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D.C. splits down gender lines for an evening of his-and-hers fundraising

By The Reliable Source

Laura Unterholzner, Mandy Lowe and Malinda Walker offer cigars at Fight Night, an annual fundraiser for Fight For Children. (Evy Mages/FTWP)

The annual Fight Night fundraiser is always billed as a boys' night out -- a smoky, decadent celebration of the manly arts of boxing, tobacco and red meat. It's the one night of the year that Washington's gala scene segregates by sex, the women splitting off to the dress-up, drink-up Knock Out Abuse benefit, a straight-up celebration of sisterhood and girly stuff.

So how is it that Fight Night ends up feeling like it's all about the ladies, too?

Models prancing around the Washington Hilton ballroom in Everlast hot pants. Redskins cheerleaders bumping and grinding in skimpy military-inspired costumes (in honor of Veterans Day). And, of course, the "hostesses" -- some 200 very young women in clingy evening gowns, each assigned to fetch drinks or cigars for a table of leering guys.

"The models seem to stay the same age," said developer Joe Robert, who founded Fight Night 20 years ago, this year raising $2 million for youth charities from his 1,700 guests. "And the older guys keep getting older."

Where do they come from? Darlene Howell, a local modeling agency chief, rounds them up every year. Some are aspiring model-actresses; many have day jobs but show up for the money -- $20 an hour, plus tips that range from $100 to $400 per table. Not, say, to meet guys? No, said Howell: "They know the guys are older."

Tricia Erickson, a former agency owner, started the program at Robert's request. "I was a feminist back then and he talked me into it," she told us. "I saw it wasn't a sexist thing. That's what I was worried about. It was more a glamour thing."

Paul Wharton, of "Real Housewives" fame, poses with guests in a photo booth at Knock Out Abuse, 2010. (Evy Mages/FTWP)

We've overheard a ladies' room conversation or two over the years, hostesses complaining about dubious offers to continue their work upstairs in the suites. No complaints, though, from Monica Keeneth, a 26-year-old federal management consultant in her fifth year of hostessing. The duties include not just drink service but the murkier "hanging out" with a table of guys, but she said getting hit on isn't a big problem: "Usually you can laugh it off."

At Knock Out Abuse, the girl power was thick on the ground of the Ritz-Carlton ballroom: 700 women who raised $600,000 for domestic-violence charities. "You are feeling good! You are looking good! And you are doing good for your sisters who are victims of domestic abuse!" cheered emcee Andrea Roane, the WUSA-9 anchor. She was flanked by a pair of male models in tuxedos and sleek hair with martini-glass and cigar props, in keeping with the night's vague "Mad Men" theme. (Oh wait. Was that a domestic-violence pun?)

Knock Out Abuse guests cradle a golden doodle puppy won at auction. (Photo by Evy Mages/FTWP)

In the silent auction, the ladies eagerly bid on derma-spa certificates for $800 worth of
Botox or $400 worth of Dysport -- and heck yeah, signed their names on the auction forms. Just us girls here, nothing to be embarrassed about! Event chairwoman Sarah Guinan Nixon took the stage, giddy and glowing in a white goddess gown, to thank the crowd, and oh, by the way, she laughed, "Can you
see through this dress with these lights?"

But seriously now . . . there's always a "seriously now" at any charity gala, but it's especially challenging to introduce the speeches at a dinner as champagne-fueled and chatty as Knock Out. "Shhhhhhhhhh," went Roane, trying to dull the roar. If your tablemate is talking, pleaded guest presenter Gloria Reuben (the "ER" actress), "just pinch them." But when Leslie Morgan Steiner -- a former Post exec, now author of a memoir about her abusive first marriage -- took the stage, they grew respectfully silent. A career-achievement prize went to legendary soap opera producer Agnes Nixon (small world: she's the event chair's mother-in-law) which led to delicious video clips of Susan Lucci on a very special domestic-violence episode of "All My Children," and some charming anecdotes: The military wife ("it's Veterans Day") who once called the producer and said she was refusing to ship out with her husband to Germany "unless you tell me what
happens to Donna and Chuck!"

A few gents around: Tuxedoed volunteers who roamed the tables to top off wine (oooh, were we supposed to tip them?). And perennial visitor Clinton Portis, casting bedroom eyes around the room as he cuddled a puppy that soon got auctioned off for $6,000. The Redskins player then auctioned a dinner with himself for $6,700, seductive patter doled out free of charge. To the woman who won him: "I don't have a ride home, by the way."

By 11 p.m., the demographics shifted, as a flood of tuxedos poured into the ballroom. It was the guys from Fight Night, here for the after-party. They scanned the room for their girlfriends, or for opportunity. They had, by and large, left the young hostesses behind. As the lights went down, a 30-something woman beamed. "I love this party," she shouted
above the music to us, "because it's age-appropriate!"

By The Reliable Source  | November 15, 2010; 1:00 AM ET
Categories:  Parties  
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Let me get this straight - in an effort to decrease domestic violence the men are separated to watch a boxing match? and attended to by sexy young women in clingy gowns. I'm sure every father there would love for his daughter to work that gig being leered at by older men. Wow, that sure does sound like a recipe for kindness and respect for women? The hilarious thing about it is that its all a pretense. 90% of the people there don't care a whit about domestic violence, it is an opportunity to see and be seen. Did they invite any of the women that they had helped to a nice fancy evening - nope - The whole thing is just so yuck. Imagine the amount of good that could be done if you skipped the party and used all the money to help people - oh, wait, that's right, we couldn't dare expect people to just donate to a worthy cause because its worth - there must be a labradoodle and an open bar.

Posted by: moxiemom | November 15, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: rlj1 | November 15, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Really, ladies? No coverage at all of the other "Fight" in town on November 11th?

DC Central Kitchen's Capital Food Fight - which raised over $500,000 for DC Central Kitchen, was co-hosted by Jose Andres and Anthony Bourdain, MCed by Redskins announcer Mark Kessler, and judged by Tom Colicchio, Eric Ripert and Michael Mina. Great food and drink from dozens of generous local restaurants and local celeb attendees including Liz Crenshaw, Carla Hall, and Mike Isabella to name but a few. The only tips collected there were at the coat check and they all went directly to the charity, not to the unpaid volunteers staffing the coat checks.

This event certainly seems worthy of at least a few lines of coverage, especially given the direct impact the organization has on the local community every day of the year.

Posted by: leocook | November 15, 2010 5:25 PM | Report abuse

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