Saturday, June 16, 2007

Language and Bias

Yet another dying gasp of the story about the questionable behavior of several Duke athletes at a party. Now it's about the judge who made inappropriate comments about the athletes. And still the woman is described as an "exotic dancer" hired to work at the party. I realize this is an attempt at a polite way to describe a stripper.

But what if it said the athletes allegedly raped a dancer hired to entertain at the party?

What if it simply said the athletes allegedly raped a woman at the party?

Why do the journalists think it's important that we know she was an exotic dancer? Does that steer us to think it's really not that shocking that she may have been raped? That it's maybe just a little bit okay?

Think about the classist bias in the contrast between "dancer" and "exotic dancer." Or between "a woman" and "a woman hired to ..."

[Disclaimer: yes, I know the charges were dropped. This post is about the language describing the woman, not the guilt or innocence of the boys (men?).]

1 comment:

Darlene said...

You're absolutely right--the journalists specifically used the description "exotic dancer" in order to drum up sympathy for the athletes, to make it sound as if they were being used by her, thus making the story juicier. The method is known as "using a slant" on the story.

If they'd written that the athletes allegedly raped a "dancer" hired to entertain at the party, this would have elicited contempt for the boys. And if the articles simply said the athletes allegedly raped a "woman" at the party, the athletes would have been fried at the stake. (Yes, the choice of words definitely does make a difference in how we perceive something.)

Good post, Mary Ann!