I hope the feminists are proud of themselves: the Presidents Club was clearly all part of a clever plan and now it's ruined

What do women expect? Men can’t help it. So often you sit down for dinner and out comes the penis onto the table without you even seeing it. They’re attracted by roast potatoes

Mark Steel: I hope the feminists are proud of themselves, the Presidents Club was clearly all part of a clever plan and now it's ruined

The saddest part about this Presidents Club dinner that caused such trouble is it must have been the dullest evening possible. Because every guest who’s been asked says they left early and therefore didn’t see a thing. The event must have been an absolute disaster, completely deserted by 20 past eight.

The poor organisers must have been devastated, weeping, “We were going to auction a space station but there’s no one left!” because all the bankers were determined to get home in time to put their kids to bed.

Some businesspeople and columnists have dismissed the complaints that hostesses were groped and grabbed, saying, “They must have known what sort of event they were attending.” This makes it a strange and magical evening in which the women should have known all along what sort of things would happen, while the men doing the things that were happening had no idea any of these things were happening.

'I was groped': Journalist Madison Marriage talks about hostessing at the Presidents Club Charity Dinner

It’s a good job none of the men asked any of the women beforehand, “What am I likely to do to you?” or they’d have been appalled at themselves and left in disgust before they started, wasting their dinner.

The most likely explanation for why no guests saw any of the things everyone accepts took place is that all the people grabbing women were highly trained close-up magicians. They can stick their hands in a woman’s bra right in front of you, but through sleight of hand all you see is them bidding £80,000 for charity. Now they’re being moaned at, but this takes years of practice.

One ex-Presidents Club guest, cabinet member Nadhim Zahawi, said this week that he will “never attend a men-only function, ever”. This seems fair enough – he clearly didn’t notice this was a men-only function. He must have been sat at his table, thinking, “There’s something that links all these guests here but I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe we’re all Chinese. Or Sagittarians.”

One incident reported was that a guest deposited his penis on the table in front of a hostess, so it’s lucky there were reporters there to bring this to our attention. Because this is the sort of thing the untrained eye can so easily miss.

That’s why the response to this story that goes “What do women expect?” makes sense, because men can’t help it. So often you sit down for dinner and out comes the penis onto the table without you even seeing it. They’re attracted by roast potatoes.

One property executive who insisted, “The women know what they are doing” added, “There is free champagne – they can have a drink.”

It’s the same at a wedding. When someone hands you a free glass of champagne, you know what’s coming, so you apologise if your boxer shorts aren’t the same colour as your shirt as the host pulls your trousers down, then sip your drink and know you’ve struck a fine bargain.

Maybe the contracts need to be clarified, so they say something like: “One glass of champagne shall entitle the guest to a grab of one breast, or two breasts during happy hour, from 7.30 to 8.30pm.”

There’s a little clue this sort of behaviour was anticipated, perhaps even encouraged, which is the reported instruction to hostesses to wear underwear that matched their skirts. Why would the colour of your underwear matter? It must be because when a CEO from an arms company sneaks up behind a woman and pulls up her skirt, he doesn’t want to see knickers that clash with her top, as that’s a fundamental breach of his human rights.

But the Presidents Club may not have been all that confident in their arguments, since they insisted all the hostesses signed a non-disclosure agreement promising to report nothing they saw or heard to anyone, not even their family. If you were paranoid, you might wonder whether this indicates they were slightly aware they didn’t want their guests’ behaviour to become public.

More likely is they didn’t want the hostesses to reveal how much the guests were giving to charity, as they’re all a bit shy.

This is the main defence for those present: it was all for charity. And the fact that when told about a sick child, their first thought is, “I’d like to contribute so they can get better, as long as I can shove my hand down a woman’s pants” shows how deeply they care.

Some people might wonder why any event would insist on barring women, other than hostesses selected for their looks and matching underwear. Because to exclude women entirely makes these bankers and CEOs, politicians and board members who are symbols of success, the figures we’re asked to admire and aspire to, more sexist than lap-dancing clubs, the MCC, the General Synod of the Church of England and the front bench of Ukip.

The explanation must be: when you’re trying to raise funds for a children’s hospital ward, the last thing you need is a woman distracting you by giving it all that about her nails. What can possibly be sexist about that?

But there may be a more fundamental reason why the Presidents Club will be missed. Insisting that women should be absent, except for nameless figures, chosen and decorated to the demand of men, then prodded and squeezed at will, was a bold move by our business community to show to the people of Isis that our cultures are not as far apart as we sometimes imagine. It was an attempt by British business to seek a dialogue with the jihadists, and now their work is in ruins. I hope the feminists are pleased with themselves.

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