that’s by the by: no one’s trying to persuade me to outright despise him, but plenty of people are trying to persuade me to brush off his behaviour as if it doesn’t matter). Trying on this perspective is uncomfortable for me, and it’s not something I expect everyone to do. It’s the reason why this whole blog post is going to be framed as ‘I will’ rather than ‘you should.’ This conversation is a difficult one to have because it means telling our good friends and lovers (and often, too, ourselves) that they have behaved badly. It’s equally difficult because every step taken to try and understand why this is such a vast problem risks looking like it’s an ‘excuse.’ Because, let’s face it, I have met men like this. I have fucked men like this. I have coached men like this out of spectacularly bad ideas when they’ve been desperate to ‘woo’ a woman whose affections they thought they deserved. I’ve talked them out of anger and into flattery if I’m the one who has had to reject them.

Just as men have learned to navigate the world based on shitty narratives about ‘the thrill of the chase’, so I have learned to navigate the world based on shitty narratives about letting them down gently lest they get angry at the thought of rejection.

We are all thrown together in this world, and some of us are very frightened about what the others might do. So how exactly do we have this conversation? Well first I think we need to admit that there’s a problem, and that the problem is not going to be fixed by a quick and simple monster-hunt, or immediately declaring that some kinds of behaviour are off-limits and shouldn’t be talked about.

Carsie Blanton’s ‘The Problem With Panic’

Some people aren’t really keen on the direction the ‘#MeToo’ conversation is going – where we say ‘OK, look, Weinstein is a shit, but Weinstein-level shittiness is not the only problem here. We need to talk more broadly about the sexual scripts that we use, which harm people, and move towards a conception of sex and relationships that doesn’t rely on assumptions, power-abuse and a lack of consent.’

Understandably, when you say that, a lot of people raise their hands and point out that we shouldn’t go ‘too far’ with these things. That there’s a world of difference between rape and ‘bad dates.’ That the current climate means our outrage could easily be directed at the ‘wrong’ target, with overreactions meaning we will not only destroy the lives of individual men but we’ll also roll back all the progress we’ve made in terms of sexual liberation.

This is the broad (ish) thrust of an argument put forward by Carsie Blanton in a blog post that lots of people on my twitter feed have been sharing. In it she argues quite a few things, but at the heart she seems to be saying that while it’s good for us to talk about abuses of power, and Weinstein, we need to be very careful when extending that conversation to talk about people who have not committed outright crimes, and that the danger when expanding our discussion lies in erasing (or denying, or outlawing) some inevitable aspects of human experience.

She talks a lot about context and nuance, and I agree that both of these things are important. But I also think that in this conversation, highlighting the value of context and nuance is trivially true: I haven’t seen many people entirely ignoring the nuance of different examples in favour of simply piling all sexual predators into one bin marked ‘evil.’ In fact, one of the things I find exciting about the #MeToo movement is that it is allowing us to have a broad and nuanced conversation about all the different ways in which power is abused in sexual contexts.

In the past, we’ve been stuck with the ‘bad guy in an alley’ narrative of rapists, or the ‘monster’ narrative when a celebrity is found out to be an abuser. Now, though, we have identified that our gendered narratives impact our sexual advances in our everyday lives as well as in those incidents which are outright criminal. These things are not all receiving the same degree of outrage or being treated with the same degree of severity – anyone who argues that is, I think, mistaken. But if we’re going to tackle the root of the problem we need to accept that they come from the a similar place.

The Weinstein’s, the ‘bad dates’ who pressure you into sexual activity, the men who donate to charity because they’ll get to cop a feel of a woman who just thought she was there to serve drinks: these all spring from a place of male entitlement to sex, and a total lack of care (or understanding) about female consent. How do I know they come from the same place? Partly because there’s a pattern to the stories themselves, and there’s a pattern to the responses too.

Response 1: Let’s not be anti-sex!

One of the criticisms I have heard a lot in the wake of #MeToo revelations is that we risk throwing the ‘sexual liberation’ baby out with the bathwater. Carsie Blanton argues that by holding people to account for low-level shitty, coercive behaviour we’re potentially ushering in a new wave of ‘sexual moralism’. She points out that sexual moralism is usually the domain of the Christian right, and is in part responsible for laws limiting access to birth control and abortion, or banning sodomy. I think this is a bad argument: it relies on the ‘slippery slope’ idea, which is ironically a favourite argument of the Christian right itself. But more importantly it sets up another straw man: the idea that what the #MeToo movement is trying to do is instil a level of prudence or temperance – to try and prevent people from fulfilling their sexual desires.

This argument comes back time and again in Carsie’s blog post. When discussing the idea of ‘shaming’ men who have behaved badly in sexual interactions, she explains that:

“we already have plenty of evidence that shaming people about their sexual urges and behaviors doesn’t work. Instead, it drives those urges and behaviors deeper into the closet, where they get nastier and uglier and meaner.”

Again, I can agree with the point in isolation: shame rarely works as a means to prevent people enjoying their kinks and quirks – and I wouldn’t ever advocate it’s used this way! But we’re not talking here about ‘urges’ in that sense: we’re talking about power. No one that I have seen is using #MeToo to argue that men should not feel sexual desire, or seek to fulfil their sexual urges with women they fancy: we’re arguing that the current narratives around the way men are taught to fulfil those urges are wrong, and harmful. Sexual urges: good. Power abuse: bad.

This ‘we’re becoming puritans!’ argument is found wherever you find a call-out or complaint about a consent violation. Why, here’s an example from the FT’s President’s Club story:

Tweet reads: I suspect the only result of this @FT 'expose' will be that the charities get less money and and the hostesses will get less work, but of course it will listed as another victory for the middle class, finger wagging puritans. #r4today

Let me be crystal clear on this, horny dudes: no one is telling you that you won’t be able to touch women any more. That you won’t be able to have sex, get blow jobs, or fulfil your kinks. What we’re saying is that you need to make sure that the person you’re doing it with actually wants to be there. If you don’t understand why this should be so simple, let’s look at the other side of it: if you’re arguing that ‘puritans’ will prevent this event from happening in the future, have a think about what you’re actually calling for. You are in favour of women being deceived in order to staff an event at which many of them were frightened, purely for the casual sexual gratification of a group of strangers. The gratification is not the problem: the deception and fear is.

