Crimes against women buried in reporting of world news

So here is post #5 picking on the New York Times for its sexist reporting of the rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey.

Nicolas Kristof’s column made me think of the excellent book that he wrote with his wife, Sheryl Wudunn, Half the Sky. The thesis of that book is that “in the 19th century, the paramount moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape.”

So obviously and sadly, Kristof and Wudunn are two of the few to recognize that stopping violence against women needs to be the highest priority.

But here is what I was thinking of specifically: Wudunn and Kristof are Pulitzer prize winning journalists, and they wrote Half the Sky because they were shocked by how stories about men were consistently on the front page while stories about women were invisible:

A similar pattern emerged in other countries. In India, a “bride burning” takes place approximately once every two hours, to punish a woman for an inadequate dowry or to eliminate her so a man can remarry — but these rarely constitute news. When a prominent dissident was arrested in China, we would write a front-page article; when 100,000 girls were kidnapped and trafficked into brothels, we didn’t even consider it news.

And by the way, they are talking about front page news in the American publications that they worked for.

Refusing to print Jyoti Singh Pandey’s name is another way to keep her invisible.

I’ve got to ask, one more time: Why is it acceptable for the New York Times to follow India law in how it reports the facts about crimes against women?

Please read “The ‘Shame’ of Rape” a piece I wrote for Salon about the U.S. media’s sexist coverage of crimes against women.

Women’s rights are not a “cultural issue”

Yesterday I blogged about a teacher at a Catholic school, Emily Herx, who was fired because she got IVF treatments. I received several comments that because of freedom of religion, the church can fire Herx if it wants to.

That argument doesn’t hold; it’s based on the idea that human rights for women are not important. Too many Americans believe that women’s rights are a “cultural” issue and not a political one.

If the Catholic Church “believed” that African-Americans could not be teachers or that adults should have sex with children, the American government would call that illegal. Freedom of religion does not give a religious institution the mandate to violate basic human rights.

As I wrote yesterday:

In 2010, Herx learned that she suffered from a medical condition that caused infertility. At that time, she told her principal she needed time off for IVF treatment. Her request was granted and the principal allegedly told Herx: “You are in my prayers.”…

Herx is claiming sex discrimination and disabilities discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and requesting lost wages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and compensation for her mental anguish and emotional distress.

Just like infertility, pregnancy is also medical condition. Women have all kinds of serious health complications from ectoptic pregnancies to hemorrhaging. Contraception is preventative health care. Women’s bodies are different than men’s bodies and have different medical needs. To deny women health care based on those differences is to deny women a basic human right. It’s sex discrimination, and it is appalling that this kind of abuse is tolerated in America.

When I was in college, Apartheid was the government of South Africa. Every day, there were protests against South Africa’s racist government in our campus quad. At the same time, I was taking a sociology class where we learned that cliterodectomies were performed in some countries in Africa. I was taught in my class that to condemn that procedure was wrong; it was to enforce my Western beliefs on another country. It was in this way that I was taught the concept of “relative ethics.” It took me years after my “education” to recover from that kind of teaching, to be able to say that cliterodectomies are wrong, wherever and whenever they happen.

The Taliban is gender apartheid. But the first time I ever heard about the horrible gender crimes supported by that government was not in a campus quad or even a sociology class, but in the back pages of Newsweek, where the celebrity news is. In the Nineties, I read that Mavis Leno, Jay Leno’s wife, was trying to raise funds and awareness to help women under the Taliban rule. At that time, I was a producer for a talk radio station. I brought the article to the host of the show and asked him to talk about it on air. “Have you heard about this?” I said. He responded that our show was local, that no one in the Bay Area would care about the Taliban. “How is it relevant to our lives?” he asked.

Of course, the Taliban became relevant to Americans on 9/11. I don’t believe that a country, even ours, can isolate itself from that kind of hatred and violation of human rights, as much as we try our best to ignore them unless a celebrity happens to host a fundraiser.

In 2009, Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn published Half the Sky, a book that documented sex trafficking, acid burnings, poverty, and lack of access to healthcare for women all around the world. The thesis of Half the Sky is that the world is losing its most valuable resource: women. The writers argue that in the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. That in this century, our century, the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for global gender equality.

I was certain that after the publication of Half the Sky and the media that the book initially received, Americans would finally get that demanding full human rights for women is essential to our survival as a human race, that human rights for women is not a cultural issue. But right now in America, in 2012, we’re fighting over contraception? In our Presidential election? For Americans not to allow all women access to contraception and to basic health care is a human rights violation. Until our government stops seeing women’s rights as a cultural issue, how can we ask the rest of the world to?

