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The Irony of The Girl Effect

I saw this on Oprah yesterday. Yes, I watched Oprah. Yesterday was World AIDS Day and I anticipated her doing a thoughtful program, which I think she did.

Here's a video she showed, produced by the Nike Foundation:

The message is clear and necessary and indisputable. But the cow part?
The irony of the cow part is that much of this Oprah show was about slavery. Human slavery, of course. Sex slavery.
Oprah and journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (Kristof's wife and co-author with him of "Half the Sky"), along with a bevy of celebrities who contributed to short videos, described some of the atrocities committed against women and suggested what audience members can do.

I think the show was well done and informative and here's what struck me most. There was a brief discussion about why these horrifying crimes can go on, and in such great numbers, without the world doing something about them. Without a demand to their cessation.

And the answer was basically: If this were happening to men, the world would have put a stop to it.

The irony of the inclusion of the cow in The Girl Effect is that it swaps one form of slavery for another. It says, in no uncertain terms, that the way to prevent the enslavement of a girl is for her to enslave a cow (and then more cows) because that property will give her power.

Oprah's a huge Heifer International fan, and how people who are concerned with justice can give to that organization shocks me. It's particularly ironic for a black woman to support Heifer International.

To Kristof's credit, he immediately mentions a story included in "Half the Sky" about a woman who was given fertilizer for her potato crop, which flourished and was so lucrative that she became the center of power in her family because she had the money. It was because of her that her husband could get medical care when he fell ill.

The central message of the program was not about enslaving animals, of course. But each time Oprah or a guest mentioned a statistic, and the audience was appropriately surprised and disgusted by that statistic, a statistic about animals quickly popped into my mind. For example, Oprah (or Kristof) said:

"At the peak of the transatlantic slave trade, 80,000 slaves were transported from Africa to the new world. Today, more than 10 times as many women are being forced into brothels or other forms of slavery."

That's 800,000, and that's a crime of disgraceful proportion and it I'm not minimizing it. But tens of billions of nonhumans are created as slaves and also live unimaginably terrifying lives. And 99% of the population (as in, 1%, I believe, are vegans) doesn't care. And The Girl Effect is promoting that form of slavery.

The conclusion that seems inevitable regarding nonhuman slaves is the same one that explains why women are still living as slaves: they are not seen as valuable the way men are.

The impulse might be to say that we need to work on freeing women first, and then work on animals. But it's the same concept that underlies both situations: viewing others as commodities that you have a right to exploit. The only problem is that in the case of animals, most people don't see that yet. Our job, it seems to me, is to help them see it.

Injustice wears many masks, but behind them all is the same face: the belief that you have the right to use and profit from someone else's life.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. On a bit of a tangent, but on the same plane at least when it comes to mainstream media and animal rights: Family Guy, the uber-irreverent adult carton on FOX had an episode on Sunday which focused on the value of non-human animal life compared to that of a human. It's tasteless, gory and laugh-out-loud funny at times. (A guilty pleasure of mine, I… See More admit.) You can watch the full episode on FOX's On-Demand site here: (The episode is titled "Dog Gone", Season 9/Episode 8.) At the very least, it's gets people who might not normally ponder such issues to ponder them.

    December 2, 2009
  2. Ahhhhh……the ironic irony in the irony effect.

    Irony seems to be the over looked blanket that covers much of the worlds rights organizations.
    Many groups fighting for awareness and justice for one group of individuals ignore the violence and injustice being done to other individuals. This is often done blindly yet also in many instances openly conscious of the the exploitation being perpetrated yet justified…. because their cause (feeding the homeless humans for example) is being attended to.
    I was once violently shouted down at an ACT UP meeting when I suggested that using Chimpanzees in horrible HIV experiments was causing so much waste of resources and so much more suffering and death in the world.
    I think another irony with the girl effect is that PETA uses the exact same tactic. Trying to swap one form of oppression and exploitation with another.
    PETA uses (as we all know) naked women to get attention for the cause of animal rights. When PETA uses this "girl effect" it destroys both fights in the long run.
    Not only do we non human right activists need to wake up the world to the other animal's of the world rights…. but we animal rights advocates need to wake up other AR people to the concept of standing up for everyone's right not to be treated with injustice, prejudice and exploitation.
    Hey AR activists… animal rights is not a one way street!

    Thank you Mary for a wonderful post!


    December 2, 2009
  3. jeannie #

    The Nike Foundation is behind The Girl Effect?


    The same Nike that sells lots and lots of shoes made from cow's skin?

    The same Nike that (still) endorses Michael Vick?

    And the same Nike that was once guilty of child labor and is still guilty of workers' rights violations?

    Yes, it is ironic in more ways than one.

    Sounds like The Girl Effect is Nike's feeble attempt at "corporate social responsibility." In any case, from an animal/human rights standpoint, Nike is a disaster any way you look at them.

    December 8, 2009

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