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Sep/Oct - Half the Sky (2016) > Is anyone not getting on with Half the Sky?

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message 1: by Carina (new)

Carina (drgreenfairy) | 5 comments Half the Sky seems to have been well received on Our Shared Shelf. I was just wondering whether anyone else, like me, is not getting on so well with it?

I found it troubling that they persuaded Rath, a Cambodian woman, to return to the location of her trafficking and prostitution when she was unwilling (see Introduction: The Girl Effect).

I also feel that the book minimises the problems women face in the West. "Discrimination in wealthy countries is often a matter is unequal pay or underfunded sports teams or unwanted touching from a boss. In contrast, in much of the world discrimination is lethal." That's pretty patronising, inaccurate and hurtful.

I just feel that this book is well intentioned, and wants to "save" as many women as possible, but that the authors do a poor job of challenging the attitudes underpinning female suffering worldwide. Often they seem to corroborate those damaging attitudes.


message 2: by Laure (new)

Laure | 390 comments Carina wrote: "Half the Sky seems to have been well received on Our Shared Shelf. I was just wondering whether anyone else, like me, is not getting on so well with it?"

Hi Carina! I also have trouble with some aspects of the book, especially when they minimize the oppression of women in the Western world. It does sound as if the authors imply that the problems encountered by these women are negligible.
I think their point is that in comparison to being trafficked, stoned, or let to die outside (eaten by the hyenas)... well... it's hard for us to complain, right? But I believe that this is wrong, because:
1- women still die from sexism everywhere, also in the "first world";
2- the authors emphasize the importance of international mobilization to improve the situation of women in disadvantaged countries. How can we expect men to feel empathy to women at the other side of the planet if they are not aware of the importance of equity?

But aside this (significant) problem, the book is doing quite a good job at raising awareness of many issues that are definitely not communicated enough, e.g. maternal mortality, and calling for action! Hence the praise ;-)


message 3: by Cheylyn (new)

Cheylyn  Brown | 3 comments Laure,

I thought this second point was an excellent one. If American women have not found equality at home, how can we (both men and women) promote the message? That's why I believe so much in Emma's He for She campaign--it's mobilizing men and bringing importance to the central idea of equality in the feminist cause. While I do believe that the women in this book need aid, I felt the book often made the case that the aid is best received from natives to each respective country. That being said, though we do not have the same level of discrimination in America, it is important that we work to fix things at home. That will, perhaps, make us more effective change agents in other parts of the world.

Great discussion! Thanks for your thoughts!


message 4: by Nesa (new)

Nesa | 2 comments Carina wrote: "Half the Sky seems to have been well received on Our Shared Shelf. I was just wondering whether anyone else, like me, is not getting on so well with it?

I found it troubling that they persuaded Ra..."


THANK YOU SO MUCH, Carina! I have to admit, I felt kind of desperate reading all those positive comments in the group. I mean, I'm happy that so many people apparently felt the book was a worthwhile read. But it depresses me that everyone seems to like this book, which is so full of exactly this paternalistic, stigmatizing attitude that feminists have been combating for decades. I could go on and on but if you're interested in my problems with this book, just read the well-written and - in my opinion - extremely accurate review by Galen Johnson on goodreads.


message 5: by James (last edited Oct 27, 2016 12:28PM) (new)

James Corprew While there are still problems in America with gender equality and sexism it really doesnt hold a candle to some of the atrocities that women face in other parts of the world and ultimately i think that is what the book was trying to convey. Im kind of embarrassed that anyone would actually think they have it harder in America in comparison. In my view reading the above comments about this book kind of diminishes the hard work the authors put into giving a voice to those who really dont have one across the world over. The very fact that you can express yourself here already gives you a great advantage that many women in the world simply dont have and would be killed for even making in some cases. Yes, there is work to be done in America still but lets not disregard and dismiss what is going on in other countries that have barely allowed women to even sniff a fraction of the freedoms and rights women have in America.

Dont get me wrong, you are entitled to feel the way you do about the book but the comments just come across incredibly dismissive and give off a sense of entitlement about them.


message 6: by Evelia (new)

Evelia | 89 comments I try to read the book again but I stopped at chapter four. To me is the way it is written, is what could not get me to continue reading the book.


message 7: by Laure (last edited Oct 28, 2016 03:10AM) (new)

Laure | 390 comments James wrote: "While there are still problems in America with gender equality and sexism it really doesn't hold a candle to some of the atrocities that women face in other parts of the world and ultimately i think that is what the book was trying to convey."

The book is important in raising awareness about problems of women in the developing world. What is described in the book is extremely upsetting and needs to come to an end - I think everybody agrees on that. That doesn't mean we should diminish the oppression that still exists where we live.

James wrote: "I'm kind of embarrassed that anyone would actually think they have it harder in America in comparison."

I'm pretty sure nobody here believes that. Is it the impression you got from our comments? Or have you read that somewhere else?

James wrote: "The very fact that you can express yourself here already gives you a great advantage that many women in the world simply don't have and would be killed for even making in some cases."

This is this kind of statement that we don't appreciate in "Half the Sky". "Women in the first world have it much easier than women in the developing world, so they shouldn't complain" is a message that occurs several times in the book. I agree with the first part of the sentence, of course! But it doesn't justify the second!


James, I hope you get my (our?) point. We do not say that the book is "bad", we do not say that women in the developing world suffer less, we do not say that their problems do not deserve attention. I actually think the book is good at its job of raising awareness and pushing people to action.





(I had to edit some sentences of my post, got confused with multiples negations, sorry for the several editings!)


message 8: by Astrid (new)

Astrid (astridaster) Ja, Galen Johnson's review is a bit hard, but accurate. Plus there are interesting hints for better books about the subject. Maybe "half the sky" just not is a good book when you just already know a lot and don't need to be "woken" or shaken. . .


message 9: by Nesa (new)

Nesa | 2 comments James wrote: "While there are still problems in America with gender equality and sexism it really doesnt hold a candle to some of the atrocities that women face in other parts of the world and ultimately i think..."

James, maybe my comment was not clear enough. While I agree with Laure's answer, these points are not my only frustrations with the book. As you may understand if you take the time to read the review I referred to (by Galen Johnson, I'll say it again), my main frustration is about the way the book is written and how non-american women are portrayed. "Giving a voice" - well, that may be, but what kind of voice? While I agree that the book contributes to important awareness-raising, it also essentialises (and sometimes even objectifies) the very women it claims to "give a voice to". These issues are very important to address and be aware of if we don't want to perpetuate the imperialist-colonialist benefactor tradition. Ok, maybe I'm just a bit hard :). I'm writing a PhD on similar issues, so maybe I'm a bit over-sensitive on some aspects..


message 10: by Carina (new)

Carina (drgreenfairy) | 5 comments Wow, what a lot of interesting comments! This has been my first time posting, so thanks everyone for engaging and keeping it positive!

I agree with what Nesa has said about the colonial attitudes in this book. Other critics have pointed out that a book of this type focussing on the experiences of Western women would protect their identities.

I also feel that the book perhaps contributes to a false dichotomy by separating issues faced by women in the West and those in the Majority World. Many Majority World/Global South nations are doing well on women's rights, while some rich countries aren't doing as well as we who live there might assume. The underlying factor is poverty, wherever it is in the world.


message 11: by Alyson (new)

Alyson Stone (alysonserenastone) | 149 comments I some of the same issues with this book.


message 12: by Priliantina (last edited Nov 01, 2016 05:12PM) (new)

Priliantina Bebasari | 3 comments Hi all, I am so grateful that we have this thread!

As an Asian, middle-class, young, non-White woman who just finished my master study in gender and development, I have so many problems with this book!

Maybe (only maybe) the writers, a white man with all of his privilege and a woman who grew up in the developed country (the USA) have a good intention in telling the problems that women face in Asia and Africa. Obviously, this book is targeted to the citizens of the USA, by the way they communicate the story. So maybe they want to make people in the USA care about women in other countries and help each other, which actually is a good intention.
But the writers are not aware about the power relations, their positionality within current social structure, and how their message is just strengthening, rather than challenging, the power imbalance among groups of people and woman. What they do is perpetuate victimisation of African and Asian women. The narrative they offer is Western world is the hero without whom African and Asian women wouldn't survive. It's patronizing because they don't realise the agency or power of African and Asian women, and they only perpetuate White and western supremacy. Maybe the authors had a good intention, to make the US citizens (whom they target as readers of the book) care more about what happen outside their country and give more aid or any other kind of help. But since they don't have sufficient academic understanding about the issue, they don't understand that aid is often times problematic as it manifests into neo-colonialism of the global North to the global South and harm the local people in return. Maybe this book was chosen because Emma Watson is white and privileged, so she can relate to its narratives. But as Asian woman, although not African, I can't relate to this book because I don't believe in the idea that 'I need the West help otherwise I won't survive'. Nope, I can survive with my own and my fellows Asian and African.
The most sickening to me is to read their message about culture: Western people must stand up on what they are believe as right (the notion of human rights) even if it against the local culture in the Africa and Asia. That's colonialism right there! That's not as easy as they say, that's not the way it's work, and I am pretty sure that is counterproductive on what they are trying to achieve. First of all, Western people do not have rights to decide what's value right or not. And of course they don't have rights to say that our culture is wrong. Because we see things differently. For example, in Indonesia, whenever we walk in front of older people (especially very old people) we will bow. For Westerners, that might be not important, but for us bowing in front of elder people has a meaning of respect. Obviously Westerners don't have rights to say 'you don't need to bow' or 'bowing in front of elderly is wrong' because they don't understand the real value behind it. We, Africans and Asians, give meanings to each activities in our culture, unlike Westeners (in other words, our life is much more colourful. Sorry for that, Westerners). Secondly, the 'human rights' framework is problematic in many ways. Let's not forget that human rights is a Western idea. I, as someone who studied in the academic institution where Western value is hegemonic, also believe in human rights. But human rights argument is never enough. When people say 'you must respect LGBT people because it's human rights', we will ask you back 'hmm...ok...so what's in it for us? What is our incentive? Why should we believe in your concept while it's not coming from our culture?' That's why, my last point is we should instead of argue the real benefit (especially economic benefit) of social transformation, AND instead try to promote the similarities between the spirit of social transformation and the local culture. For example, I come from Indonesia where patriarchy is still ruling now (sigh) and women face a lot of challenges from conservative people. And the way we promote gender equality is, rather than saying our culture is wrong, to establish the similarities of gender equality with the spirit of local culture that believe in the importance of family, helping each other, respect to each other, and etc.
My last point is how this book is harmful for the USA citizens as well because it drives people to look away from the problems in their own backyard. It's so funny how they try to tell people that there is no problem with gender inequality or marginalisation against women in the USA, so they should help people faraway in Africa or India or Southeast Asia instead. I have two bestfriends in my master from the USA, and I know from their stories about many problems women face in the USA. They are White, and they also tell the problems that Black and Native Americans face nowadays. So the book doesn't do justice to the problems that USA still face right now. I grow up with my Mom keep telling me 'if you want to help others, you should help the closest ones first, like your family or your neighbour'. I mean, what kind of persons telling others to look away from their family and neighbour to help people faraway instead?
The only chapter I like is about the Iraqi women who move to USA and start a NGO to help women victims of conflict. That's very beautiful story about Asian woman helping other non-White women. While other chapters really perpetuate the Western-heroism and non-Western victimisation.
At the end, I should say this book did a good job in bringing up the issues that women in Africa and Asia face. I don't think they exaggerate the facts or numbers (hopefully). So these problems do exist! I am even touched and moved by the stories and now I want to commit myself to help end human trafficking and sex slavery. I also love their message about helping each other and how humanity should go across borders. I like their message to young girls to take a year gap or so or do some volunteer works abroad in developing countries. I agree that living faraway from home can give you different perspective. But we should be critical about how this book perpetuate the power imbalance between global North and global South.


message 13: by Chelsea (new)

Chelsea  Jennings | 2 comments Carina wrote: "Half the Sky seems to have been well received on Our Shared Shelf. I was just wondering whether anyone else, like me, is not getting on so well with it?

I found it troubling that they persuaded Ra..."


Carina, I'm glad that you brought your concern to the discussion as you obviously weren't alone in your opinions and concerns. Personally, I didn't feel like the book downplayed the impact of sexism in the Western World as much as it really didn't get into it because it wasn't the intended focus of the book. I have really enjoyed reading the book as it brought attention to a lot of issue that are not on the forefront of public attention. I'm wondering what specifically came up for you that you felt objectified women?

Something that was brought up a few times in this discussion was referring to the call to action for the west and the belief that it perpetuates the polarization between societies or causes a new problem altogether. I particularly wanted to respond to Priliantina's comment that she doesn't need the West and "Nope I can survive with my own and my fellow Asians and Africans." The whole point of the HeForShe movement is to unite us together across genders and cultures to address inequality. To use the most effective means to achieve the ultimate goal of equality. The authors don't emphasize westerners donating through our own cultural lens to a population that wouldn't survive without us. They specifically emphasize the benefits of supporting local grassroots organizations who are best able to meet the needs of their own communities while respecting cultural norms.


message 14: by Carina (new)

Carina (drgreenfairy) | 5 comments Hi Chelsea! Oh dear, I don't think I said that the book objectified women. That would be really awful! I did feel troubled that the identities of the readers were not protected, and that the authors (to me) seemed to pressure one woman to return to the place she was trafficked in order to save the other women. I'm not sure I agree with their utilitarian approach of saving the most women possible by any means!


message 15: by Carina (new)

Carina (drgreenfairy) | 5 comments I think Priliantina was just trying to say that sometimes the narratives we use in the West to create awareness or fundraise for issues mean that we foster the idea that the Global South is dependent on us. I agree as you say that coming together across national boundaries is the ideal way to solve these problems women face, but international diplomacy is often very one sided in favour of the West.

I am moving on to the next book now guys. Good chat :)


message 16: by Amanda (new)

Amanda (adotwahl) | 2 comments I'm so glad to see I wasn't the only one not getting along with this book! I've not appreciated the author's tone and comparisons from the beginning, but I had to stop at Chapter 3 with "But the reality is that as long as women and girls allow themselves to be prostituted and beaten, the abuse will continue."


message 17: by Carina (new)

Carina (drgreenfairy) | 5 comments Hi Amanda... Yes, I have to agree that was a low point for me too! It reminded me on something from the Ancient Greek writer Herodotus about Helen of Troy: "No woman will allow herself to be kidnapped unless she really wants to be."


message 18: by Lily (new)

Lily (inquisitorlily) I honestly couldn't finish it because the tone and treatment of the women in the book grated on me so much. :/ Glad I'm not the only one who couldn't stand it!


message 19: by Laure (last edited Nov 09, 2016 01:33PM) (new)

Laure | 390 comments I've just read the interview of the authors of Half the Sky by Emma Watson (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/emma-wa...). I had not seen the dedicated thread on OSS!
And the first question adresses one of Carina's problems with the book. Carina wrote: "I also feel that the book minimises the problems women face in the West."
The answer of the authors is quite encouraging :-)
Let's not forget that the book is already some years old! The authors had time to reconsider and "grow".


message 20: by Sophia (new)

Sophia Xu | 2 comments First of all ,I am very sorry .BecasuseI can't obtain this book that this book is difficult to understand for me.In recent,I need to prepare some matters about my graduate photos .when I finished them,I will read that book in Chinese version.As I come from China, my English is not good,I want to pratice
my English through this platform,I like make friend,especilly ,foreign frieds,I still haven't foreign friend,would you like to become my friends?


message 21: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Miller (rosethorn7) | 123 comments I personally loved this book. It was very educational and opened my eyes about the rest of the world.


message 22: by Fay (new)

Fay | 4 comments I read this book a few years ago, and I didn't pick up on the problems you noticed. Thank you for sharing, I need to try to read more critically.


message 23: by MeerderWörter (new)

MeerderWörter | 2388 comments Amanda wrote: "I personally loved this book. It was very educational and opened my eyes about the rest of the world."
The same applies for me. But I really had troubles reading it because the stories were so harsh and not easy to read at all.

I hope our next book will be a bit lighter to read.


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