Today we feature the second of a 2-part guest post from Catherine Chandler, Program Officer and Lecturer in the University Honors Program. When she isn’t staring at art or volunteering in the local LGBT community, Catherine’s academic interests include funereal art of late antiquity and the middle ages; religious and magical iconography and their relation to religious practice; Mariology in the middle ages; and gender and sexuality in art and art history.
The writing of “Half the Sky” disappoints in a number of ways, large and small. The title is attributed to a Chinese proverb after the dedication page and then to Mao Zedong on page 207. Both are arguably true, as Mao invoked ancient proverbs and minted many of his own, but the inconsistency is never addressed. This is both lazy and questionable in ideological terms, as any writer should be wary of quoting such a controversial figure without context.
In building a sense of familiarity and identification, the authors consistently give a physical description of every woman, professional, volunteer or victim. Men, however, are seldom given a physical description, whether they are doctors, officials or abusive husbands. It’s a disturbing difference in treatment between the genders, women as points of identification and men as authorities or minor characters in storytelling.
A few times the authors uselessly invoke phrases like “politically incorrect” and “impolitic” without discussion or context. Incorrect to whom, in what politics? If the authors really want to say something potentially upsetting or controversial, they should do so without middling language. A half-hearted effort to say something without sincerely standing by it constitutes unconvincing thought and lazy writing.
The subtitle of the book, “Turning Oppression into Opportunity” is misleading and facile – in no way do the authors detail how to turn oppression into opportunity. Rather, the women featured overcome some degree of oppression through opportunity, though their oppression does not utterly disappear on a personal or a community level. Terms like “opportunity” and “empowerment” are bandied about without definition or discussion – what constitutes an opportunity? What is empowerment, really? Without a more basic discussion of their meaning, these words lose power and become vague slogans.
The intention and spirit of the book and of the authors is good-hearted, inspiring a desire to help strangers across the globe, but fails to really inspire critical thinking about the status of women or how to improve that status on a micro or a macro level. In the rush to fix the problem they see, the authors lose consciousness of their place outside of the problem, and in turn make too grand a promise to their readers about their own ability to help.