By Jamie Finch
Recently, a friend of mine inquired as to my opinion on Nicholas Kristof’s book Half the Sky because I had expressed dissatisfaction with the work as a whole. As someone who has committed herself to the cause of exploited women, as well as worked for the cause of ending sexual slavery, I’m sure my negative stance on a book that praises the plight of women worldwide was fairly confusing. I would probably have fared better to comment on my individual and specific issues with the Half the Sky had it been right in front of me as I wrote him, but I intentionally didn’t buy it- rather just kept going to the Barnes and Noble in Union Square when I still lived in NYC to read it in bits and pieces when I had the time. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it, also I couldn’t afford it, and after reading it, I’m glad I didn’t purchase it.
It was only worth reading once. And for the most part, his writing didn’t leave me feeling inspired and hopeful. The tales he told of individuals who are working for change made me want to look into their stories, lives, and organizations more, but almost every time Kristof offered his own opinion or solutions, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth.
And here’s the main reason why: Kristof doesn’t truly have an understanding of the value of all human life, or absolute truth.
He constantly differentiated between “voluntary prostitution” and “forced prostitution”; and contrasted things like the porn industry with Eastern European brothels that contain eight-year-old girls. Those types of distinctions may look well and good on paper, but in reality, they are completely false and rooted in lies.
But I think it is important to note a few reasons why I believe Kristof feels comfortable to make those distinctions. First of all, Kristof is a man. He is not a woman, so he won’t ever fully understand what it means to be objectified by this, or any culture, simply because of your anatomical makeup.
Secondly, Kristof is a humanist. He does not fully understand that there are standards for life (and the beginnings of life) that have been put in place by an ever-loving God because He knows us, and what our hearts have been made for. Kristof has no concept of the fact that the terms “sex” and “work” were never meant to go together in the first place, because it is not what we have been created for. So what he is doing is actively accepting some darkness, while trying to call out and cast out the rest. The truth is that’s impossible. I know this because I’ve tried.
Lastly, Kristof is an American. Consequently, whether he likes it or not, knows it or not, he is almost always going to view the things that have been glamorized or “legitimized” by capitalism as acceptable. The porn industry is a perfect example. It is now an industry that can easily cover over its human right abuses by pointing to the fame and fortune that are possible for the women within the industry to attain- suddenly, that makes them “powerful” rather than victims. Suddenly, we even cheer them on to attain their “independence” by functioning, sexually, like men; but see, even within that we are ignoring the truth that men were not made to function that way either.
We have made what our Creator intended to be the best earthly picture of His intimate and beautiful relationship with us into something we can buy and sell and trade in, in order to assert our own undeserved autonomy. And as long as this not only exists, but also is praised, we can never expect ourselves to have clearly enough defined truth to hold ourselves to the belief that something like child prostitution is unacceptable.
Kristof’s “solutions” are not solutions — they are an easy way out that we are all looking for as humans — to attempt for change within the world, and not desire change within our own hearts. It cannot be done. If living in Thailand taught me anything about the nature of the captivity to sexual sin, it is this: To desire purity on the earth, and not within my own heart is to live deceived in the worst possible way.
Would most people find this stance uncomfortable? Most likely. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. In fact, I feel that potentially certifies its truth all the more because it calls us to a higher standard of obedience. In reality, we have no rights. To demand our own way and desires before considering the way of the Lord, and how our decisions affect His children (whether they are realized or potential), is the way that an unchanged heart functions. That is not the way of a heart that has been renamed, renewed, and restored by God.
Bottom line: Kristof and I will never truly agree, because I am working for a Kingdom that He doesn’t even acknowledge. Our truths look drastically different, because I am working for things while in my waiting for a perfect King to come and bring the things I am doing to perfect completion. I am a citizen of something entirely Other. And though I wish with all of my heart that Kristof could see what I have been allowed to see when I speak the word “hope”, right now, he does not.
So I pray that someday soon, he will.
Jamie has coffee in her veins and a rhythm in her bones. She is a writer with a nomadic heart.