Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Women's Rights and Women's History

I'm smack in the middle of two books that indirectly dovetail nicely with each other. True confession time: I don't think that I've ever considered myself a feminist in the fighting sense of the word. My friend Don is an ardent feminist and marched in the million woman march in DC. We have often talked of discrimination against women and its manifestations but I feel that I've been inordinately lucky in not having faced severe discrimination because of my sex. Don thinks I have, in large and small ways, and just don't know it, and I suppose if I had to dwell on it for a while I could find reasons to take umbrage but they don't amount to a hill of beans compared to the hell it is to be black, Hispanic or Native American and now middle-Eastern in this country.

Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist, and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, have spent the past ten years investigating discrimination against women in emerging countries. The result, Half the Sky, is not an easy book to read as I likely mentioned before. Perhaps what's almost as disheartening as the horrific damage that has been done to women during this century under the guise of religion or as an act of war or profiteering, is the political gamesmanship that goes on among countries that try (or pretend to try) to put an end to it.

Through hundreds of visits to Taiwan, India, China, and Africa, this husband/wife team have met many women who could and likely should be sainted for the work they've done, at risk to their lives and families, to save, counsel, educate and build up battered, wounded, disfigured women. Some have been kidnapped, trafficked and forced in sexual slavery and prostitution. Others have been disfigured with acid by their husbands, boyfriends or spurned lovers. Hundreds of thousands have been gang raped by soldiers as one of the historically oldest methods of war tactics against another tribe or nation. These women are not only social outcasts, if their families don't kill them for the shame they've brought home, they are demoralized and wounded inside and out. Hospitals rarely exist that will treat the injuries they suffer from sticks and bayonets and, even if they could afford them, the stigma of admitting to a sexual assault is ferocious.

I don't need to go on and on but I would like for folks to know that these things are happening every hour of every day while we complain that we're not being paid the same salary as a man.That surely is wrong but, yikes, let's get a grip. I have decided to make the Kristofs' cause a cause I can believe in. If you'd like to read about their travels, help support the hospitals and schools that are being slowly set up in developing countries to educate and empower women take a look at Mr. Kristof's blog at your leisure.

Simultaneously I'm reading A Short History of Women by National Book Award winner Kate Walbert. It may not sound like it but this is fiction; a fascinating look at a long line of women that begins with early suffragette Dorothy Townsend who starves herself to death to make a point. All the female relatives down the line have quite a bit to live up to in terms of making a statement and it takes its toll as readers follow their lives down through the decades to current times. The author does quite a bit of back and forthing through the 20th century which makes the novel a bit difficult to follow, requiring a little more concentration than we often want to give to bedtime reading, but I suspect it'll be worth it.

There's so much the young ladies today don't know about how far we've come and yes, no matter what I said about the previous book, how far we have to go. Through these mothers, daughters, grandmothers and great grandmothers we learn what the women's movement has given and yes, what it's taken away. Why some will never stay married and others will never bear children. Why some will go to prison for their ideals and others will play bridge. My mother was a feminist! Wish I'd appreciated her more when she was alive.


Barb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Barb said...

Hi Sally B,

Haven't read either of the books that you describe I will only say that because someone's life is worse than one's own does not diminish an individual's perspective. Someone or group is always worse off. I am afraid that we all have a long way to still go.

Loved reading your blog and will visit often!


Anonymous said...

Gods mill grinds slow but sure........................................

Sallyb said...

Thank you so much for leaving comments. Good or bad, it's nice to know that one is being heard out there in the blogosphere.