Girl Rising’s documentary focuses on the issue of gender inequality in third world countries by interlacing the experiences of many girls together. Through the stories of nine girls the viewers see the many factors that contribute to gender inequality and receive numerous statistics about the issue. The documentary raises awareness about the relevancy of the issue in our world today, but also inspires the viewers to take action through its positive and hopeful way of showing the good changes our world would face if millions of girls were educated. By pairing a reporter with a girl in a third world country viewers hear the inspiring stories of nine girls and their brave struggle to get themselves educated no matter their obstacles. Seven year old Wadley shares how her life completely flipped around when the Haiti earthquake of 2010 forces her to give up her education and live in a refugee camp, but she finds a makeshift school nearby and returns to it every day until the teacher allows her to stay, despite the fact that Wadley cannot afford it. Suma, from Nepal, was sold to numerous families through forced labor, a form of human trafficking. But after learning how to read, as well as finding out her work was illegal, she fights and wins for her freedom and works to free other enslaved children. Yasmin is a young girl who was raped by an older man, the documentary recounts her fight against him as she remains optimistic, describing herself as a superwoman, but the documentary also explains the lack of rape legislation and the fact that the rapist is still free, and would likely be forever. The documentary recounts the nine stories of girls around the world recounting their experiences with rape, child marriage, poverty, double standards, and more that show the complexity of gender inequality. Through these stories the viewers see a personal aspect of the social justice issue in third world countries, as well as statistics and facts such as “Worldwide today, 66 million girls are out of school.” But the statistics also bring a positive light praising the benefits of giving a girl an education to battle gender inequality, “A girl with one extra year of education can earn more than 20 percent more as an adult.” As an organization concentrating on alleviating gender inequality and raising awareness about the topic as well as the factors that aggravate the relevant problem, the movie highlights education as a main way to battle the issue and shows how it brings financial and emotional independence.
What kind of world do we live in when young men are so proud of violating unconscious girls that they pass proof around to their friends? It’s the same kind of world in which being labeled a slut comes with such torturous social repercussions that suicide is preferable to enduring them. As a woman named Sara Erdmann so aptly tweeted to me, “I will never understand why it is more shameful to be raped than to be a rapist.”
And yet it is: so much so that young men seem to think there’s nothing wrong with—and maybe something hilarious about—sharing pictures of themselves raping young women. And why not? Their friends will defend them, as they did in Steubenville, tweeting that the young woman was “asking for it” and that the boys were being unfairly targeted.
Women and girls are the ones expected to carry the shame of the sexual crimes perpetrated against them. And that shame is a tremendous load to bear, because once you’re labeled a slut, empathy and compassion go out the window. The word is more than a slur—it’s a designation.
Happy Women’s History Month! This week we’re celebrating incredible women in STEM.
Reflections on a Reflection on Domestic Violence
So recently a young photographer, Sara Naomi Lewkowicz, took a series of 35 photographs of a young couple named Maggie and Shane, and her two children. The photos were eventually featured in TIME’s Lightbox as “Photographer as Witness: A Portrait of Domestic Violence”. (If you click the photos, you can see them full size with the TIME captions). She had originally intended to follow Shane’s struggle to find work as an ex-felon with facial tattoos, but ended up taking these pictures instead as she witnessed a fight following a karaoke night that turned violent.
There was some controversy after the photos were published, blaming the photographer for making the “unethical” choice of not stopping the fight, and instead using the fight as material for her story. There’s been a lot of fighting, name-calling, and rage - basically all directed at the photographer.
There are elements of truth to their criticism; she could definitely have done more. She did call 911, a detail that the TIME feature decided to not include. We’ve seen similar criticism, to a different extent, of different photographers covering everything from the recent death of the man pushed in front of the oncoming train in the NYC Subway to the Pulitzer Prize winning photo of the starving African child photographed by Kevin Carter. In the case of Carter, the toddler he photographed was close to death, and collapsed on the ground trying to crawl to a food center in Sudan during the 1993 famine. A vulture perched in the background, and it was pretty clear that death was imminent. Carter took the photo, but didn’t help the child after because journalists had been instructed not to get involved because of the risk of disease, etc..
One thing that personally bothered me about the negative response to Lewkowicz’s photographs how much blame was being thrown at her. She should have stopped the beating, she should have helped Maggie, she should have kept the fight from happening. Realistically, as a young female herself, Lewkowicz, a young woman with a small build, probably wasn’t physically strong enough to take Shane on. She did actually call 911. There were also two other adult male friends of Shane’s in the house who did nothing. While there are certainly ethical implications for photojournalists like Lewkowicz and Carter who end up profiting on suffering, I think it’s interesting how much of a villain Lewkowicz is in people’s minds. (There’s a Salon article that deals with this much better than I can.)
Personally, I think this is another reflection of our society’s mad insistence on blaming violence against women on women. While only idiots and extremists are actually willing to blame women for being physically beaten, we often see sort of caveat-blame along the lines of “She should have known better than to be with a violent man”, “She knew what was coming”, “She shouldn’t have let herself get in that situation”. As a society, we are very willing to blame women for their own beatings by telling them that really, they should have seen it coming. This is harmful logic that ignores the factors that contribute to the helplessness of these women. There’s lots of overlap here with rape culture and the victim-blaming mentality.
I think that in Lewkowicz’s case, we’re seeing an extension of victim-blaming mentality onto the third party, and it makes me a little sick to my stomach that we’re so willing to blame everyone but the abuser for the abuse. Personally, I feel ethically conflicted about photojournalists as potentially exploitative observers of suffering, and that definitely taps into my own feelings about domestic violence. However, I think it’s important for us to take a step back and deconstruct our reactions to domestic violence and issues/stories surrounding it, and I guess that’s what this post has been about.
For women, getting angry is socially unacceptable,
even when the anger is over violence, discrimination, misogyny, and other forms of oppression.
Anger is unacceptable because angry women are women in touch with their passion and power,
especially in relation to men, which threatens the entire patriarchal order.
It’s unacceptable because it forces men to confront the reality of male privilege and women’s oppression and their involvement in it, even if only as passive beneficiaries.
Women’s anger challenges men to acknowledge attempts to trivialize oppression with “I was only kidding.”
And women’s anger is unacceptable to men who look to women to take care of them, to prop up their need to feel in control, and to support them in their competition with other men.
When women are less than gracious and good-humored about their own oppression,
men often feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, at a loss, and therefore vulnerable.
- be thin
- give birth
- cook for you
- have long hair
- wear makeup
- have sex with you
- be feminine
- be graceful
- be fashionable
- wear pink
- love men
- be the media’s idea of perfection
- listen to your bullshit
- have a vagina
This is very true, but it’s important to remember that if a woman is feminine, graceful, shaves, diets, wears make up, or does any of these things in the list, it doesn’t make her a slave to patriarchy or any less of a feminist than you.