The CBC reports that a group of sex workers, strippers to be specific, have a fundraising organization — Exotic Dancers for Cancer — that holds an annual fundraising event in memory of a friend and coworker who died of cancer. The money they raise is donated to cancer research, and to people fighting the disease.
So far it sounds good. But this year their offer of a donation was rejected by the Breast Cancer Society of Canada (BCSC). According to the CBC article, the BCSC’s “other major donors” balked at any connection with sex workers, and so the BCSC turned down the strippers’ donation. (Last year they raised $6,000, half of which went to the BCSC, so we’re not talking a tiny donation, and we’re not talking an unprecedented action.)
The Vancouver Courier reports the rejection this way:
In a letter to Ricketts [an organizer of EDC], the society’s executive director Rany Xanthopoulo, wrote: “Unfortunately we will have to decline your kind offer as we have certain major donors that are not in favour of this connection. This decision came as a result of donor disgruntlement and together with the board of directors we have decided not to accept any donations from what donors consider controversial sources.”
How terrible to give up serious money because of the stigma attached to the work done by the donors. And it’s legal work! These aren’t people donating money gained by criminal activity. They’re workers — in fact workers who lost a colleague to the very disease for which the fundraising is being done to combat — and yet because their jobs are stigmatized, their money is not accepted.
In this case, because we’re talking both about breast cancer research and about exotic dancing, the sex stigma seems particularly problematic. Sex workers are workers for whom bodies are incredibly important. Certainly breasts are among the physical features people come to strip clubs to see. And yet, the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, this year, won’t accept a donation from exotic dancers who are donating as exotic dancers. It’s like saying that breasts can be publicized for some reasons and not for others, or that they should be hidden except when they are sick and need attention.
I understand that a foundation like BCSC has as its mision to raise as much money as it can for its cause. It does that most effectively by enticing large donors, and if those donors are inhibited by their fear of being associated with exotic dancers, that might get in the way of BCSC’s ability to raise large donations. This is one reason stigma is so hard to combat.
But that raises another issue: Given how many large corporations sell products by eroticizing women’s bodies, isn’t it likely that some of the “major donors” are such corporations (or their highly placed executives)? It would be sadly ironic (and evidence of the problems of concentrated corporate power) if, in order to avoid upsetting a corporate donor that uses women’s bodies in its advertising, the BCSC had refused a donation from a group of women who used their bodies in the course of earning a living.
Exotic dancers are stereotyped in the dominant culture in ways that support their continued stigmatization. The stereotypes depict strippers as drug-addicted, dysfunctional, self-involved, shallow, unintelligent. Exotic Dancers for Cancer is a group of women whose actions undermine those stereotypes. But the stigma is so strong as to potentially render their actions invisible. This is another reason stigma is so hard to combat.
They are still looking for a cancer-related organization to accept their donation. I can’t find contact information for Exotic Dancers for Cancer, but Trina Ricketts, one of the organizers, is also a sex-worker advocate who helped found the Surrey Girlz drop in center and I suspect you could contact her there.