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Friday, September 17, 2021

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News + PoliticsThe "Old Boys Club" is alive and well in...

The “Old Boys Club” is alive and well in SF

Annual Boys Night Out event gathers power players and media elite — no girls allowed. 

All that's missing are the cigars. Photo by Robert Altman
All that’s missing are the cigars. And the women. Photo by Robert Altman

By Marke B

The optics are disastrous. In the picture taken last night, freely shared on Facebook by organizer Lee Houskeeper, more than 40 men pose smiling on the top floor of John’s Grill, home of the famous Maltese Falcon and a symbol of SF’s establishment class if there ever was one.

Willie Brown is there. Public Defender Jeff Adachi is there. Scott Weiner and Mark Leno are there. Several SFPD captains and lieutenants, high-powered civil rights lawyers, and power brokers jostle for space in the frame. So do the highest-ranking editors and reporters from the Chronicle, the Examiner, San Francisco Magazine, CBS and NBC. Jim Steinle, father of murdered Kate Steinle, sits in the front row. Even Wavy Gravy the clown is there.

Who’s not there? Women. Even just one woman. “Oh What a Boy’s Night Out” is the caption, followed by a list of attendees’ names.

(Here’s the whole caption: “Oh What a Boy’s Night Out: Willie Brown, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, State Senator Mark Leno, Supervisor Scott Weiner, Jim Steinle, Chronicle editorial page editor John Diaz with Chronicle columnists Chuck Nevius, Andy Ross, Scott Ostler and reporter Evan Sernoffsky, San Francisco Magazine publisher Paul Reulbach with his editors Jon Steinberg and Joe Eskenazi, San Francisco Examiner editor Michael Howerton his ace reporter Joe Fitz, Wavy Gravy, KPIX’s Mike Sugerman, Guardian of the Bay Bruce Brugmann, Don Sanchez, Brian Copeland, Judge Paul Alvarado, Gene “Dr. Hip” Schoenfeld, Bob Sarlatte, Civil Rights attorney John Burris, Alex Clemens, Bobby “Bud E. Luv” Vickers, Sam Lauter, Herb Gold, Jack Anderson, George Michalski, Paul “Lobster” Wells, NBC’s Joe Rosato Jr., filmmakers Eric Christensen & John Turner, SFPD legends Joe Garrity, Joe Engler Al Casciato & John Cleary, Jeffrey Gareliv, Mark Margolin, Kevin Pursglove, Richard Johns, James Campbell, Robert Altman, Ron Turner, John Marshall, Michael Clark, Jay Johnson, J.C. Flier Dave Stoelk, Jim Huntington, Terry Callan, Mike Taylor, John Catchings Pat Johnson and FLAX’s Howard Flax”)

The annual Boys Night Out event has been going on in SF for 15 years now — and Houskeeper hosted them in LA for 25 years before that. Paid for by John’s Grill and Houskeeper himself, “It’s just a fun, traditional thing,” in Houskeeper’s words, “playing off how our fathers would be chased out of the house by our mothers in the old days.”

A playful tribute to fictional Mad Men nostalgia? Maybe, but this isn’t a few cigars in the gun room with old friends. This is some high-powered elbow-rubbing between the political class and the media elite. “We invite all the guys we think would make things interesting,” Houskeeper told me — this time around the gathering was a tribute to 84-year-old Wilkes Bashford, on the diamond anniversary of the launch of his eponymous clothing line — “and then we adopt the model of the secret old Black Cat club: Once we turn the Maltese Falcon on its side, anything can be discussed by anyone, without fear of it getting around or what have you.”

That means a hell of a lot of access for journalists (and vice versa for politicos), not to mention all the subtler networking opportunities that both sides build careers and base major decisions on  — as long as they’re male. Take Jim Steinle: He’s one of the most talked-about figures of the year, whose daughter’s senseless murder set the cable news world alight and put SF sanctuary city policies in Congress’s crosshairs. He was in that room. (Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, the other major player in the media frenzy, was not invited “for space reasons.”). Steinle’s currently on a press junket organized by Houskeeper himself to admirably inject some subtlety into a case that’s been rendered black and white by both Fox News and CNN.

But good luck talking to him if you don’t have a penis.

Houskeeper is a legendary SF press agent and local personality who’s been affectionately described as being “born in a different century” — despite having a storied rock career that includes becoming the Doors’ agent at age 20. He describes the Boys Nights Out as containing “an extremely diverse bunch of guys from all over the city map, although we don’t have a lot of young ones. ”

“[Gay State Senator] Mark Leno even joked about how he never turned down an all-boys party,” Houskeeper said.

But when it comes to including women? “We’ve talked about it over the years,” Houskeeper told me, “and there are several smart women that we seriously have thought about inviting.” He mentions early meetings in LA when “June Lockhart, Lassie’s mom, would come read us dirty stories of her choosing” and that “Jerry Brown met Linda Ronstadt at a Boys Night Out.”

“But it would have to evolve organically — we don’t just want to open it up to anyone and make it a club rather than something special,” Houskeeper said. “A lot of times we ask women, smart ones, and they say ‘Hell, no! Why would I want to go hang out with a bunch of old men!’ And sometimes they come after us to include them, but it all ends up being a big game of ‘Gotcha’ in the end. But we have discussed including women, if they could feel comfortable here. And it’s an ongoing process.”

