It’s been a bad, bad Monday, rife with sex-worker hate and misrepresentation. (Credit to Norah .K. Murphy for coining Misogyny Monday).
First, I read an extraordinary piece of bad journalism from the Toronto Star with the headline: “Body in Caledon identified as young escort.” In the story, the writer describes Kera Freeland, the victim, almost exclusively within the context of her being an escort—as if it was integral to reporting her death. In a most disrespectful paragraph, he outlines his online research of Freeland, writing:
The Cachet Ladies website no longer includes Freeland on its roster of escorts, but a cached profile page shows her in a number of provocative poses wearing only lingerie. She is described on the site as one of the “newest top models,” with “beautiful body and facial features.”
I don’t think that I need to write much on why including irrelevant details like these is bad journalism, but I do want to touch on the fact that if it were my body was found in a ditch, my headline would certainly not be “Body identified as young digital content manager,” and there would be no investigation into my mucking about in a CMS all day. But because Freeland was an escort, the writer felt it necessary to objectify and dehumanize her. What makes this dangerous? That many will read her status as an escort as an explanation for her death.
Then I came across Escort vs. Hooker (I’ve linked to a screengrab in order to avoid giving Maclean’s any more traffic), in which Scott Feschuk unabashedly shames sex workers in an effort to “poke fun at the media.” This was not the right way to comment on the use of “escort” versus “hooker,” as his message was less about the words and more about dehumanizing features and traits of sex workers. Poking fun works if it’s done with fresh and clever writing, not with re-hashings of tired and hateful stereotypes cloaked in “humour.”
Feschuk has since admitted that “in the eyes of many people” he has failed and the piece was pulled. He’s also issued an apology, which I always appreciate seeing, and taken the piece down. I’m happy about this, and I consider it a positive that Feschuk understood why the post was wrong, but I’m having a hard time letting go of its inherent misogyny. I’m not certain that is something that can be apologized for. The post has disappeared, but I’ll have a hard time forgetting how it seems Feschuk thinks about sex workers.
I can’t forget because it’s writing like this that perpetuates the harmful stereotypes about sex workers that encourage society to devalue them, and in extreme cases, tacitly condone assaulting and murdering them. We have a long way to go in terms of changing negative attitudes about sex workers. They are not disposable. They are not defined solely by their occupation. They deserve respect. They are people.
Please, let us reflect this in our writing instead.