Sunday, August 23, 2009
Thursday I read Mandy Van Deven's review on Feminist Review of this week’s edition of The New York Times Magazine. The edition is devoted to ‘Saving the World’s Women’ and takes up the global condition and problems faced by women of the world, such as sex trafficking, abuse, microfinance, and lack of access to health/medical care and education. Since this was part of my area of focus in school, I was giddy and excited about it hitting the news stands. Yet, as I flipped through and read the various articles, I kept thinking the same thing: Why does this collection seem to only be highlighting disempowerment and oppression of women of the Third World? Why is there absolutely no mention of the issues faced by women in the Global North? By no means do I intend to discount the horrors that women of the Global South face, or imply that the issues of women in developed nations are higher in importance and relevance. In fact, I’m elated that the edition has provided such exposure and attention to these travesties. My problem with it is this: by ignoring the conditions and struggles for equality, justice and basic human rights faced by women in developed countries, the message is that women in places such as the US and Europe have already achieved equality and do not face many of the problems, violence, and discrimination that our sisters in Africa and Asia do. The problem is presented as something “over there” rather than a truly global phenomenon; one simultaneously occurring in our own backyards.
Instead the role of women of the Global North is presented, and can be summed up, in Lisa Belkin’s article “The Power of the Purse”. The article discusses how women are increasingly using their economic power to help sisters in need. Wonderful. What about the Americans working in the field? Those dedicating their lives to non-profit work and long hours through heartwork and sacrifice? What about the women working in shelters or tirelessly on legislative and policy reform to make the donated money more effective in aid?
The theme of the edition is on the global condition and staunch human rights disparities that exist for women, yet the content and focus of the articles does not seem to adequately reflect the variety and multitude of conditions through its limited scope of Africa and Southeast Asia. What about the sex trafficking and sex tourism that goes on in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Bloc? What of women in Latin America? In the Caribbean? What about the compounding effects of environmental destruction and scarcity of water? Why doesn’t it discuss the modes of oppression the First World through economic exploitation or women of the Third? Why aren’t any of the articles written by women from the places discussed? Instead of presenting a wide view of the various conditions and proposed solutions, the articles focus disappointingly only on economic and capitalist short-term solutions: microfinance and microlending. The articles, while well intentioned and well written, failed to adequately address the underlying social structures that provide the framework to these issues.
On a whole, I’m happy that the NYT Magazine took the chance and did this publication, but I’m highly disappointed in the content and execution. I suppose I got my hopes up a bit too high when I heard about it, and thought that perhaps things would be presented in a radical and revolutionary way. I understand that in order to fully cover all the issues I’ve mentioned would take volumes and much more space than the NYT Magazine could provide. However, what limited space that was available could have explored or touched on so much more. Instead, what was presented was but a sliver of the tip of the iceberg.