(And sidenote – the ‘charity’ excuse is appalling too – how much do I have to give to charity to pop round your house and kick you in the balls? A grand? Two grand? How many Polio vaccines do I need to buy to make up for the hurt I’ve caused you?)

Wrapped up in the ‘puritan’ argument there is also one that purports to be supportive of sex workers. If we examine this kind of behaviour, or make consent a top priority, then we make it impossible for sex workers to make a living. This is absolute bullshit on a par with the idea that ‘if men are abusers, they should go and take their frustrations out on someone who is paid to take it.’ Sex workers are people: they deserve exactly the same respect as all other people. That includes not being subjected to harassment at work. If all the women working the Presidents Club dinner were sex workers who would happily negotiate touches and hand-holding and raucous fun for a set fee, guess what? What happened that night would still not be OK! Because the issue here isn’t ‘paid sex’ or ‘paid touches’, it is the fact that many of the women had no idea what they were being paid for. Men felt entitled to touch them because they had paid to be there. They frightened women who did not know what was happening, and who had not agreed to do these things with them: it would no more be OK to do this to a sex worker than it would be OK to do this to anyone.

Response 2: The ‘mistaken mob’

Point two made by Carsie Blanton (and we’ll get on to how this point is used by arseholes later), is that we need to be wary of false (or mistaken) accusations. Carsie argues that we should avoid catch-all terms like ‘sexual misconduct’ because of the risk of demonising people who have simply made mistakes. I can come on board with this, for a short while: where we legislate on sex, we need to be very careful not to make laws which criminalise consensual sexual behaviour or disproportionately affect vulnerable people. Carsie uses the example of sex offender registries, which she explains:

“include large numbers of people whose “crimes” do not come close to qualifying as abuse, many of whom ended up on the list when they were teenagers, or even children themselves (according to Human Rights Watch, children as young as 9 have been placed on the registry, and Juvenile offenders account for 25 percent of the 800,000+ registrants)”

This is absolutely a problem. But I don’t think it is a problem that comes from us talking about sexual misconduct – I’d argue that it’s a problem because we put too much emphasis on sexual acts and not enough emphasis on consent. Nor is it really about a lack of evidence – it’s about bad laws, and poor implementation.

Again, she offers a rather drastic hypothetical problem, and I fail to see any evidence that we’re actually going down that route. Very few serious commentators are calling for the arrest of Aziz Ansari, or for him to be put on an offender’s register. What we’re asking is that our conversation about consent includes not just the obvious examples which we’ve previously been frightened to speak up about, but the less obvious examples which we’ve previously been unable to discuss because we simply didn’t have the words.

And while Carsie surely means well when she’s making these points, I can’t help but notice – because it’s TODAY NOW and I’ve learned about the President’s Club bullshit – that this is one of the favoured arguments for those who think this kind of entitled harassment is OK. Either ‘oh but we need to carefully examine the evidence’ (read: ignore the accounts of women who have been harassed) or ‘actually most of the men there probably did nothing so we should be wary of lumping them all in together.’

Tweet reads: poor journalism jumping on a cause. Same harassment might happen at any gathering. Harassment is wrong wherever it happens. Vast majority of men at this event will have done nothing wrong tweet reads: you need evidence

For what it’s worth, there’s plenty of evidence. And that ‘vast majority’ of people (where’s your evidence, sunshine?) who apparently did nothing still attended an event where all of this was going on. They were either all blindfolded and wearing noise-cancelling headphones, or they wilfully ignored what was happening around them.

Carsie’s right on one point – we absolutely shouldn’t treat all instances of sexual misconduct in the same way. It’s hard to find words for the things which are not criminal, but which harm us anyway. Even as I write this, I’m struggling to find the words. Carsie doesn’t like catch-all terms like ‘sexual misconduct’, and I’m the same, but I don’t like loaded terms like ‘bad date’ or ‘coercive seduction’ either. Yet all of these could potentially be used to talk about the more common examples of this behaviour, and at some point we really are going to have to talk about it. Because it’s one thing for us to nod along while someone says ‘Weinstein is a monster’, but quite another for us to examine those times when we put on our metaphorical headphones and blindfolds while abusive shit was happening right in front of our faces.

In my opinion, if #MeToo only talks about things which can directly be prosecuted, we will have failed. Just as we will have failed if every single person mentioned in connection with the movement is immediately arrested. Because that is not what we’re talking about here: drawing a line between ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies.’ In my opinion we’re doing exactly what Carsie is arguing for in other sections of her post: examining the nuance and context behind a whole range of bad behaviour, and asking ‘why does this happen?’

Response 3: Why don’t women just leave/say no/refuse to do that hostessing job?

I’ll tackle one more of Carsie’s points before leaving this – and I hope she can forgive me for using her as the go-to example. You’ll know, I hope, that I’m not doing this to try and get her to stop talking, but because her thoughts echoed lots of other discussions I’ve had elsewhere, but with the addition of being well-argued enough to be persuasive to many, so going through her blog post is a neat way to try and present some of my counterpoints and thoughts.

