Wednesday, October 17, 2007

How Media Can Misrepresent

So I got an article in the Peace Arch News today about the Exotic Goddess Night. Great news to promote the event, but bad news because I wasn't careful with my messaging. The truth is, I just didn't worry about it because I've promoted the event so many times, I thought I could wing it.

But I had a bad feeling about it. So I emailed the reporter and asked if I could read the article first. She said no, of course. There are some reporters who let you read the article first because they understand the insecurity around submitting to articles about marginalized peoples. But this reporter is very young, fresh out of school, and undoubtedly influenced by the old school, asswad mentalities of (mostly male) journalists, who NEVER allow their articles to be read in advance for accuracy or representation.

Here is the article:

By Hannah Sutherland
Staff Reporter

South Surrey resident plans Exotic Goddess Night

Women helping women

To address misconceptions about the sex industry and raise money for a good cause, former exotic dancer Trina Ricketts is co-ordinating the fourth annual Exotic Goddess Night: A Sexpo for Women.

About 200 women are expected to attend the event in Vancouver tomorrow (Thursday), which will include a silent auction, fashion show and pole and lap dance lessons taught by women in the sex industry.

Money raised will support programs and services provided by Prostitution Alternatives Counselling and Education Society (PACE), an organization based in the Downtown Eastside that promotes safer working conditions for sex workers.

“Out of all the people in the sex industry, the people on the street need the most resources,” said Ricketts, a South Surrey resident.

She added that some exotic dancers who feel empowered by what they do, choose to dance and have control within their occupation.

“We want to be able to do our part for women in the industry who don’t have options.”

Through volunteering with PACE, Ricketts was struck by how many sex workers were previous exotic dancers.

“I always believed most exotic dancers don’t cross over to prostitution,” she said. “At least 50 per cent of the sex workers I met have been exotic dancers. I would’ve never suspected that.”

She recalls one day seeing a woman she had worked with before as an exotic dancer, who had taken to the streets as a sex worker.

“She’s on the streets, has mental health issues... and it just breaks my heart.”

Not only is the goal of the event to support sex workers, but also to bring women together and encourage them to be supportive of each other.

“We’ve all been in good places in our lives and bad places in our lives.” she said, adding the best way to get through the tough patches is with support from others.

“No one person is better than any other person. We’re all equal and we all deserve dignity and respect.”

Ricketts said there is still some stigma around the sex industry, which has resulted in difficulties finding sponsors for the event.

Its something she has gotten used to, however, after the other event she coordinates, Exotic Dancers for Cancer, was turned away earlier this year by the Breast Cancer Society of Canada for its controversial nature.

More than $4,000 was raised at last year’s Exotic Goddess Night, and $2,000 was collected the two previous years.

It will take place at the Penthouse Nightclub, 1019 Seymour St., Vancouver, from 6 to 10 p.m.

The Penthouse, regularly a strip club, will only be open to women during the four hours of the event. Tickets are $30 per person at the door.

Silent auction items will include hand-painted champagne glasses, gowns worth between $200 and $500, a $100 tattoo gift certificate and a package for eyelash care at a local spa.

For more information, e-mail annie@nakedtruth.ca. To donate to PACE, or for more information about the organization, visit www.pace-society.ca

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So, can you spot the problem with this article? The discussion about exotic dancers and sex workers arose when Hannah asked me if there has ever been one particular sex worker who has really impacted me. Several passed through my mind - a male to female transgenedered worker who told me she'd like to get out of jail before she dies (referring to getting a sex change operation), the woman I wrote "I Look Like One of Them" about, the woman who died at a ridiculously young age of complications from pneumonia, and many many more. But the one that stuck in my mind during this interview was the one I used to dance with.

Speaking on the topic of that one woman led to some other things that were included in the article. I will admit I said them all. I did say that about 50% of the sex workers I've met had tried exotic dancing. It's the truth.

It's what I didn't say that bothers me now. I was talking to Ryann Rain about it this morning. Most of the women we know who are exotic dancers would not cross over into prostitution. The reason they are exotic dancers is because they are not comfortable with contact. But when people read this article, that's not what they will think. Mom's of exotic dancers will worry that their daughters will become prostitutes. And it will likely increase the stigma even more.

I'm disappointed in myself for not choosing my words more carefully. In this kind of work, it's not the truth always that matters. It's how the truth is presented that matters. And in this case, it was presented to the detriment and increased stigma of exotic dancers.

3 comments:

Susan said...

I know how irritating it can be to deal with reporters, but it's not an "asswad mentality" that says reporters don't let their stories be read in advance by anyone but editors -- it's part of journalistic ethics to ensure they aren't influenced unduly by publicists or powerful sources. Any reporter or publication concerned with her or its integrity would decline such requests.

Anyhow, as a stripper I don't feel alienated in the least by that article. We're all sex workers! Those with poor opinions of exotic dancers really wouldn't change their minds because of the 50 or 75 or 90 percent of us who danced and didn't cross over into other sex work.

What a great event, and I hope it's very successful.

Annie Temple said...

Thanks, Susan. I admit that my language betrayed my disappointment in the article. When I was going to school in the PR program, we had presentations by many reporters. There was one who stands out in my mind. She said that when it came to sensitive topics, she would allow the subject of the article to read it first - especially if that person expressed some anxiety. I've always remembered that there are journalists like her and wish there were more.

But you're right - "asswad" is a harsh judgment. lol and besides, I don't want to insult the writer as she did a great job and obviously meant well.

I'm glad you didn't feel alienated at all, but my experience with many dancers from the naked truth forums, is that they would be quick to pounce on me for my words and how they might further stigmatize the industry.

But I do accept that this will happen occasionally and it's not a good enough reason to remain silent. My loud voice will make more of a difference than the hundreds of silent ones, regardless of the occasional out-of-context portrayal.

Kiki said...

I don't think there's much wrong with the article, I guess I can see where you're coming from though.
I think it's probably fair to say that the dance industry has changed significally over the last 15 years so most of the girls who dance now have probably been in for under 10 years, many probably under 5.
I think the industry has changed for the better, but it probably isn't unfair off to say that in years past it was not the empowering career choice that it is now. It was run by men, for ment and as societies attitudes and expectations change so does (in theory) our treatment of women, which translates here very well.
We ALL know people who have ended up either on the streets or in survival sex, it just so happens that because you are a dancer that may be where you know them from. Anyone who would read that article and judge all dancers, probably wasn't going to get anything positive out of it (or the event) anyways so to hell with them.
You're wicked awesome, and your skills with the press are super wonderful.