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The Hidden Hope Within Misogynistic Violence, Essay Example

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Words: 1419

Essay

The Hidden Hope within Misogynstic Violence: Kristof and WuDunn’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

The aim of Kristof and WuDunn’s book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide can be described as twofold. Firstly, the authors endeavor to demonstrate the wide-ranging forms of violence that women experience in all forms of culture. In the work, these forms of violence range from questions of modern-day slavery of women, usually based around sexual lines, in the United States, to the religious doctrine of Islam, which has been interpreted by many commentators as diminishing women’s rights. The authors therefore intend to show that the mistreatment of women is not something that occurs in only one culture, but is rather a phenomenon that knows no cultural boundaries: this mistreatment merely takes on different and particular forms depending upon the social context. The second aim of the authors in the work is optimistic: they try to formulate ways in which these injustices can be overcome. Namely, to the extent that mistreatment of women is based on particular cultural frameworks, although it is prevalent, this does not mean that there is something essential in the human character that leads to women being mistreated: we can transform our society into one in which such misogyny and the violence it produces is no longer. As the authors write, they do not want the book to be “a drama of victimization but of empowerment.” (xxii)

Kristof and WuDunn thus emphasize as one of their key points that the exploitation of women can occur in many different forms and in many different contexts. Namely, violence against women can be represented in explicit forms such as women being forced into prostitution, whereas violence against women can also take the form of women dying during childbirth. In other words, violence is not only something that happens explicitly, but is also something that is produced by society itself.

In this regard, it can be suggested that another key point of Kristoff and WuDunn in regards to women’s issues is the following: we are not aware of the diverse forms of violence that women experience everyday, and we are therefore unable to successfully combat what we do not see. The violence against women is so prevalent, i.e., it exists across all cultural boundaries, and furthermore, that it varies according to culture and takes different forms, means that it is difficult to detect. For this reason, the authors perhaps take their more biographical approach to the issue in this book. They wish to communicate to the reader the individual subjective experiences of the women who experience these problems, so that the violence they experience becomes conscious to the reader. In this regard, much of the approach in the book is consistent with some of the more psychologically-based readings, which stress that the unconscious plays a key role in structuring our life: individuals take for granted the social discourse and structure around them, and thus take for granted violence against women are merely another “normal” phenomenon, namely, a phenomenon that is the result of the various social normativities and rules that are the very foundation of all our inter-actions. For the authors of Half the Sky, the crucial move away from this situation is precisely to make such stories and narratives of suffering explicit, so that we no longer take them for granted: in other words, the unconscious maltreatment of women that is all around us is to become conscious.

Another key point, however, is that the authors believe that this violence can be changed. Part of this process is the notion that we must become aware of the various forms of violence that exist. Furthermore, we must learn to understand that these forms of violence are socially constructed. This notion ties in with theories of sociology and of social discourse, according to which that what is considered to be normal is determined by the specific culture. When we understand that these forms of violence are in themselves relative, we can see that they are no longer necessary. This becomes a crucial step in averting the problem. Furthermore, this step can be supplemented by concrete action. Hence, the authors write that “We will lay out solutions such as girls’ education and microfinance, which are working right now.” (xxi) Namely, other types of social existence are possible, types of social existence that are beneficial to women.

According to the way that Kristof and WuDunn phrase the issue of violence against women in their work, it can thus be suggested that this issue is entirely a cultural phenomena. That means that it exists in various different forms of cultures, but that also this violence exists because the culture itself authorizes this violence, that it allows it to continue in its forms. But precisely because culture is a dynamic and changing entity, subject to radical shifts and never static, this means that there is no reason why women’s violence itself must continue. That is to say, there is no logic behind an improvement of the situation and the changing of cultural norms. The last century has seen such changes in America, as civil rights, gay rights and women rights now come to be understood by the majority of the populace as self-evident rights that are not subject to debate: yet one hundred years ago, these rights were certainly not self-evident, and if anyone would raise this issue at that time they would most likely be demonized. Because violence against women is produced by culture, and because culture itself changes, this means that the situation can be ameliorated.

This point is further emphasized by the attention Kristoff and WuDunn place on how class and race influence treatment of women. For example, in the section on prostitutes in India, the authors note that there is a clear distinction between how women are treated according to their economic status. This is not only an issue of women’s rights, to the extent that women themselves are treated differently within India. Rather, it demonstrates that the further division of society along economic lines forces various individuals into particular life style choices. The possible elimination of violence against women would also therefore require some type of revision to the economic structure itself of various cultures, in which this same economic structure becomes a negative influence.

Furthermore, in the case of race, the atrocious healthcare of women in certain regions of Africa, and furthermore, the AIDS epidemic there, clearly indicates that women are subject to particular dangers according to their belonging to a specific racial group in a specific part of the world. The failure for the world to take action against these acts, while the Western world remains itself committed to healthcare, suggests that perhaps systematic racism exists in existing political structures, a systematic racism that is a prominent theme of the academic literature and readings. In the case of race and economics, the common thread is therefore that both race and economic function as manifestations of a social inequality, which in turn produces particular forms of violence against women.

Kristoff and WuDunn thus make compelling arguments showing the wide-spread and varied forms that such violence takes. These forms of violence are produced by the various structures of our social world, such as the cultural and the economic. One must become aware of these structures themselves so as to become aware of women’s violence. Furthermore, by emphasizing that violence against women essentially occurs everywhere, this presents the issue becoming one of a cultural demonization: namely, that one culture is misognystic, such as Islam, whereas other cultures are not. Violence against women and the mistreatment of women are institutional and without exception. At the same time, however, because of the wide-extent of these problems, perhaps Kristoff and WuDunn are too optimistic in their programme for change: if issues of women’s rights are present in every culture of the world, does that not mean that all of human culture is inherently misogynistic? On the other hand, however, from the theoretical perspective, culture and society are not fixed entities, which can never be changed. They are dynamic. But this requires an intervention. And the authors offer concrete and pragmatic ways about how to change the situation and transform the paradigm. In this way, the strength of the book lies in its identification of the problem itself on a wide-scale, combined to the potential for a solution.

Works Cited

Kristof, Nicholas D. and WuDunn, Sheryl. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. New York: Vintage, 2009.

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