The final point I want to tackle falls under what I’ll loosely call ‘why didn’t she just leave?’ In an ideal world, where we haven’t been taught to behave in certain ways because it’s ‘impolite’ or awkward, anyone who is being coerced into sex could – and should – walk out of the door. But that is wildly unhelpful in a world where we are subject to certain pressures.  As we need to ask the question ‘why do many men behave like this?’ so we also need to ask the question ‘why do women feel they can’t say no?’ That’s a really important question, and answering it is going to take a lot of time and analysis. Here’s what Carsie has to say:

“To my ear, the standard of verbal consent – requested by the male partner, granted by the female partner – seems to further the “women are powerless victims” narrative. It focuses only on the male actor, gives him full responsibility for the sexual interaction, and fails to provide any guidance whatsoever for how we, as women, can have better sex, or avoid traumatic sexual experiences.

If the conversation ends with “men should get our consent”, we have only succeeded in giving away our sexual agency, and inviting men to treat us as passive recipients of sex. Instead, it should be our goal to enter a sexual interaction as a full participant, which must necessarily include a measure of responsibility for pursuing what feels good, and changing or stopping what feels bad.”

Again, I find myself agreeing with a lot of this, which I suspect is partly why her blog post is so persuasive. No, the standard of verbal consent absolutely shouldn’t be one that is “requested by the male partner, granted by the female partner.” But this much is obvious, and I don’t think many people involved in #MeToo would seriously suggest a consent standard that simply made men ask a tickbox question which women can acquiesce to – it’s this misconception of consent that leads to people making ridiculous apps that seek to lock consent answers down before you’ve even got started on foreplay.

What I understand about consent is that it is an ongoing thing: it is about constant communication, and checking in, actively communicating your own needs as well as listening to the needs of your partner. This should happen on both sides, no matter what the gender of your partner. It should happen in all sexual interactions – professional as well as personal. But in order to work with this model of consent, we need to understand what the barriers are to people being able to articulate their needs. If it were this simple, we’d have been doing it already: so why is it that so many interactions don’t use this model? Carsie’s answer seems to be that women aren’t taking on responsibility for articulating what they do and don’t want: my answer is that there are many reasons why we feel like we can’t.

And again, let’s turn back to the grotesque Presidents Club charity auction: surely the women in this scenario had agency? The responsibility isn’t all on the men – why didn’t the women leave?

Every single one of those women are free too leave whenever they want...It has a reputation and girls still clamber for a position there on the night...Many go to find a Sugar Daddy...they prostitute themselves for a designer bag....both the men and women are responsible. Problem here is why are these girls subjecting themselves to this?! I don’t get it. Just say no! Have some dignity! Find something else to do. #MoneyIsNotEverything #ClassyGirlsRule #BunchOfWankersWithFarTooMuchMoney Aren't all the attendees adults, were the hostesses unaware of the nature of the function and the role they would play, were they not paid handsomely for the evening they contracted? If so were there any victims, were they not all pursuing complementary aim?

Do I even need to do this? Perhaps. The women who worked at the Presidents Club charity auction were:

  • not told exactly what the night would entail. Euphemisms like ‘irritating’ were used to describe the men, and they were told they might be ‘boisterous’. So the idea that they ‘knew what they were getting into’ is patently false. Even if they did…
  • all the women working were issued with a ‘uniform’ – a tight black dress. It’s quite hard to leave a situation you’re being paid for, even harder if you don’t have your own clothes to wear home.
  • all the women working had their mobile phones confiscated.

Yes technically – possibly – someone could have left when they got frightened. They could have left, unpaid, potentially without their clothes or their phone, and made their way home from the West End of London in the middle of the night wearing a tight, short black dress and heels. I find myself struggling to find words other than ‘don’t you SEE?’

The reason I’m pulling in these examples is because I want to highlight that usually in any instance of sexual coercion, there are barriers to someone leaving. They may not all be as obvious as the ones above, but they are often still there:

  • one person in the interaction has power over the other (the power to sack them, for instance)
  • one person in the interaction has been taught that they shouldn’t be rude/a pricktease/frigid/etc
  • one person in the interaction has previously been hurt by someone they rejected, and they are frightened of that happening again

And more. So many more. The point is not that ‘bad dates’ are the same as ‘bunch of rich arseholes get drunk and grope women’, the point is that these things are both symptoms of the same problem. The effects are different, but the causes are the same, and what do you know? The excuses are broadly the same too.

In order for this conversation to have value, we need to understand that the behaviours we’re discussing are symptoms of a huge problem, and we need to understand the significance of all those symptoms. That doesn’t mean we throw all men in jail or treat all women as if they are delicate creatures incapable of saying ‘no’, but it does mean we have to ask questions: why is it that many men don’t understand what coercion looks like? Why is it that so many women feel they have to perform a flattering dance of almost-but-not-quite-fucking because they’re too frightened to say ‘no’? And most importantly – how do we make sure that future generations don’t have to play this horrible game?

Conversations about sex, power and consent

There are many conversations to have about this topic. I know that people I love are having those conversations right now – with friends and colleagues and family. Some of us are deeply hurt by the incessant ‘but’s and the excuses and the attempts to stop us from talking about it at all. Others are hurt by the thought that they may have done something that they never knew was wrong and are now going to be ripped to bits for it. More are frightened because they know that they have done serious harm, and they’re busy trying to justify it in their head or turn the conversation to something else because they really don’t want to get found out. This conversation involves all of us, so it will involve some heroes and villains, sure. But it will also involve far more people who sit somewhere on the spectrum from ‘saint’ to ‘monster’.

I’m up for having that conversation, I think. For talking to men I know about what I think coercion looks like. Listening to the ways in which they’ve been told they should behave, and unpicking the good advice from the bad. But not everyone’s going to want to do this. Some people will hear the first ‘but’ or counterargument and feel physically ill that their pain – the hurt they’ve been caused – is no more than a sidenote in a chat that ends with excuses. They will feel like discussions about reasons and degrees of hurt are slaps in the face. And I’m not going to tell those people they are wrong, that they’re going too far, or that they should shut up.

Let’s go back to the two things I believe. Firstly, that many men have been put in positions of power over women, which they have abused to varying degrees. Secondly, that this is at least partly a result of the way our society teaches men to behave.

