by Leslie Morgan Steiner
Twenty years ago, a businessman in Washington, DC started an annual tradition called Fight Night . Two thousand men together on a Thursday night in November, watching live professional boxing matches and smoking lots of cigars, with a hefty ticket price and all proceeds donated to charities benefitting low-income children. A boys’ night out – for a very good cause.
Fight Night is lauded in the press and throughout DC as a wonderful idea and a huge success, with good reason.
The women attached to the Fight Night men used their Thursday night away from the cigar-wielding macho men wisely. Two enterprising women , one a model and the other an advertising design entrepreneur, started a women-only corollary to Fight Night. The night is called Knock Out Abuse . For $500, on the same night in November women throughout DC gather to talk and gossip and show off their gorgeous gams for a very good cause. Since it was started 17 years ago, Knock Out Abuse has donated $7 million to charities benefitting victims of domestic violence. Now, $500 is a lot to donate to a charity. I also know firsthand that $7 million goes a long way within the cash-strapped, underfunded, exceptionally frugal and dedicated domestic violence support community.
You’d assume that Knock Out Abuse would get praised throughout DC as a wonderfully feminist, women-helping-women do-gooder celebration carried out with remarkable efficiency. Seven million dollars raised over the course of 17 nights, right? By getting women to PAY to hang out with each other, show off our fashion sense, and gossip? We do that for free every day. Knock Out Abuse always struck me as an ingenious creation.
This year’s Knock Out Abuse  took place last Thursday at the Ritz Carlton ballroom in downtown DC. Supermodel Lauren Hutton was there. The director of the Washington DC ballet was there. Agnes Nixon , the creator of All My Children and One Life to Live, was honored for publicizing the realities of domestic violence via daytime television. I was there too, along with an additional 749 women who ponied up a serious chunk of change to come to Knock Out, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to benefit women and children.
Here’s what I don’t understand: an undercurrent of women throughout DC ridicule Knock Out Abuse. Often the most serious, successful DC women degrade the event the most loudly. I’ve heard it criticized as frivolous and self-indulgent. The attendees are sometime characterized as tawdry and indolent, and the old faithful: gold-diggers. The event was dissed as “offensive or at the very least, distasteful,” on a local blog. The free DC newspaper The Examiner explained clumsily , “a night that looks like fashion and glamour. The truth is – these women come to this gala to make a difference – but in a glamorous way." One prominent DC business woman explained that she wasn’t going to Knock Out because she didn’t want to spend an evening with “a bunch of women looking to land wealthy husbands.”
At an all-female event? How’s that work?
True, the women were dressed to kill . Short, tight cocktail dresses, lots of cleavage, impeccable makeup, manicures, hair styles and heels. One remarkable woman announced in front of the ladies room full length mirror that she’d had her first baby nine weeks before (at that moment, she could have passed for a Victoria’s Secret model strutting down the runway). I never would have guessed that staid DC had 750 smoking hot babes. I was happy for each and every one of them – and grateful for their generous financial donations to an eminently worthy cause.
And I also never knew women on the sidelines could be quite so catty. I thought that kind of self-abuse went out with the rule of thumb , 1800s English and American common law that men were allowed to beat their wives, as long as the stick they used was no thicker than their thumb. Why would any woman, under any circumstances, want to deride a charity event that raises millions of dollars to help other women?
Sometimes we need to remember: the first kind of abuse we need to knock out is women’s abuse of other women.