By Chet Yarbrough
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
Written by: Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Narration by: Cassandra Campbell
In “Half the Sky”, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn document endemic misogyny. They report the contempt of men, and prejudice of society toward women. Their assessment of guilt is not limited to gender. Misogyny is argued to have been originated by men but the author’s stories offer evidence of a level of perpetuation by women.
Traveling from North American to Europe; to Asia, to the Middle East, to Africa, to South America, Kristof and WuDunn report incidents of girls’ enslavement, the beating of wives and mothers, and societies’ neglect of women in nearly all continents of the world. (Continents missed are undoubtedly participants, but not included.)
“Half the Sky” is filled with interviews of brothel women in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. The authors recount young girls’ seduction, abduction, or purchase from families around the world.
Different societies discount the humanity of women. Young girls are so desperate to survive; they believe stories about jobs in other countries and accept human traffickers’ lies. They blindly follow traffickers and leave their families.
In some cases, families are so poor they sell their girl-children for family survival. Prostitution and pornography are growth industries that perpetuate societal misogyny.
Kristof’s and WuDunn’s story is not an academic’s polemic about the original source of misogyny. It is reporters’ descriptions of today’s world of 13-year-old, and younger, girls that are sold, raped, and re-sold into slavery. The authors recount the social stigma of a woman being born in a world dominated by men. Male domination corrupts society to reinforce belief that women are property; not human beings, and not “Half the Sky”.
Though women are kidnapped and sold by men into slavery and prostitution, many houses of prostitution are run or owned by women. Though men (most often) make and control income in families, women are more likely to use income for food and shelter while men are more likely to waste income on liquor and prostitutes.
There are a host of ironies in Kristof’s and WuDunn’s observations. Ironically, Mao Zedong is estimated to have caused the starvation of 30 to 40 million people between 1959 and 1961, but Mao wrote that women are “Half the Sky” and should be treated as equals.
Sweat shops in Asia are factories of enslavement (see “Factory Girls” review) but offer women their first opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and dependence in China.
Some cultures in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa genitally mutilate females to insure chastity until marriage. Kristof and WuDunn detail the cultural difficulty in eliminating the barbaric practice of removing female genitalia. The rates of female genital mutilation rise as high as 90% in some cultures.
There are glimmers of light that infer change in “Half the Sky” but there is very little bright sunshine. Kristof and WuDunn argue that education is the key. They report on successes of men and women fighting for gender equalization and elimination of women’s enslavement and debasement. They write of the much touted microloan market initiated in South Asia to lend small amounts of money, without collateral, for people wanting to start a business. The authors note several stories of women that took microloans, of as little as $3, and changed their relationship with husbands. Husbands begin to realize women are more than objects of sexual gratification and baby’ producers; i.e. they are equally capable human beings.
Two hundred thousand years of gender discrimination is unlikely to be reversed in this century. Kristof and WuDunn infer that each step individuals take to fight misogyny makes a difference.
Progress will be slow because men are still mostly in control and more often think “it is a relief not to be a woman”, rather than how much more a woman can be. By the end of Kristof’s and WuDunn’s book, guilt is not assuaged and equality seems years, if not centuries, away.