I really want to engage on the latter point – with men I love and other people in my life. I want to have those conversations about consent, pick apart the ways (both gendered and not-gendered) that humans are taught to either override or ignore consent, or work to turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes.’

But when I’ve tried to have this conversation with people I know, I’ve often struggled. Sometimes to the point of just bursting into tears and having to leave, and other times to the point of shouting ‘why are you so incapable of GETTING IT??’ because while they may agree with me on point two, they’re intent on distancing themselves from point one. ‘Yes, men are taught to behave in these awful ways but no, those abuses of power are not linked to that, and they’re certainly nothing to do with me.’ It’s ‘not all men’ or it’s ‘you’re overreacting’ or ‘he’s not as bad as Weinstein.’

They want to retreat into the narrative that would see some women (victims) being abused by some men (monsters). They’re happy to enter into the discussion when we talk broadly about the ways different genders are taught to behave, but as soon as the conversation starts to touch them, they want to ‘but’ themselves out of the conversation. ‘But it’s not the same!’ ‘But it’s just a bad date!’ ‘But she should have just said no!’ I don’t think Carsie Blanton is doing any of these things, FYI, but her arguments are very similar to ones I’ve often seen used to try and shut down any discussion of bad behaviour, on the grounds that we need to avoid taking things ‘too far.’

To me, they look like barriers which prevent this conversation from going where it should. Roadblocks and diversions to keep us away from the dawning realisation that this shit is not just done by ‘monsters’, and it is not just a few ‘bad apples’ – it is everywhere. They are arguments I have heard from men I love who are worried that we mean them. They’re worried that #MeToo means #YouToo – you’ve behaved badly, done harm, are a monster. And naturally they want to distance themselves from the monsters, so they put forward arguments about intent and degree, on the false assumption that we want to arrest all of them.

I give ground in all these discussions, because I really want men to join in – consider their actions, and what they might mean. So I point out that it’s ‘not all men’ and that ‘most men are good’ and that there are societal reasons why people behave the way they do, examine my own bad behaviour (because there very clearly is some) and the ways in which I have been complicit in many things that were not OK… all of that. In doing so, I almost certainly piss off a lot of people who think (understandably) that we shouldn’t concede any ground at all – that the answer to all this is to say ‘fuck you, we’re not done here.’

The world needs people sharing their stories – their hurts and outrage and pain. But if those are the only people who join this conversation, the people who really need to hear this won’t hear it. And if the only stories we hear are the ones we can all agree are ‘monstrous’, then the other symptoms of this massive problem will still be there, and the problem will fester. We need everyone in this conversation, including men. But I can only really do that if they accept that there is a problem. That the problem is not just limited to those who commit crimes, it’s there in the way we talk about sex and relationships, in the gendered assumptions we make about who ‘should’ be in charge of approaching, and the notion that a ‘no’ is magic and will always be respected.

This is a complex and difficult conversation, and I am willing to have it. But in order to do that I need the men I love to give some ground. To show willing. Demonstrate that they give a shit. I can’t just sit silently through ‘but’s and excuses and arguments about degree, and I certainly can’t have this conversation if it begins with all the ‘nice guys’ trying to quietly sneak off out of it.

We expect better than the Presidents Club bullshit. We’re demanding better than pushy dates who keep pushing even after you’ve said you feel ‘forced’. Whether men or monsters, we deserve better than this. And if you want to show that you are better, you had better not start with a ‘but.’

55 Comments

  • SweetTheSting says:

    “In my opinion, if #MeToo only talks about things which can directly be prosecuted, we will have failed.”

    Absolutely this.

    Great post.

  • Mike Hitchcock says:

    “What I understand about consent is that it is an ongoing thing: it is about constant communication, and checking in, actively communicating your own needs as well as listening to the needs of your partner. This should happen on both sides, no matter what the gender of your partner.”

    Spot on. This needs repeating again and again.

  • ZJK says:

    [comment sent to me because my comments were broken, so I said I’d post on their behalf – GOTN]

    What annoys me a lot about the Presidents’ Club is how fucking STINGY they were. All these billionaires could have afforded to hire sex workers, at an agreed rate for agreed services, but they preferred to have the ‘entertainment’ provided at waitress wages (given this was pretty much a 10-hour shift, the women were getting £15 an hour, which is decent-ish service-industry wages for a ‘high end’ dinner, though not great). What I wonder is: was saving money the main motivation? Sex workers would have a) cost at least £200 an hour, though possibly less for a block booking, but also sex workers generally have the professional skills, experience and confidence to de-escalate and deflect men who are trying to get more than they paid for. A bonus for these men, actually, would have been that most sex workers are perfectly happy to be discreet about their work if the client is courteous and pays properly and promptly.
    But maybe the thrill was actually in the idea that the hostesses/waitresses were a) scared shitless b) unable to speak up for themselves and c) unable to get away, as their clothes, shoes and phones had all been taken off them for the duration of the job…

    • Girl on the net says:

      “maybe the thrill was actually in the idea that the hostesses/waitresses were a) scared shitless b) unable to speak up for themselves and c) unable to get away, as their clothes, shoes and phones had all been taken off them for the duration of the job…”

      I think if I were having to guess, I’d say this too. That whole ‘oh I flirted with/seduced a waitress, aren’t I a saucy (and sexy) old dog?’ thing too. Utterly pathetic if it weren’t so terrifying.

      • Tom F says:

        Rich people love free stuff, doesn’t matter what it is.

        I remember being at a dinner with a free bar for a ship launch, so there is a mix of yard workers sailors, Ceo’s, Admirals Lords & Ladys the richer folk went mental with the free bar while the more modest gents meekly had a few drinks before moving on.

