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Girls (Not) Allowed

Publishing Date : 05 February, 2018

Stuart White
The World in Black-N-White

It all kicked off late last year with the Harvey Weinberg scandal.  This mega-rich, mega-successful movie producer and company director was outed as a serial womaniser as more and more actresses spoke out over their close encounters of a predatory kind.  The result was the ostracism of both the man and his company, potential lawsuits and criminal charges and a rising up of leading female Hollywood stars, united in their desire to stamp out such practices once and for all.

After Weinstein other names in the business also faced similar accusations, albeit not all on the same scale.  Movie and theatre darling Kevin Spacey’s career is in tatters and other big names hit the headlines including magician David Copperfield, KISS musician Gene Simmonds,  actors Ben Affleck, Dustin Hoffman, Sylvester Stallone and many more names in show business, music and politics.  In fact, for weeks, barely a day went by without another accusation against another big name appearing in the press – it seemed the problem was endemic.

After that came the furore over fund-raising event at the prestigious Dorchester Hotel in London, an annual function held by a group of wealthy donors who called themselves the President’s Club.  The evening of wining, dining, raffling and donating which raised hundreds of thousands of pounds (make that millions in pula terms) for charities was compèred by comedian David Walliams and also included around 100 young female hostesses, hired to look fetching and encourage attendees to loosen their wallets. 

However their number also included 2 undercover reporters, who reported tales of inappropriate groping and lewd suggestions from attendees to the hostesses, though none of the girls made any official complaint and no charges have been laid,  Yet one Labour peer , Jonathon Mendelsohn, was forced to resign simply because he had attended the event, in spite of his protestations that he had personally witnessed nothing untoward; world-famous children’s hospital, Great Ormond’s Street, handed back their donation of more than half a million pounds (8 million pula) which their spokesperson termed ‘tainted money’ and the club, which over the years has raised and donated a small fortune to a host of charities, has now disbanded. 

Much of the post-event discussion centred on the fact that the young women were instructed by the hiring agency to wear matching black underwear, full make-up and attractively-dressed hair and were issued with tight-fitting, short-skirted uniforms for the evening.  Some commentators were quick to condemn this dress code as sexist and degrading but others pointed out that as the uniforms were black, the wearing matching underwear is a fashion and style norm; and that the girls were not coerced to take the job but were wiling volunteers.

This scandal was quickly followed by yet another related storm in a teacup, this time in the world of professional darts.   Many of you might not even be aware that there is such a thing but there actually are people who make their living from throwing arrows and you can catch some of the tournaments on sporting television channels.   As you might imagine, professional darts players are not exactly models of fitness and toned bodies which is probably why the big tourneys are prettied up by some glamorous, attractively-dressed young women who lead the players onto the stage, known simply as ‘walk-on’ girls. 

But last week, in a seeming gesture of solidarity with the critics of the President’s Club event, the sport’s organising body, the Professional Darts Corporation, announced that they would do away with the walk-on girls, which they say are an outdated custom, with immediate effect.  "We regularly review all aspects of our events and this move has been made following feedback from our host broadcasters," said a PDC spokesperson.

Now whether you concur with this or not, the net result is that a number of young women have suddenly found themselves out of work with virtually no notice and not unnaturally, they’re not too happy with the decision. One walk-on girl, Charlotte Wood, says darts accounts for 60 per cent of her income .  Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live, she said: "Everybody chooses to do a job, and I feel like if I'm being told I can't do this job, then my rights are being taken away. 

I have chosen to do this job. I go to work, I put on a nice dress and I escort darts players on to the stage. I smile and that is it. I don't honestly see what the problem is.  Where do we stop with this? I would be immensely proud if I had a daughter [doing the job of a walk-on girl]." Their cause is being supported by former world champion Raymond van Barneveld who set up an online petition to reinstate the walk-on girls. As of last weekend  nearly 15,000 people had signed the appeal.

And now Formula 1 has followed suit by announcing that effective from the upcoming 2018 F1 system, the sport will no longer employ ‘grid girls’, young women, mainly professional models who have traditionally been used to conduct certain promotional tasks, usually wearing clothing that bears the name of a sponsor.  Their duties in F1 included holding umbrellas or driver name-boards on the grid and lining the corridor through which the drivers walk on their way to the podium.  For obvious reasons, in a sport associated with wealth and glamour, the positions are much-coveted.  A lucky few are chosen from sport sponsor Etihad whose cabin crew vie for the opportunity and other spots are always oversubscribed.  

In a statement, Sean Bratches, Managing Director, Commercial Operations at Formula 1, said   “Over the last year we have looked at a number of areas which we felt needed updating so as to be more in tune with our vision for this great sport," said "While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of Formula 1 Grands Prix for decades, we feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern day societal norms. We don’t believe the practice is appropriate or relevant to Formula 1 and its fans, old and new, across the world.”

In contrast the girls themselves are extremely upset at the loss of work and income.  Charlotte Gash is a part-time grid girl, who says "It's upsetting and I'm rather disgusted that F1 have given in to the minority to be politically correct," Gash told BBC Radio 5 live.  "I'm one of the lucky ones that I don't rely on this as a main source of income, but there are girls out there who do.

"I know the grid girls are there to look pretty when they're out on the grid but my role was interacting with the crowd and we were there as an advertisement for the sponsors. We love doing it we don't want it taken away from us." Caroline Hall is another former grid girl, who now owns an agency providing staff for promotional events.  She told 5 live: "I think it's sad they've taken such extreme measures so quickly. I think they could have looked at ways of bringing the role more into line with modern times instead of scrapping it entirely. They could have looked at making it more equal between the sexes in the role.

"The question is 'what are people offended by? Are they offended by the role, that there is somebody standing there with sponsors over their clothing or is it the fact that there are only women doing it?’ The hidden problem here is where does this all end?  What about cheerleaders who are so much a part of many sports, including American football?  Glamorous girls at trade fairs helping to shift all manner of consumer goods?  Magician’s assistants in body-hugging costumes? 

All of these are positions open to attractive young women; they are short-lived career choices but is it wrong for these young women to utilise their natural assets while they can?  And if you think they are victims of exploitation, how come these jobs are much sought-after and the women themselves appear to love their work?
I could be wrong but I’m predicting a backlash – watch this space!



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