Kristan Hoffman - Writing Dreams Into Reality
Mon Mar 12 2012

HALF THE SKY and a call to action

Please note: My “Reading Reflections” are not reviews. They are simply my thoughts in response to certain passages.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Vintage)A couple weeks ago, I finished the book HALF THE SKY by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. They’re the first husband-wife duo to win a Pulitzer for their work, and their goal was to shine light on the troubles of women around the world (particularly India, Africa, and the Middle East). Now, we in the U.S. have plenty to be worried about in our own country, but even with my deep sadness and anger and frustration about certain issues, I can’t help thinking how privileged American women generally are compared to so many other places in the world.

What would men be without women? Scarce, sir, mighty scarce. – Mark Twain

One point the book raises is that the term “women’s issues” can be problematic. Many men tune out as soon as they hear it, automatically assuming that whatever follows doesn’t affect them. But women’s issues are in fact universal, because hey, guess where you came from? That’s right: a woman.

Furthermore, studies have shown that investing in the women of any given area does more social and economic good than investing in the men. Women tend to spend on food, clothing, and education for their family and themselves, whereas men tend to spend on alcohol, gambling, and prostitutes.* (Sorry, guys, I’m just repeating the findings.) Yet men dominate business and government in most societies worldwide (including ours — let’s not deceive ourselves).

Part of the solution is training everyone to care about so-called “women’s issues.” We should all be concerned about the maternal mortality rate of women in Sierra Leone, and about the number of female village leaders in India, and about the education levels of girls in Pakistan. Not only out of compassion (though I wish that were enough) but also because those numbers have widespread effects on the growth and stability of those regions, which then have effects on politics and economies worldwide.

I’ll step off the soapbox now, but needless to say, “women’s issues” are important to me. You can see that threaded throughout my stories, even in the ones from childhood, and especially in the ones to come.

Yes, we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

The tide of history is turning women from beasts of burden and sexual playthings into full-fledged human beings. The economic advantages of empowering women are so vast as to persuade nations to move in that direction. Before long, we will consider sex slavery, honor killings, and acid attacks as unfathomable as foot-binding. The question is how long that transformation will take and how many girls will be kidnapped into brothels before it is complete — and whether each of us will be part of that historical movement, or a bystander. (251)

By coincidence, screenwriter John August blogged today about “citizenship.” Not belonging to a country, but understanding and participating in a community. Local, national, global. I’ve been thinking about that myself lately. About my citizenship. About what I can do to make a difference.

If you, like me, want to be part of the movement, here’s one way: join the micro-lending organization Kiva and take advantage of a free trial, meaning your first $25 loan is FREE (for a limited time). By doing so, you can help a young woman finish her college education, or a widower expand his village business. (*Obviously I’m not suggesting that we should lend only to women. All Kiva loanees have been vetted.) There are thousands of enterprising individuals around the world who have applied for these loans, for all sorts of ventures that will improve life for their families and/or their communities. You can support a budding artist, or a farmer, or a construction worker. All at low/no cost to yourself.

A man goes out on the beach and sees that it is covered with starfish that have washed up in the tide. A little boy is walking along, picking them up and throwing them back into the water.

“What are you doing, son?” the man asks. “You see how many starfish there are? You’ll never make a difference.”

The boy paused thoughtfully, and picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean.

“It sure made a difference to that one,” he said. (Hawaiian parable)

Fellow blogger and writer Amanda Kendle has been micro-lending for some time and said she’s never not been paid back. Her reassurance about the whole process, along with John Green’s tweets about the free trials, encouraged me to take the plunge, which I’d been wanting to do for a while. Four of my friends joined shortly after.

Maybe we’re all just throwing starfish into the ocean. Maybe there are thousands we’ll never get to. But maybe some is better than none.

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6 Comments
  1. Anthony Lee Collins says:
    Tue Mar 13 2012 at 7:01 AM

    Good post. There are always logical-sounding reasons not to act, and the problems are always more than one person can solve. And “women’s issues” have long been shunted to the side. I remember I was at some sort of Quaker conference many years ago, and there were different workshops on different subjects. There was one on women’s issues (I forget what it was called) and there was only one man there (me). That fact, that only one man went to the women’s issues workshop, made the rounds for the rest of the day, because it made people think about why they had made the choices they had.

  2. Natalia Sylvester says:
    Tue Mar 13 2012 at 1:00 PM

    Half The Sky is such an amazing book; everyone should read it, not just people interested in women’s issues or feminist issues (I usually try to stay away from such labels because they should be seen as what they are: human rights issues). I love that it inspired you to write this post and become part of the movement, even in a small way. Like you say, maybe they’re small, but they add up. I’ve been wanting to try out Kiva and this was a great push. Thanks!

  3. T. S. Bazelli says:
    Tue Mar 13 2012 at 1:08 PM

    That looks like a book I’d like to read :) And I agree, small things add up, and even just making your voice known matters.

  4. Jon says:
    Tue Mar 13 2012 at 4:31 PM

    Great blog post, really think the soapbox is deserved in this case. If you are ever in Los Angeles, there is an exhibit at the Skirball you should check out based on the book. I don’t know how long it is in town.

  5. Betty says:
    Wed Mar 14 2012 at 11:19 AM

    I agree about the contribution of women to society yet I am disappointed with women who are continuing to produce a bad image or impression. To be respected and considered as equal, we have been making an effort to show what we our capable of. Although, there are those that proved to be a disappointed, I am proud of the women who have conquered trials.

  6. Kristan says:
    Thu Mar 15 2012 at 11:07 AM

    Anthony-
    Well even though you were the only male attendee, I’m glad that got people thinking/talking!

    Natalia-
    Yay!

    Jon-
    Thanks for the info! I’ll look into it. Don’t plan to be in LA anytime soon, but maybe it’ll travel.

    Betty-
    It’s always disappointing when people, male or female, don’t live up to their potential or to certain standards. But I think men who “produce a bad image or impression” are judged and treated very differently than women who do similar things, and that’s a far worse offense (IMO).

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