        • Girl on the net says:

          Whatever point you want to make here is drastically undermined by you referring to frightened women as ‘free stuff’

  • Random Troll says:

    I don’t see how the waitresses/hostesses didn’t know what this event would be like.. based on the ‘uniform’ requests. Shocked?? Really.

    [Name of commenter has been changed, because they originally posted under the username of a different person]

    • SweetTheSting says:

      “I don’t see how the waitresses/hostesses didn’t know what this event would be like.. based on the ‘uniform’ requests. Shocked?? Really.”

      They were told to come with black underwear and black sexy shoes.

      The dresses and belts were given to them to wear by the agency when they arrived.

      Yes, there was likely to be an “eye-candy” part with the specification re underwear and shoes. But the story is not “women in short dresses were looked at”, is it? Groping, grabbing and flashing aren’t natural consequences of certain clothing. They are harassment and abuse.

      Oh, and to be made to sign but not read or be allowed to take away a 5 page NDA is hardly something they would have been able to foresee.

    • Girl on the net says:

      This comment is, if possible, even more depressing than Phillip’s. Mainly because I know you’ve commented on here a lot before and you’re usually very thoughtful. FYI the women had not seen their uniforms until they arrived at the job, and *even if they had* that is still not a reason for them to be groped and harassed. Even if absolutely none of this came as a surprise, that is *still* not a reason for them to be groped and harassed. Did you read any of the blog post, or have I just utterly failed at getting across the fact that it is not OK to deceive women into being the sexual playthings of rich, entitled arseholes?

      • Random Troll says:

        Bottom line is don’t sign up for a job that tells you to look sexy and wear sexy underwear if you don’t want to do a job where you are going to be sexually objectified. That’s probably the quickest way to stop these events happening.

        [Name of commenter has been changed, because they originally posted under the username of a different person]

        • Girl on the net says:

          They were not just ‘sexually objectified’ – I’m pretty sure all the women who turned up expected to be ‘eye candy’, because that is basically what they were told they would be. What the did not expect was to be sexually assaulted. I have no idea how you could not understand this, especially if you had actually read my blog post, which I suspect you did not. You’ve ignored what I said, left exactly the comment that I have explained in the blog post is not acceptable, and I’ve given lots of reasons why. In short: I fucking warned you. I told you that I would not engage on this level, with people who refused to even try to understand why this shit is so painful and frustrating.

          I’m going to ban you from commenting on my blog now, and don’t have the temerity to complain because you are so very clearly asking for it.

          • Hazelthecrow says:

            Yeah, that’s basically a watered down version of the ‘sex workers can’t be raped’ bull. Not cool. These women were not professional sex workers; if that’s what the men wanted then that’s what they should have paid for, at pre-agreed rates. Lets put the blame in the people who actually did some thing wrong, is that so hard? you don’t want a furore, don’t be an entitled arsehole!

  • Phillip says:

    I wonder how much alcohol played into the sorry ‘Presidents Club’ situation. As a person who drank a lot I know that nothing good ever seemed to happen after three or four or more drinks and after 10:00 pm at night. This is not to make any excuses for being impaired by alcohol or the intoxicant or ones choice. The over use of alcohol and drugs seems to be a gender neutral situation. However when one is brought up with the idea that he is some kind of royalty the addition of intoxication favors him acting out.

    Your take is really a breath of fresh air when I consider the woman who lives across the street. I think she may be gathering wood for the ‘burning at the stake’ of any man who was ever a ham fisted lout.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Oh wow, so unbelievably depressing. I can almost not bring myself to respond because it sounds like you’ve not taken in a word I actually said. I’m not talking about men being “ham fisted louts” – I’m talking about men doing awful things because they feel entitled to women’s bodies in a way that’s grotesque and reprehensible, and in a way that sparks *very very understandable* anger in many women. Your comment is dismissive, and you’ve done none of the soul-searching or considered thought that I called for in the post. You are very much a part of the problem.

    • Azkyroth says:

      Alcohol tends to undermine one’s inhibitions, and thus one tends to be less likely to stop oneself from doing things one wants to but knows one “isn’t supposed to.”

      That doesn’t really address why sexually assaulting trapped, deceived women is what these men wanted to do in the first place. Or the trapping. Or the deceiving.

  • Greg says:

    All good arguments, but I’m a cynic so I don’t believe there will be real change because men will continue to be taught by men and women that power and money is the key to success and not getting caught abusing that power is all they need to concern themselves with, combined with the implicit understanding from religious leaders that certain privilege come from saying the right thing and being part of the right tribe. I won’t argue that men are badly taught (by parents and society) and that leads to bad to despicable behavior (I’m certainly guilty of the former) but our only individual power is to influence through discussion (which is its own minefield considering the powerful are the ones that have to be convinced) and voting (stop voting for arseholes) which judging by recent events I hold out little hope on. As a man with little power, I hope for the best (as the abuse effects all of us, though women more) but I am pessimistic on short term change. This war has raged for hundreds of years with false starts and failures abounding. Struggling for an open, equal society is about as consistent as struggling to acquire food and water. I hope this time it’s different.

    • Hazelthecrow says:

      It’ll be different if we make it different. If we don’t just throw our hands in the air saying its all to haaaaaaard……

  • Phillip says:

    I read your piece again as I wanted to be sure that you didn’t mention alcohol. Alcohol is not an excuse for anything. Alcohol usually makes bad behavior worse. As far as my use of the “Ham fisted lout” goes I would point out that we don’t use the word “arsehole” at all. I don’t know which carries more weight, but I think they are roughly equivalent. Being only twenty-five miles from the center of the storm makes ‘Me Too’ a daily point of discussion. I wish it weren’t so. The strain of it is palpable.

    • Girl on the net says:

      My issue was not just with your ‘ham fisted lout’ comment, but rather the way you had this fairly forgiving portrait side-by-side with a characterisation of a woman burning men at the stake, implying that women are wrong to be angry about sexual harassment.

