Content warning: in reviewing Half the Sky, this post contains graphic descriptions of rape and violence.
I pride myself on being a fast reader, but it took me almost two months to finish this book. Much of it is graphic and disturbing; it made my stomach churn and I had to set it down. I made a point of hurrying to finish it in the wake of the Hobby Lobby Hullabaloo, when once again the phrase “war on women” reared its ugly head on just about every social media platform out there.
My first impression after finishing, and reading a few articles on SCOTUS: the “war on women” issue isn’t an exaggeration. It is real, very real. But I think that expression is very much abused. There’s nothing like reading a book on global poverty and extreme misogyny to make me realize how much of my white, upper middle-class privilege is showing. I don’t have a fully formed opinion on the Hobby Lobby case against birth control; that’s not what this post is about, anyway. Still, it’s very much related to the content in this book, because it opened my eyes to just how much we take the rights and privileges afforded to us in the United States for granted.
We’re one of the richest countries in the world, people. Let that sink in for a minute.
You might feel some anger simmering against me already, but consider this passage from Half the Sky:
Approximately once every ten seconds, a girl somewhere in the world is pinned down. Her legs are pulled apart, and a local woman with no medical training pulls out a knife or razor blade and slices off some or all of the girl’s genitals. In most cases, there is no anesthetic. (Kristoff and WuDunn, 221)
It gets worse. There are many passages detailing the suffering of women with fistulas as a result of being raped by government militia: with sticks. Their families often can’t afford the surgery to fix it, which costs roughly the same amount as a Happy Meal in US dollars. Moreover, when these women and girls try and report their assaults to the police, they are often gang-raped by the people who are supposed to protect them.
There’s no denying that there are very legitimate concerns regarding women’s health and freedoms in the United States. But when I hear that oozing phrase “war on women” thrown about in response to a ruling on one company’s birth control policy, I just can’t buy it. Especially when almost every drug store carries condoms, a device that brothels filled with trafficked girls refuse to stock due to cultural taboos.
Imagine living in a country without a constitution guaranteeing your right to speak up or vote.
Imagine living in a family that can only afford to educate one child, and that child will be the eldest male, because as a woman your only responsibilities are marriage (to a man probably old enough to be your father, and probably abusive) and mothering (but any female children you have might be aborted or drowned immediately after birth).
Imagine giving birth in a land with few hospitals, but the ones that do exist are so far to walk to (whilst in labor), so unhygienic, and the staff so untrained, the odds of your survival and that of your child are not in your favor.
Imagine having your clitoris violently removed and your vagina crudely stitched together, not to be re-opened until your wedding night (which is guaranteed to hurt more than that of the average virgin).
Not a pretty picture, is it? Does “war on women” take on a different meaning now?
Make no mistake, our country is plagued with too many politicians who are blinded by intolerance and ambition: white, upper-class Christian men who support policies that are harmful to women. What separates us from impoverished third-world countries, where most of the human population lives, is the power of freedom. Our right to free speech is the ultimate key to persuasion. The power of the human voice is the only thing that has ever softened hearts and changed minds, which results in changed laws. Cherish this freedom; too many people elsewhere have been brutally executed over it.
End note: I personally think the Supreme Court’s verdict has greater implications on the line separating church and business, more so than the future of reproductive rights. That’s a completely separate topic.