Nick Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn Talk Half The Sky With Oprah

Oprah dedicated today's show to a star-studded discussion of the issues facing women around the world. Inviting Nicholas Kristof and his wife and co-author, Sheryl WuDunn to discuss their book Half the Sky, the conversation was both enlightening and frustrating.

Kristof begins by discussing how the problem of the 20th century was slavery and gender inequity is the major problem of the 21st. He and WuDunn then launched into a long-ranging discussion about their observations from global conflict zones. Celebrities like Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Ben Affleck, Demi Moore, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also did segments for the show.


While the effort was wonderful for consciousness raising, some issues felt as though they were glossed over. For one thing, images of suffering women were shown often - but where were those who inflicted the suffering? A warlord was featured at the beginning of the show, but perpetrators were conspicuously absent from this narrative. Where were the pimps? Former sex slave Long Pross was stabbed in the eye by a female pimp - but this was barely touched upon. In the clip above, Kristof also brings up how the owner for one of the brothels is also an employee of the local police force.

Watching the segment reminded me of the frustration many activists felt when reading The Woman's Crusade article in the Saving The World's Women issue in the NY Times magazine. As Melissa over at Shakesville wrote:

If I'm not mistaken, I just read seven pages that are the philosophical equivalent of "She got raped." Passive. Rape is something that happens to women. Something that gets done to them.

So, apparently, is worldwide institutional oppression.

I don't guess I need to say that I am all for giving women around the world every tool, every resource, every dollar and dinar, every bit of choice and opportunity and access, everything possible to lift themselves up and achieve everything they could want or imagine.

But how can we talk about lifting women up without a serious discussion of, no less without more than the merest passing reference to, who and what has been keeping them down?

The segment focused on women's oppression, but glossed over other complicating factors. For example, Kristof actually purchased two girls from sexual slavery and returned them to their villages. One girl remained in her village and wed - the other went back to the brothels, presumably in search of drugs. Kristof mentioned that this made him understand that "freeing" someone is "more than just opening a door" - but that type of analysis was lacking in the articles and segments that Kristof appeared on. Instead, the focus was on feel-good narratives and painful images of poverty and suffering.

On Oprah's website, she has a registry sub-site set up to help.

Illustration for article titled Nick Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn Talk Half The Sky With Oprah

The various ways to assist (financial and awareness-based) are helpful, but is human intervention enough in the face of structural and societal problems of this magnitude?

George Clooney, Ben Affleck, Demi Moore And Hillary Clinton [Oprah]

Related: Half The Sky Movement [Official Site]

The Women's Crusade [NY Times]
Here's Your Big Chance To Ask: What About The Men? [Shakesville]


History Major

Oprah is damned if she does and damned if she doesn't. She takes time out to invite people on the show to talk about a subject dear to her heart and one we all could use more exposure to and to educate the public on the plight and issues of women (something most talk shows and TV shows in general could give a shit about) and you have a problem that she wasn't THOROUGH enough in her hour long show, which she arguably only has say 43 minutes of in actuality to educate and inform.

This was a great show and I refuse to allow anyone to detract from the fact that this show was both enlightening, educating, and inspiring.

My younger cousin is a woman who just turned 20 and doesn't really think about sexism, she asked me "what is that" when I brought it up today. This show gave me an opportunity to dialog with my young cousin about the plight of women around the world and how it is tied to oppression and empowerment and the future of the world in general.

We both came out of the show informed and learned some new things such the incorrect assertion that there are more women in the world than men.

I'm all for critiquing and questioning and holding to a higher standard but it really troubles me when a show like this isn't "good enough" even when the alternative would be no show at all which I think no one gains anything from.