  • Redndead says:

    At the risk of being slapped down, hasn’t “posh totty” always had a higher acceptance of groping and bad behaviour, in the hope/expectation that one of these Presidents Club type toads will sire the next generation of entitled sexist pigs with them??

    Otherwise how would this particular event have run for so many years without comment?

    • Girl on the net says:

      The women. Who. Were. Groped. Did. Not. Want. To. Be. Groped. If someone is telling you that they do not want a thing, your opinion on what you ‘reckon’ they might have wanted carries no weight, because it is incorrect. This should not be fucking difficult to understand.

      ‘At the risk of being slapped down’ – fucking right you’re getting slapped down, you disingenuous cunt. Banned.

    • Hazelthecrow says:

      Maybe they have. Times still up.

  • Neil says:

    What a superb piece, GotN.

  • Holly says:

    Brilliant article! I have already stolen some of your lines when I’ve been discussing it with other people (and sending them to the blog of course!). Thanks for battling on in the face of some truly bizarre comments. There really are no words for some of the reactions to this story.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Thanks Holly. I’m massively relieved to realise it’s not just me that’s gobsmacked by the comments. I’ve stopped letting some of the worse ones through now just for my own sanity but yeah… what the fuck? How is it possible for people to hear a story like the Presidents Club and their first reaction is to start preparing The Case For The Defence? I genuinely do not understand how this works at all.

  • Valery North says:

    Just want to express my applause for the forthright banning of those two numpties above!

  • Tom F says:

    While understanding that the vast majority of sexual misconduct is committed by males against females I think the discussions could do with being more neutral and everyone needs to think/learn about consent, for example as a hetrosexual male I have been the subject of repeated rude unwanted advances, unasked for flashes (admittedly enjoyed every flash I’ve received but that’s not the point) groping and pressurised into sex from females & males more times than I can count on one hand and this is something I really do not enjoy however being strong, large and assertive I’ve usually not felt threatened so don’t equate it to the majority of #metoo examples.
    another example I couple of men I know did a gig as topless waiters at a women only event for breast cancer and their experience was similar although probably not equating to the presidents clubs dinner as they took it in there stride and knew what they were in for.
    The above does not excuse mens behaviour in anyway it’s just more examples of piss poor behaviour.
    if the narrative changes from ‘men’ need to learn about consent to ‘people’ need to learn more about consent it would stop people thinking that men are being subjected to some sort of feminist attack and just genuinely increase understanding and make the world a better place.

    • Greg says:

      It’s a power dynamic in all these situations and men have more power (physically and monetarily) in society. You can muddy the narrative by pointing out the much rarer situation of women abusing their power when they have it, but by and far it’s still men that vastly need to learn how to respect women and keep their damn hands to themselves as most women already do (except on certain occasions which they can be reminded of pretty easily).

      • Tom F says:

        You point that men have more power which is true and that means sexual harrassment, assault etc is always going to be more serious and more common, but to suggest women are somehow fundamentally better or more respectful than men just isn’t true. pointing truths makes thing clearer.

        • Girl on the net says:

          “to suggest women are somehow fundamentally better or more respectful than men just isn’t true” Literally no one is doing that at all. In fact, in my post I pointed out that it’s not just in the field of sexual behaviour that people suck at consent, and I also pointed out that I have likely behaved very badly at certain points in the past, and learning more about consent helps me to examine my own behaviour, as I hope everyone does. The fact remains, though, that the vast majority of sexual assault/harassment is perpetrated by men. There are reasons for this, and if we hand-wring about how sad men will be when they realise they are disproportionately the perpetrators of this behaviour, then we fail to address the underlying reasons. Men do this more. That’s a fact.

          But your first comment dedicated half a sentence to saying ‘the vast majority of sexual misconduct is committed by males against females’, and even though you acknowledge this, you’re intent on fighting a battle literally no one has tried to engage you on, to distract from the problem that you admit is real. You’re also banned. Bye!

          PS thanks Greg, and I agree.

  • Just adding some positive ‘thank you for this incredibly well-thought-out, no doubt incredibly stressful-to-write’ post between some of the other comments. Yikes. Wow.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Thank you so much Paige! It is very nice and a massive relief to get comments like this as well as the other ones because I think if it were just the other ones I might well just go to bed and hide under the covers for a week, weeping for humanity. xxx

  • Nick says:

    What a great article.

  • Azkyroth says:

    There’s a fundamental problem we keep seeing in the reactions to responses to behavior like that exhibited by the club and its members: we, as societies, have constructed male sexuality as inherently predatory so insistently, for so long, that most people literally can’t conceptualize it as anything else. The words aren’t there. The concepts aren’t there. And so they interpret “predatory behavior needs to end” as “male sexuality needs to end.”

  • Janine says:

    From a very early age I was taught certain things. Be nice, treat people the way you want to be treated, be respectful of others, don’t talk to strangers, go out in groups, at a club don’t go to the bathroom by yourself, never leave your drink unattended, if you’re walking by yourself have your keys between your fingers, carry a rape whistle, careful how you dress or you’re asking for it, take a self defence class, don’t go jogging when it’s dark, various tips on how to survive a rape and the list goes on and on. What are boys and men being taught. Why do they have this feeling of entitlement to our bodies. Wether it’s getting to first or second base as a young boy or wearing down a woman to finally “agree” to sex , or rich assholes groping, or telling us to smile or commenting on how we should dress or giving us a quick squeeze on a bus or whipping out their dicks,and the list goes on and on. Why since the beginning of time women have been taught a set of skills to try to protect ourselves against men and men are taught what? And I know it’s not all men. I’ve been married to an amazing man for many years and have wonderful men in my life, but I’ve lived long enough to have a list of indignities that I’ve endured at the hands of men. We need a fundamental shift in how boys and girls are taught how to view themselves and each other. I think we are starting. I get encouraged when I read articles like this and the comments from the people who get it. We need to keep the conversation going and we need to keep calling out the people who continue to abuse their power. Thanks so much for writing this piece.

