Female Genital Mutilation
Female Genital Mutation is a known taboo and has no health benefits whatsoever. Despite it being outlawed in most countries, certain groups and communities still practice it. Girls as young as a few weeks old undergo FGM, with or without any anaesthesia. Although FGM is a topic that is rarely spoken about, it is still one of the most prominent forms of sexual inequality which is seen in many countries throughout Africa and the Middle East. Not only is this a painful experience for the young girls, but severe complications can also take place. These complications vary from urinary infections, fatal bleeding and sometimes the inability to give birth. This practice happens often in the developing world while many people in Caucasian countries only hear about it. This gender inequality was seen in the documentary known as “Half The Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by the husband and wife team of Nicholas Kristof (a New York Times Reporter) and Sheryl WuDunn. The documentary covers many topics involving the oppression of women’s rights.
The reporter, Kristof, is followed by big-named celebrities as he interviews women from several towns in developing countries regarding their lives and the oppression they have undergone. This was first written as a book and later turned into a movie. It covers topics such as female genital mutilation, sexual abuse, exploitation and other similar topics. This report was aired on national television about two years ago and has received mixed reviews. The title itself leaves one to wonder if it is oversimplifying the subject, as if someone will be able to turn a woman’s life around just with a short interview. Several celebrities, along with the reporter, Kristof, venture off into secluded towns speaking to women about their lives and what type of abuse they have undergone. Although the positive intention was there, to show people what goes on in these countries, the reporter did not really dig deep into the problem.
The documentary was done in a simple way where the reporter, along with the celebrity, interviewed these women, abusers and sometimes peddlers. You could tell that none of the questions were scripted because of the disgust in the faces of the celebrities as the women uncover their stories. Instead of really digging deep into each issue, the reporter asks very shallow questions, yet provides no answers. He goes as far as asking a father, who was said to have been abusing his daughter, why the man was not proud of his child. They asked him this with cameras to his face, not even bothering to take a look at the community, the external causes and their culture. This meant that the father may have felt like he was being judged on national television. Through his frustration, who is to say that the abuse will stop? What if they made it worse for the daughter who is being abused?
There are those issues that leave the viewers hanging, not knowing what the real solution is. The reporter comes in as an observer or spectator, yet he seems to meddle with the circumstances and give his own personal opinion. Although the abuse should stop, and people around the world should know what is happening. There are also other ways to do this. It cannot be solved in one interview. This is something that the documentary failed to provide. An in depth study of the town may have been necessary. Chances are, the daughter that was being abused is not the only one. Physical, sexual and emotional abuse is wrong. However, the reporter should have also taken a look at the culture of the town and the country that he is in. It seemed a little too disrespectful that one family was being judged, without looking at the environment as a whole. None of the other factors were being taken into consideration. This sort of portrayal can give the wrong image of a country, culture or region. It oversimplifies the subject and is too quick to generalize.
There is another problem with the documentary in terms of the use of celebrities. Kristof explains that he wanted to bridge the interest of the viewers and readers by using these activist celebrities in order to spark a light. However, by using this bridge, again, Kristof oversimplifies the problems that these women face. There are cultural barriers that just cannot be bridged. Although not all of the celebrities with Kristof were born with a silver spoon in their mouths, none of them had to grow up in the environment that these “oppressed” women had to grow up in. The context of the abuse and gender inequality was not put up against cultural terms. By doing this, Kristof believes that there is a solution for the problems that all the women face, and it is very simple. The economic, health and societal wellbeing of these women can be generalized and given one cure or solution.
It is this kind of thinking that is more abusive. It treats women from developing countries as a whole, and makes it as if they “need” white America. It insinuates this message that in order to become empowered, it is important that you have some sort of Western intervention. This kind of bridge that Kristof hopes to build does not seem as productive as he would have hoped it would be. Instead, he comes off as the “white” man who is coming to the rescue, offering a quick solution to problems that have been going on throughout the generations.
One cannot assume that the problems within the small communities only sparked up overnight. Therefore, it is not fair to think that these problems can be solved through Kristof’s miracle answer. He believes that these women can be empowered through a business or through microfinancing. The issue on poverty cannot be solved by something that was proven to be a failure. There are also questions about the emotional wellbeing of all those women, the impact that the abuse has made and how they will be able to raise daughters who do feel empowered.
The film portrays women as weak and powerless. There is also an alarming lack of males in the film. The ones who are there were seen as abusers, indifferent standbyers violent or uncaring. It puts an unfair generalization that some men are incapable of caring for their women, that is why they need the Western World to step in. This is the type of thought that sparks up from the documentary.
On the topic of female genital mutilation, it is seen to be practiced in several countries, mostly ranging from Africa to the Middle East. Culturally, this practice is done to keep the purity of women, where in some cases, the genitalia is opened up for intercourse or childbearing. The documentary does little about informing the public in how it is done and why it is done. Although FGM is something that is considered a cruel form of gender inequality, the documentary should have at least covered some facts before trying to confront those who were in the practice.
There are women who were interviewed, remembering the time when they had to go through the ceremony in which their female parts were mutilated. Kristof interviewed an old practitioner of genital mutilation who had a small hut in a village. He confronted her about her business and asked why she would put such young girls in danger. Surprisingly, she answered that she needed the business in order to provide food for her family. Despite the disgust on the beautiful actress’ face, it is true that poverty is an overwhelming issue that will make people do very cruel and unthinkable things.
Again, the issue on poverty, the conditions as well as the culture of those people who are in these “oppressed” countries need to be first studied before judgement is passed. This is what Kristof did, he judged entire communities instead of learning more about them. Of course, it is true that female genital mutilation should stop, and that people should know about this. However, going to one practitioner and telling her that what she is doing is wrong will not make a difference. How does he know that the interview does not greatly affect the dynamics and the exchange in that small village? They are already struggling to eat three meals a day as it is. It is these types of thoughtless comments that really make the documentary more about Kristof as the “white American male savior” rather than about the women who undergo abuse.
Instead of coming up with opportunities for these women, the documentary does what most of the abusers do. They do not see these women as people, but as charity cases. By doing this, it is almost like they are objectifying these women, making them into spectacles, for a short sob story. The documentary does very little to get to know these women and personally help them out. The women portrayed in the film could have been used as examples by getting to know them, their environment and their culture. Instead, they were offered something that was proven to be a failure – micro financing.
Although they do recognize that their deeply flawed solution had mixed results, they praised their intervention anyway. This is not something that is supposed to work for the long run. The film perpetuates the idea that the work some women are doing is not work at all. This is because they do not know or understand the culture or the circumstances in which these women live in. They add a burden on these women with a start-up business that may or may not succeed. Kristof and the group do not provide a viable solutions for those people who are still in a culture where female genital mutilation is practiced. They offer no medical help for those who have undergone this procedure and offer no solution for child care for young women.