SASKATOON – A fundraiser with scantily clad women that has been held annually for 35 years is being discontinued at a time of heightened awareness around gender-based violence and sexual harassment.
The Saskatoon chapter of the service organization Canadian Progress Club says on its website it will no longer hold its Boys Lunch Out event.
“The Progress Club Saskatoon Downtown recognizes the Boys Lunch Out has raised a mixed reaction in the community, with many people strongly against it,” the website said Thursday.
“This recent attention has served to highlight that some events no longer have a place in today’s society.”
A CBC reporter shot a short video last Friday at the invitation-only event that showed women in G-strings gyrating on raised walkways.
The Progress Club said earlier this week that the event had been “grossly misrepresented,” but added it would review all future fundraisers.
The controversy comes as sexual assault and harassment allegations against some of the most powerful men in Hollywood, politics and the media have flooded online social networks. Many have spoken out using the hashtag #metoo.
It also coincides with the United Nations 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence and Wednesday’s 28th anniversary of a gunman killing 14 women at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal.
“The fact that this event was even timed in conjunction of all of that was just unreal to us,” said Caval Olson-Lepage, president of the Business and Professional Women of Saskatoon, said Thursday.
Olson-Lepage said she doesn’t know what the experience was like for the women who took part in Boys Lunch Out.
“Did they feel like they could say no if something uncomfortable happened to them?” Olson-Lepage asked.
The Progress Club did not respond to interview requests.
Olson-Lepage said she doubts Boys Lunch Out would have caught national attention had it taken place before sexual assault accusations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein came to light this fall.
“Definitely that has had an impact. People are really looking at this more closely than just brushing it off as they would have in the past.”
Marie Lovrod, program chair for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, said the event was out of step with the times.
“I was certainly taken aback,” she said. “It’s ironic in the extreme.”
She said she doesn’t believe the women who participated should be criticized, especially in a city where wage and income gaps between men and women are among the highest in the country, according to a recent ranking by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
“They were hired to do a job and they did it,” Lovrod said. “But I don’t think it’s good judgment to use that kind of disparity as a way to purchase respectability for behaviour that you probably wouldn’t want your daughter to engage in.”
Licensed strip clubs have been banned in Saskatchewan since 2015, with the exception of yearly charitable events.
Cindy Hanson, a professor of adult education at the University of Regina, is also president of the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women. She said violence against women can’t be separated from events such as Boys Lunch Out.
Statistics Canada says that in 2015 Saskatchewan had the highest rates of police-reported violence against intimate partners among all provinces in Canada.
“Women’s bodies become objects for men to exploit and, in this case, the gaze is on women’s bodies and that’s what’s being sold. It’s the commodity that’s being sold to men and they’re paying for it,” said Hanson.
“It only increases the possibility of women’s bodies being objectified in other settings.”
— By Lauren Krugel in Calgary