I had heard of Taslima Nasrin only in passing before she came to Freethought Blogs. I always get a little excited when I get to read someone new, especially a freethinker, especially an independent woman freethinker. I was altogether unprepared for what Taslima brought to the picnic to say the least. I don’t want to be unfair. Taslima may be a brilliant and exceptional person. It may be that I have peeked into her writing career at an inopportune and uncharacteristically lackluster moment. Maybe she is highly rational and compelling when it comes to any and all other subjects and she chose, for whatever reason, to burst onto the ftb scene with some of her least persuasive and most strongly irrational opinions in tow. I am even willing to believe that this is all some sort of experiment, the rationale of which will become humorously apparent to me very soon. We can all have a good laugh together, maybe even sigh at how ingenious it all was as we ponder the profound questions the experience forced into our collective freethinking consciousness. You’ll understand if I don’t hold my breath.
While giving her the benefit of the doubt, I cannot, in good conscience, let stand unanswered the insults she has levelled against people I know and care about. Many people have answered her in the comments on her own blog and elsewhere and some have done a much better job of it than I intend to do here.
In her stand against prostitution Taslima paints with a very broad brush, so broad, in fact, that it seems impossible to engage her in any meaningful way. Prostitution is a word that can encompass a huge spectrum of activity. She takes this huge spectrum and equates it with a subset contained within it. She says all birds are vultures, the really nasty kind. If you try to tell her about hummingbirds she wonders how you can possibly like such nasty vultures. I have trouble believing that someone so respected for being a rational person could be so incredibly dense as to make such a false equivocation. Maybe she truly is hopelessly ignorant about how varied the lives and experiences of people who fit within the label of prostitute can be. Even rational people can be wrong. Even intelligent people can be ignorant about certain things. What I have trouble believing is that a reasonable person can cling so tenaciously to an opinion when so much evidence is given to the contrary. Some of the very people she says don’t exist are right there in her face telling her “Hey, we’re here. We’re real and we do what we do because we choose to and we enjoy it.”
I get how prevalent and widespread sexual slavery is in the world. I know that it happens in my own country. It is disgusting and appalling and every effort should be made to wipe it off the face of the earth. Sexual slavery has about as much to do with consensual prostitution as rape has to do with consensual sex. Sexual slavery is perpetual and institutionalized rape. That is the extreme negative end of the spectrum. It is so extreme in fact that I’d venture a guess that many would be uncomfortable even calling it by the blanket term prostitution. I’ve never used the term to refer to sexual slavery nor would I ever. To do so seems a hollow attempt to lessen the severity of an atrocity. At the same time I’m not going to criticize someone else for using the term prostitution as a category in which to pigeonhole sex slavery. So long as they acknowledge it for the extreme that it is I’m fine with it.
The other end of the spectrum is a woman I lived with for about six months several years ago. Maggy was a call girl who had originally worked for an escort service to help pay for college. Nearly a decade later and five years into her chosen profession she reconnected with a former client and decided the idea of getting paid for sex again appealed to her. By the time I met her, a couple of years later, she had chosen to abandon her other job and give sex work her full attention. She worked out of her apartment. All her clients were regulars. All new clients were carefully vetted. She loved her job. She loved making lots of money. She loved the leisure time that such a life afforded. She loved sex. She even cared quite deeply about many of her clients. To put what Maggy does and what sexual slaves are forced to do into the same category, under the same blanket term “prostitution”…well that is just fucking stupid.
If I had to guess I would say that most prostitution falls somewhere between these two extremes. I would never suggest that Maggy is the exemplar for the life of the average prostitute. I know better. I have known several in my life, men and women. I have been a client on more than one occasion. Some of them are affected by the social stigma associated with the job. Some are above it. Every one of them spoke passionately about the desire to see the profession legalized. Now I’m not going to insist that my exposure is a typical one. These people are all educated. They travel in the same social circles. From a middle class standpoint they all make a good living. Most importantly though, they are real people, without any serious mental defect, who chose prostitution as a viable career and who enjoy what they do. This is why I am pissed off. Taslima has insulted my friends. These are people as in control of their own destinies as any one of us.
Taslima Nasrin would have me believe, would insist that I believe that my friends are slaves. She insists that they suffer from serious psychological problems. She says that they are being oppressed because actual sex slaves around the world are being oppressed and she calls them all prostitutes so they must all be the same. Bullshit Taslima. Prostitution is a complicated word that represents a complicated set of circumstances and behavior the world over. You do not own the term. You cannot do whatever the fuck you want with it and expect the rest of us to fall in line. You are not free to manipulate language, to obfuscate pertinent details, to utilize only the most biased and most poorly researched sources to support your opinions and then play victim when you get called out for your tactics.
If only she had stopped with prostitution and hadn’t carried over into the realm of pornography then maybe I could have held my tongue. I doubt it but maybe. After doubling down and ignoring every contradictory bit of evidence on display of just how incredibly wrong she was about prostitution, she churns out a ridiculously fabricated straw man of pornography and then proceeds to hack away at it. At this point I am livid. At this point I can’t even stomach the idea of giving her the benefit of the doubt any more. I cannot in good faith believe that anyone worthy of an ounce of intellectual respect could engage in this kind of semantic distortion unintentionally. I am forced to conclude, tentatively of course, that she is unworthy of the respect I was prepared to give her. I cannot respect a liar. It pains me deeply to say it but that is where the evidence leads me. I hope that changes as I learn more about the woman and what she has done. I long to be proven wrong but, as first impressions go, I’m not impressed.