Last October, I attended Liverpool Fashion Week. Unlike its London counterpart, it was billed as an inclusive and diverse event, with female models of all shapes, ages, colours and sizes.
Rather less PC was the fact that those of us in the front row were served prosecco and muffins by muscular, tattooed male waiters wearing nothing but an apron, exposing their naked, hairy bottoms. Goodness! We were never served up anything like that in Milan.
Unlike the female reporter who last week ‘exposed’ the skimpy clothes worn by hostesses at the Presidents Club charity dinner, I had no need to go undercover to report on this blatant sexism: there it was, laid bare, inches from my nose.
Liz Jones says women do use looks to get ahead and says that she attended Liverpool Fashion Week where muscular men wearing only aprons acted as waiters
The yawning chasm between Liverpool Fashion Week and the dinner at The Dorchester is that nobody (as far as I could tell) groped the men’s behinds, but we did giggle a lot.
There were no outraged front-page headlines, but the bare bottoms were posted on social media to much cackling. I thought the stunt tacky, wondered what on earth the mothers of these young men must think, but the boys clearly enjoyed exposing bodies that took months to hone in the gym. No one, after all, was forcing them to take part.
I assume, too, that none of the women who signed up as hostess last week was forced to do so. It must have been clear early on that this was no vicar’s tea party: the non-disclosure agreements, the dress code, the fact that only the skinny, pretty and young need apply. You’d have to be wildly naive to have no idea of the sort of environment you were stepping into.
But here’s a fact as uncomfy as a thong: some women enjoy using their bodies to get ahead. Many women (not me, I hasten to add, though I do admire those with the confidence to put themselves out there) enjoy flirting, and relish male attention. Not all women are unsmiling, defenceless, fragile.
Though I have only the greatest sympathy for any woman who finds herself harassed, or worse, it’s wildly patronising to assume that all the women at dinner were victims.
Carla Bellucci poses in dress that hostess wore at Presidents Club function at the Dorchester Hotel
Doubtless, the feminists wailing in the press and on social media are far too principled to deploy their looks as part of their armoury. Having said that, I know two high-flying female journalists who, despite their Oxbridge educations, used their breasts and much perching-on-the-male-boss’s-desk to get promoted. ’Twas ever thus, and always will be, no matter how many #MeToo hashtags clog Twitter.
Don’t take my word for it. A young woman I know takes occasional work hostessing at London events not unlike the Presidents Club. She explained: ‘It’s a type of girl who applies for those jobs. They aren’t idiots and they like being paid to look pretty and flirt.
‘Yes, they may bitch and moan with the other girls. But they go back because they enjoy the attention, the nice venues… the better pay than most other shift work.
‘You’d be moronic not to know what was coming. I was warned the dresses on one job would be microscopic; shorts were recommended underneath, but no one wore them because they didn’t want to ruin their “look”.’
This is not to justify sexual harassment, ever. It’s only to say that for all the talk of men abusing their power, never underestimate the ability of women to manipulate male desire to get what they want.
Remember a young Berkshire beauty who sashayed down a catwalk years back wearing a sheer negligee in the hope of catching the eye (so it’s said) of one particular wealthy attendee. Didn’t turn out too badly for Kate Middleton, did it?
Or consider Meghan Markle in her underwear in Suits: she’s a feminist, but still flashed flesh for cash. Must we condemn all women who use their youth and beauty for personal gain?
Of course men who use violence, physical strength or positions of power to grope women or worse against their will need to be exposed, stopped and prosecuted. But as my young gap-year friend writes of her boyfriend’s experience as a barman/waiter: ‘Women can be much more predatory than men: they grab the waiters’ c***s and slap their bums.’
Hell, as a boss myself I once employed a teen called Laurent for work experience because he was French and handsome. I never acted on my desire, but I favoured him because, well, how do you snuff out attraction? Was it an abuse of power?
As Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, observed last week: ‘Women are human beings, with the full range of saintly and demonic behaviour that entails.’ To deny it is to deny a part of ourselves.