‘Bag lady’ label misses the mark
That’s often because the news reflects life itself, a complicated journey in which black and white moral certitude is more often muddied by many shades of grey.
So it was this week, with the “happy ending” to the Star’s story about Toronto violinist Jim Wallenberg, who lost his prized $77,000 violin last weekend when he left it at a downtown streetcar shelter. On Wednesday, Wallenberg got his violin back and Wayne Wulff, collected a $1,000 reward for returning the burberry outlet instrument. At last report, Wulff was planning a trip to Vegas with his windfall.
And, as for that reportedly, “loud woman with a shopping cart, filled with bottles, bags and licence plates” who apparently found the violin, and to whom Wulff paid $35 and a silver ring to induce her to turn the violin over to him, well, that’s where this story and its reporting becomes more complex. As reader Jennifer Coolbear so aptly put it in a letter to the editor: “So the story of the lost violin becomes the story of a lost soul.”
Indeed, many Star readers were outraged by the outcome of this story in which a faceless, nameless woman, described in the Star’s stories as a “bag lady” lost out on the opportunity to collect a share of Wallenberg’s generous reward. Many readers expressed the view that this woman was robbed of her just reward. Some readers, as well as several Star journalists, delved into the moral implications of the reporting of this story, questioning whether this anonymous woman was also robbed of her human dignity in being labelled as a “bag lady” in the Toronto Star.
“I thought it was an odd phrase to read in the Star. I think it’s derogatory and unsympathetic,” said Mike Zimmerman, 50, a reader for nearly 40 years.
Some Star journalists think the “bag lady” label does not belong in a newspaper that has long led campaigns to make life better for the underprivileged in our community, most recently with its outstanding War on Poverty series, nominated last month for a National Newspaper Award.
As reporter Andrea Gordon put it so eloquently, “I find it troubling that after launching a well publicized war burberry outlet on poverty and trying to lead the way on social is burberry outlet sues and compassion, the Star would resort to using bag lady’ to refer to a person that no one really knows anything about, and someone who may or may not have mental health issues but deserves respect as a human being.
“Our use of language and phrases like this is important and we should be leading the way in getting rid of these characterizations.”
I told her I share her discomfort in seeing this anonymous woman labelled as a bag lady. Several others expressed the same view. One senior editor tells me he regrets not forcefully voicing his discomfort following the first day’s story.
The two reporters who worked on this story made great efforts to report fairly and not let any personal views of Wulff’s actions bias their articles. And, given that the dictionary defines bag lady as, “a homeless woman who carries her possessions around in a shopping bag”, they felt it was an apt characterization. “She was described as pushing a cart with shopping bags hanging off the handles and fastened to the side,” said Sarah Boesveld. “If there is discomfort with the term, it may be because society allows such a thing to happen, not with the description itself.”
That’s a good point, but still, I think the Star must hold itself to a higher standard here. “Bag lady” is, to me, an inhumane, sexist label that burberry outlet provides facile images, but doesn’t begin to capture the complexity of this anonymous woman, nor the many who share her plight. I fear it allows us to dismiss her in much the same way many avert their eyes as they walk by the people living on our streets.
Every person’s story is unique and despite great efforts, the Star has not yet found this woman. If, and when we do, I still don’t expect a happy ending here, but I do hope we will then see the human being beyond the easy label.