Some people find commercial sex or prostitution vulgar. I find Nicholas Kristof vulgar: preening, in love with himself, interfering, condescending, happy to pose grinning with brown people and claim to be saving them. A true colonial character – give me tight dresses and flashy colours any day! Since I find him nauseating, I mostly ignore him, though his Wikipedia entry makes him sound a saint (in the Rich White Man category), with prizes for ‘powerful columns that portrayed suffering among the developing world’s often forgotten people and stirred action’ and for ‘giving voice to the voiceless’. Gag. Ashton Kutcher is way preferable.
Lately Kristof live-tweeted a brothel raid alongside Somaly Mam, supposedly blow-by-blow. I am not going to complain about twitter, but the 140-character limit does foster reductionism and clichés. But more important is his claim later that thanks to him and Mam:
Great balls of fire, what colossal nerve to make such a claim. I know he is trying to reach the mainstream but it is so offensive he would refer to a young person in Cambodia with a made-in-USA label like seventh grader. His next claim was:
Wrath? A journalist who fosters the notion of a black and white world of bad people punished by good is not a journalist at all but a man selling his own virtue – which by the way is what prostitutes were said to be doing, in the olden days.
But vulgarity and childishness are not so important in the end. The real disorder in Kristof’s blithe chirping about brothels closing is the absence of responsibility towards the people working in them: where did they go? how will they live? do they have a roof over their heads now? How can he not understand that this is just how trafficking can happen, in his own sense of the word?
Not only women who sell sex earn their livelihoods through brothels: barmen, waiters, guards, laundresses, food vendors and others are integrated into these businesses. Those who want to abolish them might at least suggest alternatives if this source of income dries up. As for actual brothel workers, whether they were happy or coerced, the stigma attached to their previous employment could make it difficult to fend for themselves afterwards without turning to unscrupulous characters unless they are very lucky. But in the fairytale land of Rescue, uncomfortable consequences don’t exist and Rescuers are always Doing Good.
A critical perspective is commoner amongst those concerned about so-called Development and Aid. I used the satirical representation at the right on a post about Rescue Tourism, and Africa is a Country also makes fun of him. If you want to read a recent smarmy article by Kristof, try Fighting Back, One Brothel Raid at a Time from 12 November at The New York Times, where he boasts of his own heroism:
But riding beside Somaly in her car toward a brothel bristling with AK-47 assault rifles, it was scary. This town of Anlong Veng is in northern Cambodia near the Thai border, with a large military presence; it feels like something out of the Wild West.
There it is: Rescue as cowboy thrills, a way to live out conceited notions of importance by riding rough-shod through other people’s lives.
–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist