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‘Your women are oppressed, but ours are awesome’: How Nicholas Kristof and Half the Sky use women against each other

Although the film does highlight fantastic on-the-ground activists such as maternal health activist Edna Adan of Somaliland, the point of entry, the people with whom we, the (presumably) Western watchers, are supposed to identify, are Kristof and his actress sidekick-du-jour. […] Beyond his self-promotion, there remains the issue of whose story Kristof is telling. He has, in fact, answered critiques of his reporting style – which often focuses on white outsiders going to Asian or African countries – by saying that this choice is purposeful. When asked why he often portrays “black Africans as victims” and “white foreigners as their saviors,” he has answered, “One way to get people to read … is to have some sort of American they can identify with as a bridge character.” A presumption which assumes that all New York Times readers are white, of course, but I won’t get into that now.

Finally, and most problematically, Half the Sky replicates the same dynamic of that dreadful pilot photo by focusing solely on the oppressions of the Global South. Although a few passing comments are made about rape, coerced sex work, and other gender based violence existing everywhere in the world – including in the U.S., hello?! – the point that is consistently reiterated in the film is that gender oppression is “worse” in “these countries” — that it is a part of “their culture.” In fact, at one point, on the issue of female genital cutting, Kristof tells actress Diane Lane, “That may be [their] culture but it’s also a pretty lousy aspect of culture.” There’s nothing that smacks more of “us and them” talk than these sorts of statements about “their culture.” Postcultural critic Gayatri Chakrovorty Spivak, in fact, coined the term “white men saving brown women from brown men” to describe the imperialist use of women’s oppression as justification for political aggression. (Sayantani DasGupta)

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