Critiques of "Half the Sky": Ignoring the Real Problem

 Yesterday, I ran across a critique of the PBS presentation of Half the Sky called “Nicholas Kristof:  Half the Sky, All the Credit” by Anne Elizabeth Moore and Melissa Gira Grant.  I had some of my own criticisms of the PBS presentation, especially considering the underlying capitalist assumptions of Kristof.  The ones that concerned me the most were the arguments made for the education of girls.  That is, that if girls were educated, they could have “businesses” and be better mothers.  Such arguments out of capitalist and patriarchal bias would be understandable if the purpose was to persuade resistant parents to educate their daughters.  They are much less forgivable when presented to a general audience.  I also wondered why a man was front-and-center throughout the episode, while the female co-author of the book was confined to short interviews throughout.  However, this particular critique, and others I read made me more angry than Kristof ever could have.  They are chock full of shallow, knee-jerk, ethical relativist bullshit.

  After searching around, I found some other pieces written by Melissa Gira Grant.  They all run in the same vein.  Most of them conveniently tout her own book.  (Nothing like being a “media-maker” whose job it is “to talk and get talked about”, eh, Ms. Grant?)  The worst part was her insistence that the whole thing was just “white man’s burden”.  The flippant, almost dismissive way she talks of the horrors suffered by these women reveals her real aim here; the women aren’t really her concern.  She has an axe to grind with Kristof, and the women be damned.  Had the critic confined her discussion to the overbearing, shallow nature of Nicholas Kristof, I would not have a problem with her.  However, the fact that she completely ignored the indigenous women working against these practices just infuriated me.  To completely ignore and dismiss a 13-year-old rape victim, so she could beat her pro-prostitution drum, made me want to put my fist through a wall.  To make her point, she decided she’d make her own narrative.  And it was a false narrative.

  In all the segments, there are indigenous women involved in spearheading the efforts.  The only organization that seemed to operate without the considerable involvement of indigenous women was the organization in Vietnam, which was run by a white, Western male.  These educated Western women take the dismissive approach that these indigenous women aren’t doing anything to solve the problems, so they can be ignored.  These educated Western women hail the “local” and “grassroots”, then ignore the local women in favor of grinding their axe against Kristof.  Of course, these educated Western women are of the “prostitution is awesome, y’all” sort, too, so what do you expect?

  In fact, Melissa Gira Grant has actually written the following:  “The messaging of anti-sex trade campaigners casts sex workers as enslaved victims. In reality, it’s a service industry job.”  A “service industry job” populated by women who overwhelmingly began “working” as young teenagers.  A “service industry job” overwhelmingly done by the very poor, the very uneducated, and the very addicted.  A “service industry job” that puts these women at grave risk of rape, torture and murder.  She claims that the only reason prostitutes are the most common targets of serial killers is that they are “marginalised”.  No, they are the targets because there are misogynist pieces of shit out there who wish to rape and to murder women.  Prostitution puts women in the position of going with random men they don’t know, making them more likely to run into one of the many woman-torturers in this world.  The marginalization only comes in when we talk about prosecution and apprehension of these men.  Goddamn, but this woman is a fucking idiot.

  Gira Grant claims that the causes of all these issues are poverty.  In some sense, yes.  That is an incomplete, shallow argument, though.  To argue that sex work is just a “service industry job” ignores an entire discussion about the very nature of work and the desperation of subsistence–a discussion that lies outside capitalist claptrap.  She’s buying into the capitalist bullshit, in other words.  But it’s even more than that:  it’s ignoring and excusing misogyny and patriarchy.  She might argue that poverty exacerbates the issues and puts women in the position of going into said “service industry job”, but she ignores the underlying patriarchal realities of misogyny.  Why does a man who is stressed due to poverty or war or whatever turn to rape, which she seems to argue is the case?  Why is a woman a “legitimate” target for his aggression and his frustration?  Because of misogyny and patriarchy, dumbass.  Why does an impoverished family sell and torture its daughters, but not its sons?  Because of misogyny and patriarchy, dumbass.  Why does an impoverished woman make the “choice” to support herself through prostitution?  Because of misogynistic and patriarchal assumptions that say women’s bodies are their only real commodity, dumbass.  Gira Grant ignores that, stopping at the surface, as per usual.

  Gira Grant and Moore have claimed that the response to their critique has been “overwhelmingly positive”.  So?  There are lots of really, incredibly stupid people in the world–men and women.  I’ve also had difficulty commenting on any of their pieces.  The blog /PostWHOREAmerica (yes, “/POSTWHOREAMERICA”–emphasis theirs–is the name of it) uses Disqus for commenting, which is a broken commenting system that I’ve always had trouble using.  I don’t know how many others have similar issues.  Also, saying the response on your blog was “overwhelmingly positive” means little, since most people who read a blog are people who agree with the author.  As for pieces on other sites, every one I have found has been in a “comments are now closed” state.

  Women like Gira Grant and Moore are the handmaidens of patriarchy.  This is not the first time Melissa Gira Grant has argued for women to be degraded in the name of “choice” and capitalism.  A search for her name will reveal a slew of the general “yay! prostitution” nonsense that has become so prominent among Third Wave “feminists”.  This type of woman is worse than any right-wing woman, because we all know we can disregard the ravings of that segment.  No, this type of woman makes claims to feminism, while selling women out.  This type of woman will look at a film featuring a 13-year-old girl who was stabbed through the goddamned eye by a pimp, but instead focus on problems with presentation.  This type of woman will hear the story of a 13-year-old girl who was raped, then thrown out of her home because of it, and rant about the man who is presenting the story instead of the man who raped the child.  This type of woman will ignore the indigenous women who give shelter to a young mother whose family threatens to murder her newborn, claiming that the whole thing is just “white man’s burden”.  This type of woman is the enemy of women everywhere.

NOTE:  If you are in the U.S., you can watch Half the Sky online.  Part One will be available until Monday, 8 October 2012.  Part Two will be available until Tuesday, 9 October 2012.

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