    • Girl on the net says:

      When you lay it out like that, it’s so powerful and I hope there’ll be people who read it and understand why so many of us are so angry. Thank you Janine.

  • Samuel W says:

    This is a great discussion. I have felt uncomfortable as this movement has morphed from “Harvey Weinstein is a monster” to “pretty much all men are doing or at least tolerating abusive things towards women.” Its very uncomfortable to acknowledge our own role in this problem, and our own bad behavior. And so I have at times thought many of the same rationalizations, excuses, and deflections that I see exposed in this discussion.

    What I am starting to see is that the phenomenon of and conservation around sexism is quite analagous to that about racism. Most of us are abhorred by obvious examples and racist (cops shooting black and brown people) and sexist behavior, but at some point (usually when the finger is pointed uncomfortably closely to us) we say “hey now, that’s taking it a bit too far, surely I am not racist/sexist.” Well . . . we are. Its impossible to be brought up in racist and sexist societies and not internalize some of those ideas. In the US, we are bombarded with messages that black men who dress or act in certain ways are dangerous criminals. So when a cop says he reacted in an absolutely horrifying way because he feared for his life, he’s probably telling the truth. Its still racist, and we should still demand better from the individual, but we can’t stop at prosecuting the cop.

    When we dismiss and demonize the worst examples as the actions of racist/sexist monsters we distance ourselves from responsibility as members of racist/sexist societies. I don’t have to be a rapist to realize that that I have some fucked up behaviors around women and minorities. Of course there is room for nuance and context and of course we shouldn’t arrest every white heterosexual man on the planet. But every single one of us NEEDS to feel uncomfortable, because the status quo is not fucking ok.

  • Jill says:

    “‘Yes technically – possibly – someone could have left when they got frightened. They could have left, unpaid, potentially without their clothes or their phone, and made their way home from the West End of London in the middle of the night wearing a tight, short black dress and heels. I find myself struggling to find words other than ‘don’t you SEE?’

    The reason I’m pulling in these examples is because I want to highlight that usually in any instance of sexual coercion, there are barriers to someone leaving. They may not all be as obvious as the ones above, but they are often still there:

    one person in the interaction has power over the other (the power to sack them, for instance)
    one person in the interaction has been taught that they shouldn’t be rude/a pricktease/frigid/etc
    one person in the interaction has previously been hurt by someone they rejected, and they are frightened of that happening again'”

    Agree. This is why porn, like all prostitution, is a problem for women whilst misogyny and patriarchy exists. Consent is impossible for most women in that industry. I don’t disagree with much of what you wrote, but to me it feels like cover for the fact you promote these industries and make a career from eroticising the misogyny inherent in them. The messages men and women are receiving come, at least in part, from eroticising violence and ‘non-consent’ in the porn you promote. Prostitutes , like the women at the presidents club, don’t really consent for all the reasons you stated above. They simply can’t. Its too complex. We need the Nordic model and to criminalize the distribution of violent porn. Women and men’s access to video and women for money, to satisfy their sexual fantasies should come second to a women’s rights not to be abused. Sorry i can’t stomach the fact you sidestepped the talking about the industry you work with that promotes the messages you supposedly object men to having. A powerful industry I think is largely responsible for an increase in misogyny among young men. And depression among young girls – yes, #metoo

    • Girl on the net says:

      “i can’t stomach the fact you sidestepped the talking about the industry you work with that promotes the messages you supposedly object men to having. ”

      I am horrified that you have taken a conversation about sexual assault – in which women’s agency and choice was ignored – to argue that we should remove even more agency from women, this time using the law.

      I believe that women can and should have agency over their own sexuality and their bodies. You seem to believe that they cannot have either of those things, because men will take advantage of them. You say that ‘porn, like all prostitution, is a problem for women whilst misogyny and patriarchy exists’ which implies, very worryingly, that you think while patriarchy still exists women can never engage in anything which might risk arousing men, lest they turn that arousal into abuse. It’s ‘you’re asking for it’ writ on a cultural scale, and naturally I will always reject the idea that women should curtail our own desires/needs/behaviour because by being vocal about what we want might risk arousing men. Your way would have all women sit meekly and quietly in a corner pretending we never experienced lust until the entire patriarchy had been dismantled.

      For what it’s worth, I write what I write because I like it: it is what I enjoy in my actual, real life. That you have classed this as ‘violence’ – sex that I have with people I really like, which both of us enjoy – is a bit disturbing, but fits neatly into your odd worldview that the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of sex should be decided by people who want to do what is ‘best’ for women, without actually considering what it is those women want for themselves. You’re right that porn, sex work, and other aspects of the sex industry are all touched by patriarchy, and power – none of us is immune from it. But that’s trivially true – every industry is touched by it, and demanding that women cannot play any role in these industries for their own safety is to effectively argue that we are incapable of identifying problematic power structures and working within them, or alongside them, while we try to fight the inequality that sustains them. So women need to sit down and shut up until the world is fixed. Ironically, your arguments are very similar to those of the misogynists you claim to hate – you both think that you get to decide what is ‘best’ for women, what should be done to them for their own protection, and what exactly they are ‘asking for’ by working in misogynist industries.

      • Jill says:

        People make lots of socially harmful choices. Do you think all choices women make are feminist?

        You say that ‘porn, like all prostitution, is a problem for women whilst misogyny and patriarchy exists’ which implies, very worryingly, that you think while patriarchy still exists women can never engage in anything which might risk arousing me

        It implies no such thing. You don’t think porn and prostitution in a misogynist world is a problem for women? Any women? Some women? Not many women?

        And what the hell do I care if men are aroused by what you are aroused by. Not everything you do is good for all women because you enjoy it.

