Harriet Walker: Archaic attitudes to sex that demean both men and women

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The Independent Online

The morning after the office party is normally too hideous to bear, but it passes at least, once you creep out of your colleague's bed and spend all day with your head in the toilet.

But for German insurance company Hamburg-Mannheimer, whose office party was this week revealed to be a 100-man sausage-fest with high-class prostitutes and call-girls in a historic Budapest spa, the hangover has only just kicked in.

They might feel a bit queasy (the company says it was a clear violation of its policy); they might lie on the sofa watching daytime telly and hating themselves. But the people who will suffer the consequences of this night of passion are not those who reclined on the "curtained, four-poster beds" or even those who served them at this "open-air brothel", unpleasant as that must have been. It's any woman, anywhere, who might want to be taken seriously.

This of all weeks is a particularly bad one for this story to have emerged. We have seen, over the past seven days, how ingrained and entrenched masculine attitudes to sex can be, from the classic roving eyes and hands of a figure in power, to the stuttering and blunderings of a minister trying desperately to explain himself out of a hole that he dug without even realising he was holding a shovel.

It is thoroughly depressing. How can these things happen in a society that prides itself on equal opportunities and gender equality? In a society where women who talk about the challenges their sex still face are labelled whingeing feminists, hyperbolic and hysterical flag-wavers of a defunct movement that we no longer need?

This is incontrovertible proof of a mindset that means women will never achieve complete parity. I don't approach this from the assumption that all men hate women, or that all men are rapists – but when the incentive for selling your soul's worth of insurance contracts is a sanatorium full of lovelies in which to rut and glut yourself, it doesn't inspire confidence in the role that women occupy within the wider corporate headspace, and generally they don't get an office or a six-figure salary.

Some men blow themselves up for a stab at a nice garden full of virgins at their disposal; others embarrass themselves by bragging to nubile reporters who are recording their every word. We must never underestimate the power of sex to reduce otherwise capable men to goaty old egoists and heedless imbeciles. But how do we harness those impulses and create mutual respect rather than the rabid randiness that has so coloured the air this week?

Many would lay blame at the feet of pornographers and the media; time was, this apportioning would be correct. But the generation currently growing up alongside this dreck is by far the most considerate of the lot. It's a fact of life that most men my age watch porn; it doesn't mean that most men my age are also rapists.

The stink emanating from the New York courtroom, the palace of Westminster and teutonic boardrooms this week is not an all-permeating miasma, so much as a whiff of a rotten demographic that should know better. The drama being played out is archaic, outmoded and shameful. These attitudes are the products of views that simply are not relevant any more.

Germany has some of the lowest figures for female boardroom representation among industrialised nations. It must catch up with the fleet footsteps of modern life – as should the fogies at the IMF and in the cabinet. Modernisation is key to equality – and karaoke is by far the best thing to book for an office party.

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