As I’ve reported previously, the high-end, high-quality journalism of the Guardian has an achilles heel: sexuality. Whenever this mysterious subject raises its head, the Guardian seems to feel that it must respond with a mix of straight-laced puritanism and British schoolboy-type giggling.
I’ve reported about the attacks on London strip clubs, and the people who work in them, by a bizarre mix of anti-sex “feminist” groups, including Object, and religious fundamentalists. My recent podcast featured interviews with strippers who are fighting against these attacks. If such an attack on unionised workers took place in any other industry, the Guardian would take a serious journalistic approach. But these unionised workers take their clothes off for a living; and Guardian editorial policy in such matters requires a mix of “Ooh Matron!” and “Tut tut, your nipples must be covered at all times!”
So imagine my (lack of) surprise when the recent publication of a report by two British academics into the British lap-dancing industry was met with the usual lack of seriousness in a comment piece by Victoria Coren entitled We must hone our lap-dancing skills. It’s about strippers, and strippers aren’t real people (at least, none of the Guardian’s Oxbridge-educated journalists know any), so we can all have a laugh at these working class women who undress for a living.
The writers of the original report, Dr Kate Hardy and Dr Teela Sanders of Leeds University, have responded with a letter to the Guardian, which they shared with MoronWatch:
Victoria Coren’s ‘wry’ look at our research on labour conditions and mainstreaming of the lap dancing industry is lazy, Chinese whispers journalism in which the author has simply lifted an already poorly reported story from another news source.
Satire aside (I’m sure Coren is au fait with Aristotle’s theory of humour), the piece not only denigrates the women who work in lap dancing clubs as deserving subjects for sneering and ridicule, but also denigrates sociological and academic knowledge production itself.
We did not meet in a lap dancing club and ‘shriek’ (just to throw in a little more misogyny). Funding for the project was awarded to Dr Sanders from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), a highly esteemed and regarded funding body, in a close competition with many applications judged by a lengthy process of peer review.
We are not worried about the quality of lap dancing for consumers, but the safety, well-being and quality of the working lives of the women who work in the clubs. Our research actually charts the rise in exploitation that women have faced in lap dancing clubs since the beginning of the crisis, which employers have enabled through a process of deskilling and therefore opening up of the labour market. Victoria Coren would know this if she had done anything resembling her homework.
Dr Kate Hardy (Lecturer in Work and Employment) and Dr Teela Sanders (Reader in Sociology)
Whether the Guardian will either publish the letter or allow the researchers a full right to respond is currently unknown, although based on recent history, I’m not hugely optimistic.