        ‘Your way would have all women sit meekly and quietly in a corner pretending we never experienced lust until the entire patriarchy had been dismantled. ‘

        No, lots of people experience lust they dont act on or celebrate. Unlike weinstein for example.. Are you saying critisising his lust is unfair and prudish because you are a woman? Why would I want women to sit in a corner? I want women to be liberated from patriarchal ideas. I want them to enjoy sex, but not at any price. I dont want women to enjoy propagating rape culture, just because it gets them off. Do you? What of the social harms -to girls growing up in this culture. What of the prostitutes who want it abolished after years of abuse? Do you care about them at all? A little bit? What about women who are sick and tired of the culture you propagate. Of being told they are prudes who just want women to shut up. Rather than question and challeneg the dogma, the internalsion of patriarchal abuse among women, because the ‘choose’ it.

        More on the fallacy of choice feminism if you are interested: in other womens views
        https://theconversation.com/no-feminism-is-not-about-choice-40896

      • Jill says:

        ‘You’re right that porn, sex work, and other aspects of the sex industry are all touched by patriarchy, and power – none of us is immune from it. But that’s trivially true – every industry is touched by it, and demanding that women cannot play any role in these industries for their own safety is to effectively argue that we are incapable of identifying problematic power structures and working within them, or alongside them, while we try to fight the inequality that sustains them.’

        There’s a big difference between working within them, and working for them. Getting off on the very thing you ought to be fighting against isn’t the problem. Supporting the industry that maintains that misogyny is.

        You are basically saying: sosicety is sexist, if you can’t beat them join them. I also hate valantines and marriage. I think they are harmful to women. It doesn mean i want them to sit in a corner and shut up and have sexless futures.

        I also lust after pizza and heroin. I don’t think I want to blog about how liberating they are for women.

      • Jill says:

        ‘So women need to sit down and shut up until the world is fixed. Ironically, your arguments are very similar to those of the misogynists you claim to hate – you both think that you get to decide what is ‘best’ for women, what should be done to them for their own protection, and what exactly they are ‘asking for’ by working in misogynist industries.’

        You are putting words in my mouth. I neither said or alluded to this. I’m not decdiding whats best for all women. Im telling you what I think is harmful to a lot of women. Many women on the metoo share similar views and experiences of feeling undermined by women like you who promote and support an industry that promotes misogynist rape fantasies as ‘choice end of.’

        • Girl on the net says:

          I think you’re either confused about my point, or setting up a deliberate straw man. This isn’t about ‘choice, end of.’ I don’t believe that anything women choose to do is necessarily good simply because we choose to do it – that’s an entirely ridiculous position, and it would make any woman immune from having to consider the ethical implications of any action, anywhere. But it’s certainly easier for you to argue against than my actual position, isn’t it?

          What I am saying is that your suggestion that women actively remove ourselves from the world of sex – because sex is touched by misogyny – is deeply harmful to women. Our disagreement (I think) comes down to the idea that you think it’s ‘better’ for women to avoid any kind of sex that might be interpreted as violent (even if it is demonstrably not), and also for people like you to come and teach women like me that our desires are naughty and wrong. It is based on the *type* of sex, i.e. sex work, BDSM, etc. Whereas I believe that what we consider acceptable or moral in a sexual space should be based on consent: are the people engaging in this all consenting to do it? Within that there are myriad discussions that we could have around evidence of harm and degree, but fundamentally our differences come down to the fact that I think a consent-focused approach is always going to be better than an act-focused approach, you do not.

          I’ve always wanted to ask this of someone who is determinedly anti-sex-work, though, so here goes: what is it about sex itself that sets it apart from any other human act? You talk about supporting an industry (the sex industry) that maintains misogyny, but to my mind there are many industries which maintain misogyny – the tech/startup industry, for one, has a really ugly layer of misogyny running through it. Are women who work within the tech industry (many of whom are actively fighting *against* misogyny and trying to change the way the system works, as many are in porn) complicit in misogyny? Would you advise that women avoid learning to code, working for Facebook, and doing anything within this industry while it’s still misogynist, or is it just the sex industry we should avoid? If it’s just the sex industry, can you please explain to me

          1. what it is about sex that makes it different and
          2. why this difference is something which only applies to women? Because I suspect (correct me if I’m wrong) that if all the sex workers in the world were men, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Why is that?

          And if you’ve time after that, I’d love to know what kind of sex you think it is OK for me to have. You seem very angry that I write about the sex I enjoy on my blog – all of which is consensual. So if you’re genuinely asking for a change of approach rather than just telling me to shut up, please could you give me a list of the kind of sex you think it’s OK for me to have/enjoy/write about?

          • Girl on the net says:

            Adding another comment here just to say that your last ones sat in the comment queue for a while because it takes a fair amount of mental energy to hit ‘publish’ on comments which effectively try and paint me as someone who is deliberately complicit in rape culture. I’ve done you the courtesy of assuming that your beliefs are genuinely held, and no matter how strongly I disagree, you aren’t deliberately trying to harm women. Please do me the same courtesy when you reply.

            Here’s my comment policy https://www.girlonthenet.com/2017/11/22/comment-policy-im-a-dictator/

  • Jon says:

    Hello! Thanks for so succinctly and coherently expressing what the #metoo movement has always been about, and for so eloquently and gracefully rebutting the arguments that aim to distract and deflect from that. This is a beautiful and valuable piece of writing.

  • Simon says:

    Great article.

  • Jaime says:

    Brilliant! Wonderful. I think that just covers it.
    I got no other comment, just awed admiration of exact rightness.
    FYI It’s one of my five SoSS for this fortnight.
    (https://jerusalemmortimer.com/share-our-shit-saturday-saturday-ish/)

  • ann says:

    Unbelievably well written. This is what my brain has been struggling to grasp for years
    You have been extremely influential in helping me challenge the stereotypes that come up in my own life

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