At the beginning of the month, PBS aired a four-hour film version of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide in the United States. I read the book when it first came out in 2010 and examined its portrayal of female genital mutilation in Senegal for Muslimah Media Watch then. The documentary was heavily promoted by my local public radio and TV stations. Naturally, I made sure to have it turned on in the background while canning the remains of this summer’s tomatoes in my kitchen.
The book highlights stories of women from around the world—well, the world that makes up the Global South—who are oppressed (as defined by Kristof and WuDunn) and who combat their oppression on their own or with the help of organizations. I appreciated the book’s decision to tell the stories of these women—the oppression that comes from rape, maternal mortality, female genital mutilation, sex work (to name a few examples) as described in the book deserves to be told. But the way Kristof (and WuDunn) opt to do so, by dichotomizing and racializing the division created between the (privileged) Western World and (oppressed) Women Worldwide, leaves much to be desired. This underlying, subtle dichotomy they present is incredibly problematic as women of color have historically been objectified, spectacularized, and exploited for cultural, economic, and political gain. [Read more...]