Aug 242009

Yesterday’s magazine section of the New York Times was devoted to the topic of, “Saving The World’s Women.”  The second paragraph of the lead article by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn proclaims, “The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.”  Say what???  Since when were women the problem in the first place?

Melissa McEwan at Shakesville has an outstanding deconstruction of the way in which the topic was  handled,

Saving the World’s Women: How changing the lives of women and girls in the developing world can change everything.

Interesting. From whom are the world’s women being saved? From themselves? From just the women and girls in the developing world? Or are those the only women and girls who need saving? Everything’s peachy in the developed world, is it? And then there is this: Can the lives of women and girls, anywhere, be changed if the lives and men and boys aren’t changed, too? Hold onto that thought.

Page One:

IN THE 19TH CENTURY, the paramount moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape.

Inflicted by whom?

Yet the injustices that women in poor countries suffer are of paramount importance, in an economic and geopolitical sense the opportunity they represent is even greater.

The injustices perpetrated by whom?

She continues  to point out this language in the entire article and concludes,

If I’m not mistaken, I just read seven pages that are the philosophical equivalent of “She got raped.” Passive. Rape is something that happens to women. Something that gets done to them.

So, apparently, is worldwide institutional oppression.

I don’t guess I need to say that I am all for giving women around the world every tool, every resource, every dollar and dinar, every bit of choice and opportunity and access, everything possible to lift themselves up and achieve everything they could want or imagine.

But how can we talk about lifting women up without a serious discussion of, no less without more than the merest passing reference to, who and what has been keeping them down?

While it is wonderful to see a publication of the stature of the NYT cover the topic of violence and oppression against women, the patriarchal undertones of, ‘oh we just found these poor women who have been victimized and we must help them,’ without addressing who did the victimizing is disingenuous at best.  Until we deconstruct the root causes, real, transformative change will not be possible.

Case in point–the magazine includes an interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about her plans to make women’s rights issues a top priority.  This is a good thing, right?  Not if you read closely.  As I wrote the other day, Clinton’s vision involves using the U.S. military to protect women, and that unfortunately is an ominous plan given the long history of the U.S. using women’s rights as an excuse for military action, not to mention the well-established connection between militarism and violence against women.

As appreciative as I am of Nicholas Kristoff’s tireless efforts to address violence against women, the reality is that the reason people listen is because he is a man.    His insights are good, he is right that this is a huge problem, but there is nothing that he is saying that hasn’t been said by hundreds of women before and until  we fully listen to those voices, without the necessity of the introduction by a man and outside the framework of the patriarchal blinders that refuse to address the cause of this oppression, it will continue.

 August 24, 2009  Posted by on August 24, 2009

  2 Responses to “Memo To The NYT: No, Women Aren’t The Problem, Now Let’s Talk About Who Is And Why”

  1. […] week’s theme is Melissa MCEwan’s astute observations.  Earlier in the week I quoted her very on-target observations about the NYT special section on women and today she has a brilliant piece in the Guardian (UK) about being labeled a man-hater if you are […]

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