Maybe this all goes back to what my professor was trying to teach me in Sociology 101: Americans are hypocrites.

Herge and misogyny vs sexism

After my rant on Herge, the author of Tintin, a commenter sent me a link to a post by New York Times opinion writer Nicholas Kristof called “Misogyny Vs. Sexism.” As you may know, Kristof is a huge feminist. With his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, he wrote the excellent book Half the Sky which argues that establishing equal rights and equal status for women worldwide is the central struggle of the our time.

In his NYT column, Kristof writes that he used to think misogyny was the force holding women back. Now he wonders if its sexism. Here’s an excerpt from his column about what the difference may be:

Then in the reporting for this column, I spoke to evolutionary psychologists who emphasized the distinct origins of racism and misogyny/sexism. Racism seems based in a hard-wired tendency of ancient humans to divide into groups to improve odds of survival, and it was an evolutionary advantage to be able to identify strongly with your own tribe and to fear or kill members of other tribes. That may be why even very small children — even infants — draw racial distinctions or other in-group/out-group distinctions.

In contrast, the evolutionary origins of attitudes toward women were based presumably less on hatred and more on desire to control them and impregnate them, so as to pass on one’s genes. Acquiring and enforcing a harem, so as to improve the odds of one’s own genes being passed on, might involve ruthlessness, enslavement and brutal beatings, but there was no evolutionary incentive for gender hatred as there was for hatred of different tribes. And of course much of the anti-women behavior around the world, from genital cutting to bride burnings to sex trafficking, is typically overseen by women themselves, and it’s easier to see their behavior as opportunism or deeply-embedded sexism than as hatred of fellow women. So that’s why I wonder if sexism, in the sense of discriminatory attitudes toward males and females, isn’t a better way of thinking about the issue than misogyny, in the sense of hatred toward women.

Other anthropologists I spoke to also noted that the most discriminatory restrictions against women tend to come not from those who profess to hate women, but from those who profess to honor and protect them. Think of Afghan society, for example. After interviewing many men who beat and lock up women and threaten to kill them if they take a false step, I’d say that their attitudes for females are a mix of bizarre honor and contempt, but not usually hatred.

I can’t say I’m fully convinced of the argument I’m making. There are still the acid attacks and similar behavior, which I find hard to explain short of misogyny…”

It’s fascinating to think about, but I guess I’m wondering how much it matters. It all comes down to this: women need power– political and financial, in order to change the world.

How do we get it?

As far as the issues I write about in this blog (and back to Herge) for me, it comes down to this: women need to write more stories. Women need to grow their financial resources so that they can amplify their voices, opinions, and views to influence the world. Women need to create books, films, television series, and products.

This is not the fastest way to influence people. Of course, a law against burning women would be much better.

Obviously, people need to be working hard simultaneously in politics, finance, and all professions as well. The resistance to change is enormous. I was in the nonprofit world for a long time, but it’s hard to help women get power when you don’t have much yourself.

So I’m kind of tired asking why. I understand it’s important to figure it out: knowing how situations got to be the way they are helps to change them. But I only have so many brain cells and so much time. Sometimes when I focus on why things are so fucked up, I get stuck there. I will say that, as I’ve written many times, I don’t think that men are evil or have some conspiracy going on. I think men are self-centered like all humans are. They’re telling stories from their point of view. Because they dominate the narratives, women live in the warped experience of existing through other peoples eyes. But we can’t expect men to tell our stories, not even Steven Spielberg. We have to tell our own.

Of course, that would be much easier to do if there were Sandra Spielbergs out there. Many of them. It would help if Steven committed to helping women directors. It would help a lot if we had thousands of years of narratives written by women to draw from including something like the Bible.

But I guess we have blogging. I am working on a Middle Grade book, and I think its going to be really good. I hope all the women reading this blog are writing as well.

Meanwhile, please give money to support nonprofits that are working worldwide to change the status of women. Please support politicians who are committed to this as well.

Time is now for gender equality

Pulitzer Prize winning author of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Sheryl WuDunn, gave a free talk at the Palace of Fine Arts Monday night, telling the audience the best way to stop poverty and end terrorism worldwide is to achieve gender equality. WuDunn argued that gender equality is the most important struggle of this century, and that the key to world economic progress is unlocking women’s potential.

