6 Following


Currently reading

The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel
Rachel Joyce
Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Oceans' Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter
Ellen J. Prager
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide - Nicholas D. Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn I finished this book a couple days ago and I don't want to spend a whole lot of time reviewing it. Maybe you can tell by the two stars, but unfortunately it didn't really live up to my hopes for it.

In some ways it pains me to give this book such a "bad" rating, because human rights abuses the world over are such a huge issue, and those disproportionately affecting women are often particularly heinous. This book aims to shed light on these issues and offers some solutions for "solving" the problems. I want to say that I felt the authors had their hearts in the right place, but I'm not even sure I can say that truthfully. They probably do and I feel somewhat guilty about suspecting their motives--but I suppose my worldview is just different from theirs, and some of the things they say just strike me as odd, insensitive, or incorrect.

Although there are a lot of decent information&statistics and the stories are real, I made dozens of sarcastic notes where I had issues with what the authors were saying. I knew this book & I were off to a bad start in the introduction when the author wrote "We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world." As if gender equality has been achieved in the "developed" world, as if America is some shining example of gender equality (America, where three women a day are murdered in the US by their boyfriends or husbands and 1 in 5 women are raped in their lifetime). I don't for one second contest the notion that being a woman in the Congo or Pakistan has its own set of horrific difficulties. It absolutely does. I shook my head when I read that sentence because it seemed they imply some kind of weird moral superiority over the "developing world" while also discounting all the rapes and murders that happen in the "developed" world as if those aren't moral challenges too.

This kind of attitude is subtly pervasive throughout the book. It's really hard to put my finger on, but here are two others that I found while perusing reviews of this book have noticed something similar. Very near the end of book, the authors talk about this girl who was "the only white person in the room" telling a graduating class of young women in the Bronx that, despite any challenges THEY'VE face in their life, they're ~~~omg sooo lucky!!!~~~ Yuck. :( I guess she would feel comfortable telling those women who got raped and disfigured in the Congo that they're "lucky because they're not dead." We should be living in a world where every person has the right to and expectation of an education, respect, and freedom. I know that's not reality but I would much rather promote the ideals of that world than go around telling complete strangers, "You're lucky because some people have it worse!!"

Some other quick issues I had with this book:
- It almost seems to fetishize the rapes of these women. Almost every single story dealing with rape starts with how young, beautiful, and slender these girls are/were. "She's 14 and wears sexy clothes," "she's shy and beautiful," "she has a pretty face and a slender body." Okay and I care WHY? You get the feeling that if an overweight, unattractive 36 year old got raped, they wouldn't give a shit. A rape is a rape whether the victim fits the author's idea of pretty or not.
- They say that imperialist countries (like the US for instance) aren't responsible for creating the problems in these countries but should be responsible for fixing them becuase we have the money to. Yet they detail how throwing money at the problem doesn't really work, especially when it comes from outside sources. And further, I think quite a few of these problems ARE affected directly by globalization, neoliberal capitalism, military invasions, etc. In other words, the poverty of so many African nations has been created in part by imperialist policies of powerful nations. The World Bank plays a part in destroying countries' economies, but the authors quote them (and Goldman Sachs too, loool) like they're ~oh-so-great~ ~oh-so-helpful~ ~~saviours~~ of these countries. Not having it...
- They talk about these women as if the most important thing they could possibly do is to earn money, as if contributing to their GNP is more important than their happiness or safety. I quote, "China has enjoyed a virtuous circle in which, once girls had economic value, parents invested more in them and gave them greater autonomy" (chapter 12). Why is that virtuous? It's just another way of valuing women, not as human beings with actual lives and feelings and ideas, but as something that they can ~do for you~ Oh yes, so virtuous to only invest in those children who happen to be female after they've struggled against substantial odds to prove that, in reality, they actually function much the same as the male portion of humanity.
- Relatedly, they cheerlead for sweatshops because women can work in them. They say that this is ~much more preferable~ to working in fields, where they get paid less than men. But wait--earlier in the book, they quoted a Chinese factory manager as saying "[Women] are obedient and work harder than men. And we can pay them less." So I'm not really seeing the advantage to women. They advocate opening sweatshops across Africa. Great! Let's work women harder!! And pay them less for it!! Yeeeehaw. I'm sorry but is it ridiculous to expect people to be valued for something BESIDES how much money they can put in your pocket--money, which happens to be a pretty much fictional construct in any case?

So this turned into kind of a long rant. Those are just my thoughts upon finishing it and being frustrated with a lot of what I read. I don't think it's totally worthless--I did take a lot of notes on the sections of the book that are informative. The other two reviews I linked to seem to take a more mellow, fair approach than I did in this review. But as I stated when I started my review--I really didn't want to spend a lot of time on this... :P