I asked Audrey Cooper, editor in chief of the Chronicle, if she felt such events hindered the advancement of women, especially in the media industry.

“I know that several of my friends and colleagues who were there have requested that future events include the city’s many women leaders,” Cooper told me via email, “and I expect that will happen. For the most part, that group was organized and attended by very smart men — many, many of whom have been my supporters and advocates.

“My two cents? The question you should be asking is whether the inclusion of women would make the event more or less popular. That might say more about the state of gender equality in this city, wouldn’t it?”

Other women in the media industry were less sanguine about the notion of an old school Boys Night Out that included such power players to the disadvantage of women seeking access, especially in San Francisco.

A female journalist told me anonymously (it’s hard to speak out about an event attended by some of the most powerful people in your field):

“What’s hilarious about this photo and the event in general is that none of the journalists who are doing the best and most interesting work in San Francisco are present, because they’re all women. You don’t have the editor in chief of the Chronicle, or the Chron’s City Hall reporters, senior political reporter, top technology reporter, or best crime reporter, because they are all women. You also don’t have any of the rising generation of tech journalists who are covering the most important industry in San Francisco (Nitasha Tiku, Ellen Cushing, Kristen Brown, and Ellen Huet come to mind) because they’re all women too.

“What you do have are a handful of aging power players, a literal clown, and a smattering of local reporters who should know better.”


Marke B.
Marke Bieschke is the publisher and arts and culture editor of 48 Hills. He co-owns the Stud bar in SoMa. Reach him at marke (at) 48hills.org, follow @supermarke on Twitter.
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  1. Superb deployment of the reductio ad absurdum technique! But your inability to respond to my point does not detract from its validity. If reductio ad absurdum is all you can come up with, that’s pretty weak. Think a little bit, Marke. Open your mind, step out of your box, and try to think about the points I made. If you drop your defensive wall, you might just find there’s some truth there. I do appreciate the fact that you’re one of the few authors here who actually responds to comments, even if it’s with empty sarcasm.

  2. OH MY GODDESS how did we ever miss the enormous and purposeful conspiracy of women to oppress men by deliberately living longer than them??? WE MUST TELL THE WORLD. Women must never again be allowed to gather together in a safe space to share strategies again! Thank you, Greg, thank you, for standing up for mens rights here.

  3. No, Tim, everything is not equal. As long as men out-earn women, and as long as women out-live men, things are not equal. And those inequalities need to be addressed. But they need to be addressed on *both* sides, and we need to look at inequalities in a rational and even-handed manner. Note, for example, how in cases where inequality benefits men (for example at the levers of power), we’re eager to do everything we can to stamp it out; but when inequality benefits women (for example in health), society is quick to dismiss it as an innate difference, or blame it on the behavior of the men themselves. Would we be doing the same if it were men who were living 5 years longer, or would we be asking what it is about the way society treats the different genders that causes the inequality in health outcomes?

    Tim, I have no problem with people daring to challenge their minority status at the levers of power. But it can’t be done in an exclusionary manner. If anything, I take an absolutist view toward discrimination. When you exclude talented people from power on the basis of gender, it’s wrong. Period. It is you who is taking a relativist view of discrimination: it’s wrong to have exclusionary networking clubs for men only, but perfectly OK to have exclusionary networking clubs for women only. The reasons why you believe this, constitute the justification for your moral relativism.

    And incidentally, the right wing has become masterful at using the righteous moral relativism of PC liberals to their advantage.
    People like Willie Brown and Ed Lee appoint neoliberal cronies of every conceivable color and gender, and then they’ll call you sexist and racist when you don’t support their cronies. It’s hypocrisy at its finest, because they know as well as you do that what really matters are the policies that they advance. But liberals leave themselves open to the charge, so they play you like a fiddle.

  4. What a strange relativist world you live in, where everything is equal, and people daring to challenge their minority status at the levers of power is “PC.”

  5. True. And it’s wrong. That’s why I’m not wild about groups like EMILY’S List and Emerge. And no amount of PC justifies it.

    But this is wrong too. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Anytime you’re excluding people based on something that they have no control over, it’s wrong.

  6. Probably not the biggest deal in the world, but it’s pretty hard to come up with any angle where this is not intensely obnoxious and unfunny. If this were an event started in the 1850s and involved driving around in miniature cars wearing stupid hats to raise money for children’s hospitals, or sitting in a dunk-tank at a county fair to raise awareness for prostate cancer, I could perhaps see it as harmless and mildly amusing.

    I mean: tech titans of the bay boy’s night; straight night own for professional sports players, the white (only) welcome wagon, for new SF residents? Maybe this event is a tiny bit less offensive than the very worst event you could come up with as a parody, but not much.

  7. Funny – Joe Fitzgerald is there, he’s a former SFBG reporter and he’s a loud and proud progressive! Wait – so is former SFBG owner Bruce Bragman! What about this is really making Marke clutch his pearls? A bunch of guys getting together once a year is supposed to signal what – misogyny? Maybe Marke’s sad he wasn’t invited 🙁

  8. Isn’t that your former colleague Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez on the right there? Why don’t you go shame him yourself?

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