In response to the inquisitors
As the writer of the piece in question I will respond here to the accusations made directly at the article “Pole Dancing Olympics.” There appears to be a serious misunderstanding here as to what journalism entails. The article was a report about a specific event, an awards ceremony, on a specific evening, in a specific place. As a reporter I could only write about what I was seeing before me. It was not an opinion piece and The Corsair is not some ideological publication with a specific, political agenda. It can’t be, we have conservatives, liberals, in-betweeners and anarchists on our staff. The letter accuses me of lacking in any “critical consciousness” in the writing. This is quite ludicrous considering there is a great deal of critical observation in the piece and even a sense of irony through out. This was even obvious to Angelina Murphy, a writer for UCLA’s feminist magazine Feme. She wrote me a kind e-mail where she believed I was too critical of the dancers’ profession. She pointed out the moments where I wrote about the "sexual character of the activity" and "it's hard to wash away the scandalous spirit of this particular sport.” The letter accuses the article of advancing the objectification of women, yet I clearly describe a moment where a performer licks her award in a provocative manner in which I write “If pole dancing ever wants to be dignified there should be a change in protocol.”
The article was a snapshot of the image-driven world these performers inhabit. But just because you might not like the lifestyle of the women in the article, it does not mean they do not deserve a space to speak, or the courtesy of having their words be read. Like all human beings, these women deserve respect. They are choosing to be professionals in this field. Yes, it’s a physical, sensual field, but the event covered was not related to the porn industry and it did not take place at some dive stripe club but at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion where the LA Opera performs.
I myself share some of the criticisms leveled at the world depicted in the article. We live in times dominated by consumerism and commercial exploitation, which has spread into the realm of the body and sexuality. People have been turned into commodities and the media diminishes our sense of self worth by glorifying specific, physical ideas of how we should look. But the role of journalism is to capture the world as it is now, not as we would like it to be. The letter slams us for not “reaching out to our in-house experts.” The problem is journalism is apparently out of the letter’s authors’ field of expertise. Even the photos are less jarring then, perhaps, the work of world-renowned photographer Mary Ellen Mark. Her work captures in unflinching honesty the world of those living in the underground, in shanty neighborhoods or the bowels of urban America.
When I sent a copy of the letter and article to Noam Chomsky, considered by many to be the world’s most prominent intellectual, his simple reply was “sounds crazy to me.”
It could be that the authors of the letter simply did not comprehend the nature of the writing in question. Indeed, words failed professor Christina Preciado, one of the letter’s prime backers, when she approached our table during Club Row and used expletive language against our publication, dismissing the paper as “bullshit.” If we’re going to discuss positive role models and examples to others, consider that while Professor Preciado chose crude, thuggish language against a campus paper while being surrounded by other students, the dancers featured in the article carried themselves with dignity and articulated their answers in a discussion with wit.
Yes, the article was published during National Women’s History Month, and so we presented a unique view into how some women are living their lives in a sport out of the mainstream. The letter chastises us for not choosing better “role models” for women’s empowerment. But what diminishes these performers in comparison to say, the women who achieve power in the corrupt halls of government or shark-infested waters of Wall Street? I recently had the opportunity to participate in a closed door meeting at UCLA with the United States Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. I can honestly say that I felt a clearer sense of honesty and authenticity coming from the dancers, who perform a particular, physical sport, as opposed to a woman who uses bureaucratic lingo to justify bombing Libya, desiring to bomb Syria and now uses hysterical language to antagonize Russia and risk a major war, all at the service of even more corrupt, vile males.
It is offensive for the letter to link the piece to the pressing issue of addressing the very real danger of harassment and assault women face on college campuses. My mother fled the civil war that engulfed El Salvador in the 1980s. I grew up in a home well aware of what it’s like for a woman to survive in a very dangerous terrain where rape, assault, kidnapping and torture were daily realities that could come at any moment at home, in the street, and even in movie theaters when the violence reached peak levels.
To also accuse our paper of pushing “soft porn” and “women stereotypes” is yet another joke. Our staff features some incredibly talented, independent, women editors who have won first place awards at state and regional conferences. In fact, they were all asked to read the pole dancing piece and offer their input before it was published. To diminish their place of work displays the ironic, lack of research on the part of the Salem inquisitors who wrote the letter.
The great fault of this letter is that it assumes that we, the newspaper staff, and you, the general student reader, are not smart enough to form our own observations and opinions. By suggesting that certain classes, which happen to be taught by some of the authors of the letter, be made into pre-requisites to be in the paper’s staff is a sly form of gatekeeping. It suggests critical thinking cannot come through research and experience, observations and investigating. Should we consult the film department every time we publish a movie review? And what if a conservative-minded student decides to denounce Professor James Stramel, one of the letter's most prominent signers, for providing texts that might be seen to advocate swinging, open marriages, and other out-of-the-mainstream sexual practices? George Orwell would surely weep.
One of the letter’s most glaring moments accuses the article of being “an attack on the values of inclusion and citizenship touted by SMC.” This is a strange statement to make. Are the women featured in the article some form of female sub-species who do not deserve to be mentioned or included as citizens in a newspaper report? It is as if the authors would like to classify what should be considered worthy of inclusion and citizenship. The dancers interviewed in the article even described their chosen profession as a form of feminism. They have chosen their line of work and believe their sport is empowering and valid. If the authors of the letter wish to judge them that is their decision, but it is no excuse to defame our publication. As the anarchist militant and feminist Emma Goldman once said, “if I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”