Patterns of progress
People finally understand that society’s objectification of women is linked to neglect of half the world’s population
By Ellen Snortland 11/10/2011
Brain research points to how much people are drawn to patterns. Because I am passionate about social justice in general, and how that concept applies to women and girls specifically, I see many patterns emerging in women’s liberation. In fact, the past few weeks have been an amazing time for patterns, especially in the realms of royalty, poverty and treatment of women in the United States.
In terms of royalty, all 16 countries in the English Commonwealth have recently voted unanimously to end the centuries-old practice of primogeniture, defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as 1) “The state of being the firstborn of the children of the same parents,” and 2) “An exclusive right of inheritance belonging to the eldest son.” This means that girls will now be in line for the crown using the same protocols as boys: The eldest gets the crown, period. I wondered if I would ever see that in my lifetime. Women’s liberation reaches into royalty, too.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, for those females living in abject and tragic poverty — the “paupers” — there is more and more public conversation about the key role that the uplifting of women and girls plays in ending poverty. The international community is well aware that the systemic subjugation of women and girls is a key cause of poverty, not a result. In other words, women’s liberation globally must be a priority, not just some touchy-feely bleeding heart liberal’s idea of fairness.
If women are chronically underfed, uneducated and treated as badly or worse than domestic livestock, they give birth to both girls and boys who don’t have a shot at much more than repeating the cycle. The result is impoverishment of a large portion of the population that could and should make up a healthy middle class.
Probably the most eloquent and vital chronicle of female oppression came out last year when Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, authors of "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide," articulated what many of us have known, but have been stymied about ending: gender apartheid.
I have been a proud member of The Hunger Project since 1977. The project’s approach is also to end the oppression of women, which will result in the end of death by starvation. After all, who are the farmers, marketers and preparers of food in the majority of the world? Answer: Women and girls.
The third pattern to emerge is the role of American women and girls in waking up themselves and the men in their lives to clearly see how our culture’s objectification of females is directly linked to the global neglect of half its population.
How is this a pattern? Many of us have often wondered how people can be so ho-hum about the millions of females who are brutalized, starved and sent to their deaths just by virtue of being born without a penis. It is stunning that people, both men and women, have jaded hearts in response to Kristof and WuDunn’s remark in “Half the Sky” that, “More girls have been killed in the last 50 years precisely because they are girls than all the men killed in all the battles of the 20th century.”
I assert that US culture — with a few glaring exceptions — relates to women as sexual objects, and because of that, we are still not listened to as seriously as men are. It’s much easier to be indifferent to “things” than to fellow human beings.
On this point (and I can’t recommend it highly enough), “Miss Representation” may well be the breakthrough film we need to empower women and girls to care not only for themselves but their sisters around the globe. Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, “the film exposes how mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America,” according to the Web site missrepresentation.org.
Dr. Don Thomas — a man whose heart and soul are aligned with his actions and words — has spent years in Malawi and knows firsthand just how exploited women and girls there are. He let me know there’s a project in the formative stages to bring “Half the Sky” type storytelling — about the subjugation of women and best practices to alleviate gender injustice — to All Saints Church in Pasadena.
All people are welcome to the project. The umbrella book will be “Half the Sky,” which I believe has the power to transform the world. I also recommend that groups employ a screening or two of “Miss Representation” so that the patterns of “thing-ifying” females can become more obvious on a local, as well as global level.
The groups are looking to expand to different settings, possibly involving home study groups. Those interested in helping expand these storytelling and action sessions into the community will meet Dec. 3 at All Saints Church, 132 N. Euclid Ave., Pasadena. The storytelling groups will meet from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Nov. 15 in the church’s Guild Room.
For more information, call Norma Sigmund at (626) 583-2734 or call All Saints at (626) 796-1172. For more about the book, visit halftheskymovement.org.
Ellen teaches a writing workshop in Altadena. Visit her at snortland.com.