University of San Francisco
March 11, 2011
Midterm: Half the Sky Review
Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s novel, Half the Sky, is primarily a call for social equality and freedom from oppression for women across the globe. The authors are actively taking the first step of achieving a global feminist movement by informing Westerners of the injustices are that are being done to women worldwide in the name of tradition and culture; they do this through personal stories and by exposing legal or cultural inequalities. As Cynthia Enloe (2004) writes in The Curious Feminist, “if something is accepted as “traditional”- inheritance passing through the male line…it can be swathed in a protective blanket, making it almost immune to bothersome questioning” (p. 2). The hopes from revealing such appalling stories and wrongs that are occurring in the world towards women are that readers will help to fix these issues by not just simply accepting them as cultural traditions. The authors certainly grasp the complexities of such issues and are undoubtedly good representatives for a global feminism movement, with emphasis on women in third world countries. Kristof and WuDunn take an approach to bound all Westerners together in a noble and rational fight for social justice through a global feminist movement; nevertheless some extreme feminists are likely to oppose the book by labeling it neoliberal with a colonialist stance that could potentially characterize non-Western women as victims. Although the authors acknowledge that Westerners across party lines generally have good intentions for women in third world countries, they write, “We sometimes think that Westerners invest too much effort in changing unjust laws and not enough in changing culture, by building schools or assisting grassroots movements.” (Kristof/WuDunn, 2009, p. 66). This concept of attempting to change cultures in third world countries (no matter how oppressive they are) is considered wrong by some feminists and stigmatized as Western neoliberalism and colonialism.
Half the Sky argues that in America it was not the various pro-civil rights amendments passed that brought equality for blacks and defeated a dominant culture of racism; it was the grassroots civil rights movement that truly created social and legal equality. In the civil rights movement, it was not just African-Americans who stood up for their own rights. Groups like the freedom riders and other white groups played a large role in assisting Martin Luther King Jr. and the efforts of the civil rights movement for blacks in the 1960s. With a mutual movement between the oppressed and many of those who had power, blacks have equal social and legal rights in America today. The truth is that those who do not have any power can really benefit by the help of those who do have power, unless they are attempting a revolution rather than a movement. There is no longer a valid argument that blacks are victims in America because they are truly free, this exact solution is suitable for non-Western women through the cooperation of all people who share similar human rights values.
Clearly there is a significant problem of oppression of women in third world countries. Different feminists have created different definitions of oppression, for instance, bell hooks (1984) broadly defines oppression as an “absence of choices.” (p. 5) This broad interpretation has the potential be taken freely as nobody has absolute choices, for instance criminals are not oppressed because they cannot lawfully commit crimes. On the other hand, Patricia Collins (200) defines oppression as an “unjust situation where systematically and over a long period of time, one group denies another group to the resources of society.” (p. 4) Through usage of this definition in regards to the treatment of women in most third world countries in comparison to men, it is clear that there is a...