Sheryl WuDunn, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Half The 

Sheryl WuDunn, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Half The Sky

WuDunn said that the paramount moral challenge of the 19th Century was slavery, in the 20th, totalitarianism, and in the 21st century, it’s gender quality.

WuDunn told the audience we are wasting half our resources by failing to educate and honor women. After her talk, she told me that she was inspired to write her book, because of all the missing women worldwide; they’d just vanished. No one had written about a book about them.

At the beginning of her talk, WuDunn asked the audience: Are there more women or men in the world?

About 98% of the audience (including me) believed there were more women in the world. We knew women generally lived longer than men. But this statistic only holds true in the developed world. In the developing world, women are vastly outnumbered.

Approximately 60 – 100 million women have gone missing.

Women die due to poor health care; they die in childbirth; they die from violence by men; girls are kidnapped into sex trafficking, never surfacing again, and female fetuses are aborted.

I’ve been a fan of WuDunn and her husband/ co-author/ New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof ever since Half the Sky came out. About a year ago, the book was featured as the cover story of the New York Times Magazine. With the publication of this one book, national attention began to shift back to feminism and gender equality, bringing a renewed awareness in the media and in the public about the oppression of women worldwide and how that oppression affects and limits us all.

The very basis of the Taliban, of course, is oppression against women. While there was worldwide outrage about Apartheid in South Afriica years ago, no one seemed to care much about the gender crimes of the Taliban until 9-11. Even since 9-11, it’s been a challenge to keep the focus on educating women, in Afghanistan and all over the world.

WuDunn laid out a simple path to creating a better, safer, stronger world, as logical as a tenth grade geometry proof:

Overpopulation is the biggest indicator of poverty. When women are educated, they marry later and have fewer children, and they are more likely to make sure these children are educated.

WuDunn said governments must make it their highest priority to educate women.

WuDunn was asked by an audience member: Why is now women’s time?

She referred again to the missing women, then adding “Brawn used to matter.” In agricultural and farming societies, physical strength was seen as crucial to success. Now we’ve entered a period of technology and brain power, and its the opportunity for women to get ahead.

WuDunn argues again and again that the best way to bring about change is by investing in women. We’re losing our most valuable resource. When people in the audience asked what they could do to help women worldwide, WuDunn said give money to support women’s organizations. She said she loves Doctors Without Borders but we need to create Bankers without Borders, Lawyers Without Borders. We must rally our governments to commit to educating women.

Kavita Ramdas, CEO and President of the Global Fund for Women, was also speaking. The Global Fund is the world’s largest grantmaking foundation focused exclusively on international womens’s human rights. Ramdas told the audience. “If you can’t help women in the Sahara, help women in East Palo Alto. Here in the United States, 70% of those in poverty are women.”

Kavita Ramdas, President and CEO of Global Fund for 

Kavita Ramdas, President and CEO of Global Fund for Women

Listening to the talk, I couldn’t stop thinking about what a horrible example my home state of California, in my home country of the United States, sets with its bankrupt public educational system. How can we insist countries of the world educate women when we are are so substandard at home?

When a male high school student in the audience asked Ramdas what he could do to help women worldwide, she said, “I have a sixteen year old daughter. I worry about her. Set an example in how you treat your peers. Don’t use the words bitch and whore.”

The talk was fascinating, listening to WuDunn and Ramdas circle the globe and came back home to the Bay Area. They highlighted again and again, that until conditions improve for women, humans will not reach anything close to our potential.

Margot Magowan 

I blogged about this a couple days ago. Here are some sad stats about the lack of women in America’s leadership positions. More women are going to law school but they’re not becoming law partners; they’re in medical school but they’re not chief surgeons. Women in America get paid less for doing the same work as men, and the Equal Rights Amendment was never passed in this country. It’s worldwide problem, our worst problem. We need to recognize it exists, identify it and then eradicate it everywhere. Order sEXISTs stickers and T-shirts here, one dollar from every item sold goes to the Woodull Institute for Ethical Leadership.

Sheryl WuDunn’s talk was free to the public because it was sponsored by Facing History and the Allstate Foundation.

Facing History is an international educational and professional development nonprofit organization whose mission is to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry. By studying the historical development of the Holocaust and other examples of genocide, students make the essential connection between history and the moral choices they confront in their own lives.

The Allstate Foundation partners with non-profit organziations and community initiatives that promote safe and vital communties, tolerance, diversity, and economic empowerment.