3 MAY 2008, Page 18

Strip clubs are a City girl’s sanctuary

Venetia Thompson, until recently a broker, says that the feminist Fawcett Society should not campaign to outlaw City outings to strip joints: they are harmless after-hour crèches It appears that women’s rights activists have hijacked the credit crunch. There could be no better time for the Fawcett Society, led by their director, Katherine Rake, to launch an attack cannily entitled ‘Sexism and the City’ — complete with a handy online, easy-access PDF of its ‘manifesto’. After all, it is those pesky banks and their irresponsible, sexist, strip-club-dwelling employees that are to blame for all our financial worries.

The society’s solution? Campaign to outlaw client entertainment or business meetings taking place in strip clubs, and for the clubs to be licensed as ‘Sex Encounter Establishments’, akin to sex shops. The Fawcett campaigners also propose to ‘end the long working hours culture’ and to ‘make work flexible for all employees at every level’. Few City firms have gone as far as KPMG, with their ‘award-winning’ flexible-working programme offering many options: shorter working weeks, homeworking, job-sharing and, most amusingly, ‘glide time’ which allows start and end times of the working day to be adjusted. Truly inspired ideas in the midst of an economic crisis.

Professor John Coates, a research fellow in neuroscience and finance at Cambridge University, announced a couple of weeks ago, following his study of 260 traders, that there was a correlation between market movements and levels of hormones in male traders’ systems; that surges in testosterone can lead to irrational risk-taking. This led him to the conclusion that if more women and older men were hired, the financial markets could stabilise. This was great news for the Fawcett Society: not only are men in the City supposedly sexist, but now — it is claimed — most of them can also be blamed for the tur moil in the financial markets. After all, a woman would surely never have got her self into the same mess as Jérôme Kerviel (his actions, you will recall, led to Société Générale losing approximately €4.9 bil lion back in January). No — she would have been too busy applying for ‘flexible working’ while he was honing his rogue trading skills, fuelled by testosterone — possibly boosted following a night at a strip club.

While most of the City is fixated by the impending doom of a recession, its wronged women are still undistractedly focused on litigation, with court cases now becoming the norm. Indeed, when a woman leaves the City she is more or less expected and urged to cry harassment, even if, like myself, she has been fired for gross misconduct for writing an article. CNN and BBC will still wait with bated breath, wanting to interview her and tag it to a piece on sexism being rife in the City.

As long, that is, as she plays along with the tearful stereotype. If, on the other hand, she says she liked being called ‘Airbags’, having her arse slapped occasionally and going to strip clubs with clients, then the media don’t want to know.

It seems that there is only one one-sizefits-all sexist template for ex-City women: that of the victim. We do not hear about them until they leave — and then, perhaps in reports from the courts, we read tales of their distress and offence at being told by some hapless trader on one occasion that their breasts were too distracting for him to focus on his bond prices. The strip club provides such women with all the ammunition that they could possibly need. Their male colleagues are damned if they invite them — and damned if they don’t. One of the many complaints in 2006 made by six female employees of Dresdner Kleinwort who sued for sexual discrimination was that they were ‘excluded’ from meetings that took place in strip clubs.

Speaking personally, I have never even seen a meeting take place in a strip club — in this case the breasts really are a distraction. But it is also worth noting that these complainants would have been in an equally strong position if they had been invited, because of their potential discomfort at being in an environment that the Fawcett Society has decided ‘normalises the sexual objectification of women’ and is ‘counter to efforts to promote gender equality’.

During my time in the City, strip clubs were endlessly useful. If used correctly, they can be the City girl’s trump card; providing hassle-free after-dinner entertainment at will. I always thought of them as the City’s after-hour crèches; a sanctuary where I could sit back and relax with a drink while some tedious client bounced around, spaniel-like, his head safely ensconced ’twixt breasts. The overwhelming smell of talc and dubious moisturiser — no longer masked by wafts of tobacco, thanks to the smoking ban — is really the only downside. However, the feminists have developed the handiest of explanations for that rare breed of female who defends her time spent in strip clubs, and leaves the City without suing for sexual discrimination: false consciousness. Such a woman is merely deluded. She will wake up one day, and — the scales falling traumatically from her eyes — suddenly feel wronged; a victim. She will reach for that nice employment lawyer’s business card who had told her that this would happen; that the ‘drip drip drip’ effect of years of having her arse slapped would eventually take its toll.

Unless of course the impulse to sue never arrives. Then, and only then, will she be deemed a traitor to the sisterhood; as having gone and fished her bra out of the flames.

And what of flexible working? The City is not ‘flexible’. Let’s face it: that’s the point. It is a difficult working environment for everyone. It is part of the deal that fitting children, dates, anniversaries and manicures around working for an investment bank is going to be very hard. I am not entirely sure when ‘working flexibly’ became a basic human right; or when it was decided for us that working hours (some admittedly longer than others) had become just too much of a burden; that job-sharing had to be introduced as an option for people who simply could not cope with an entire job all by themselves. Or, indeed, why the Fawcett Society helpfully decided to inform us that ‘women working part-time earn on average 36 per cent less than men working full time’ in their manifesto and expect to be taken remotely seriously.

I am, however, convinced that women, and men, should have the inalienable human right to go to strip clubs if they wish. With or without clients and without the fear of being sued. They should also have the right to rely on the common sense and humour of their co-workers and trust that calling people ‘Baldy’, ‘Fatso or ‘Airbags’, or any other playground name-calling, will be taken in the harmless way in which it is intended. Do we really need to ban much-needed stress-defusing banter and jolly outings to strip clubs from an industry already under immense pressure, and whose workers we are relying upon to get our economy out of the mess it is currently in? It is surely unwise to burn one’s bra when one is unsure where one’s next bra will come from.