Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Judging RedEye by its Covers

Last week, Chicagoans learned about a proposed law that would tax strip clubs $5 per customer to fund rape crisis services in Illinois. News quickly went viral about the law. State Senator Toi Hutchinson and Lt. Governor Sheila Simon support the bill, which is an advocacy effort of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault. CAASE supports this proposed tax, and we have a lot of work to do addressing how our local media talk about this issue and violence against women in general. RedEye, Chicago’s free newspaper, broke the story with a cover that looked like this:

RedEye set the tone and brought the conversation down to the basest level possible. A caption could have been: “Women in strip clubs are simply body parts you can buy and tax.”

Senator Hutchinson did a great job re-framing the conversation in a press conference. “This is an important conversation,” she said. “There’s a connection between this industry and the objectification of women that allows rape to continue, and that’s a fact." She continued: “Women are whole human beings with hearts and spirits and minds. We’re not a collection of body parts that are for sale." She must have been facing some smirks in the audience, because she added, "This is nothing to laugh about. It’s up to every one of us that the conversation is where it ought to be.”
Violence against women is routinely trivialized and glamorized in order to sell, sell, sell. (If you’re not familiar with this problem, see the awesome new film, Miss Representation.) Women in the commercial sex trade are snickered at, blamed, dehumanized. So what does the media have to say about all this?

Today on WBEZ, a media panel (Scott Smith of Chicago Magazine and Jen Sabella of Huffington Post Chicago) talked briefly about the use of the word “ass” on the RedEye cover and the image of a woman’s feet in apparent “stripper shoes.” They quickly summarized that the cover was tailored to RedEye’s audience, a group that will only pick up and read the most salacious stories. Smith likened it to the old timey days of news boys hawking headlines to sell papers, when the veracity of the message on the cover didn't matter, really, as long as it motivated people to read a well-researched story.

Of course, he’s right. This is absolutely how RedEye is operating, or we never would have seen that cover. The inside story was fair and informative, but covers matter too.

That cover should have been about the perpetration of sexual violence. It should have been about how women in strip clubs (and women who live near the clubs) experience harassment and sexual assault. It should have been about efforts to end exploitation. Let's demand that our local media elevate the conversation.  Tell the RedEye that it matters to you what they put on their covers, in their pages, and on their website. Send an email or a letter to the editor urging them not to objectify women or trivialize sexual violence (email ritaredeye@tribune.com).

See the whole press conference (CAASE's Lynne Johnson speaks about our End Demand Illinois campaign!) with Senator Hutchinson and Lt. Governor Simon below, and stay tuned for more.