Elisabeth's Reviews > Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof
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Mar 31, 10

bookshelves: politics-economics-society, book-club
Read in January, 2010

I agree with other comments about this book. Half the Sky is not meant for those who seek scholarly material about the current state of women throughout the world. The authors use heart wrenching stories to describe the reality millions of women experience each day.

The reason I gave this book two stars is not because I disagree with the premise of the book or the authors' push to radically alter the trajectory of global rights -- sign me up! What frustrated me, and in the end left a sour taste in mouth, was Chapter 12: The Axis of Equality. In this chapter the authors discuss sweatshop labor in a positive light because "Labor-intensive factories [which prefer "young women, perhaps because they are more docile and perhaps because their small fingers are more nimble":] would create large numbers of jobs for women, and they would bring more capital -- and gender equality." Really?!? While I get what Kristof and WuDunn are getting at, this chapter does little more than support perpetuating engendered capitalistic notions of economic development and exploitation as a means of development.
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Danna I'm just starting this book, and I've already had a similar reaction to yours, Elizabeth. Overall I'm thrilled that this topic is getting more attention and my impulse is to say "5 Stars!" but having read another compelling book called Factory Girls about life in China's factories, I am also not convinced that the sweatshops are the best path towards truly valuing a female life as equally as a male. Life in the factories didn't work out so well for the women and children of the industrial revolution, and think of our own more recent American history of women working in factories during WWII; there was still a backlash against women in the workforce despite the need to have us there, and though America has made a lot of progress through decades of strife, we still haven't achieved complete gender equality (though at least we don't punish rape victims by burning them with acid). I think this all touches on the greater issue of how we value life regardless of gender, as well as how we define success. What kind of people do we really want to be? Do we want to value material goods and money above all else, and define a person's worth according to those standards? Is life in a factory, where they are still dominated by men, really the best choice we can offer women in a society that still needs to learn to stop abusing them on such a grand scale? I think it's time for a greater paradigm shift for humanity, but as the authors so astutely point out, this is easier said than done. At least we're talking about it, and that's a start!


message 6: by Laura (new)

Laura I have not yet read the book, but my understanding is that working in a "sweatshop" is preferable to working as a sex worker or worse. It's a lesser of two evils thing, and no, of course it is not a long-term solution, but in terms of quality of life?.....maybe it is a small improvement. It's going to take a long time to change cultural norms. Maybe it is as difficult to change a culture that subordinates women as it is to change a culture(Western) that believes cheap, imported clothing and goods are a right.


Lindsay I appreciate this discussion, which i think is what this book is trying to do!

"my understanding is that working in a "sweatshop" is preferable to working as a sex worker or worse."

perhaps we have to get away from thinking that our options for feminist development are so easily categorized into "this" or "that" because that kind of thinking won't break the ceiling, it will just raise it bit. Kristof and WuDunn make the case for women in factories based mostly on their experiences with women in China where the sex trade is predominantly voluntary and somewhat regulated. So what about the land and families that women are leaving to make it in the big city? what does that do to communities, the environment, agricultural legacies?
My biggest problem with the book is that some of the solutions offered for the improvement of women left big holes in the environment and the community.

Yet, maybe that is what the book is all about it, it doesn't have all the answers, but if more people know about the problem we have more people working on the answers!


message 4: by Gerd (new) - added it

Gerd Elisabeth wrote: "Chapter 12: The Axis of Equality. In this chapter the authors discuss sweatshop labor in a positive light because "Labor-intensive factories [which prefer "young women, perhaps because they are more docile and perhaps because their small fingers are more nimble":] would create large numbers of jobs for women, and they would bring more capital -- and gender equality" Really?!?..."
Fair point, it's hard to see how a shift from one kind of slavery to another is supposed to strengthen women's rights


Lindsay wrote: "So what about the land and families that women are leaving to make it in the big city? what does that do to communities, the environment, agricultural legacies?..."
Maybe exactly that is, what is needed in those communities to finally work on a change.


message 3: by Kelly (new)

Kelly Martin While I don't disagree with your point about wage slave impoverished labor, I do disagree with rating the book at 2 stars based on a difference of political opinion with the authors. If the book is poorly written or failed to deliver their message I could understand the down rating. Just because you (and I) disagree with their analysis and its presumed outcome doesn't mean it wasn't worth reading or discussing.


Niadwynwen Koch This book also challenged me. In some ways, I think it doesn't matter as much that they occasially advocate for things that I don't agree with because, for most of the readers of this book, this is their first glace at critical issues like traffiking, genital cutting, and lack of education for girls. The points the authors really beat home were to go out in the world and do service and seek to understand and the power of giving and lending money to small development groups. In my mind, the average reader is going to take away those points and move on.


Carolyn Bivens Kristoff and WuDun challenge us to stop using our Wester filter to make judgment regarding what works in other countries. The Nike plant that closed (example in book) was a victory for the civil rights activists who patted their backs then moved on. But for the women who no longer had a respectable source of income and ended up back on the streets and in the sex trade, the loss was beyond financial.


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