Women in the World: An Anthology and an Atlas

Sisterhood is Global: The International Women's Movement Anthology.Compiled, edited, introduced, and with a new preface by Robin Morgan.The Feminist Press at The City University of New York, New York, 1996.821 pages; $24.95The State of Women in the World Atlas: Women's Status Around the Globe: Work, Health, Education and Personal Freedom.Second Edition, Joni Seager.Penguin Reference, London, 1997.28 pages; $16.95Robin Morgan's mammoth anthology, Sisterhood is Global, was reissued in 1996 and is out in paperback, all 800 plus pages of its original 1984 version, with a new preface by Ms. Morgan. More than a decade from its original concept and intent to its initial publication, this was an ambitious project. Thousands of hours were poured into research, data checking and rechecking, writing, compilation, international networking, translating, and editing, guided to completion by the passion and vision of editor Morgan, her staff, and the book's many contributors -- over 200 are named in her acknowledgments.Robin Morgan has assembled a densely packed treasure of historical, cultural, and demographic and statistical data (all of which was collected and compiled in 1985 or before) from 68 countries and territories around the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. This book is meant to be read; even the statistical data is presented simply, without graphs or lists.In many instances, the book's researchers were informed that the information they sought about a country's women did not exist, or had not been collected, or would not be released from the official files. When asked for data specific to their country's female population, officials were occasionally suspicious or even incredulous. What information there was often turned out to be woefully dated or incomplete.In each country's chapter, a section called "Gynography" follows the statistical data, and points out the disparities between a country's official policy and its actual practice in regard to such elements of women's lives as marriage and divorce, contraception and abortion, prostitution, incest, rape, and battery. "Herstory" follows, telling about the contributions that women have made in the shaping of their country; for instance, it was through the underground activities and publications by women activists on behalf of factory workers in Poland that the term "Solidarity" was coined. Next, "Mythography" refers to the work of anthropologists and archaeologists in uncovering evidence that " ... virtually every culture in the world has indigenous myths of an earlier time when women were free and powerful and civilization blossomed with less violence and fewer divisions." A personal contribution -- in most instances, an essay -- completes each chapter.I never thought this would be a day-at-the-beach book. But even knowing of its size before reading and reviewing this book, I remained foolishly undaunted. It's an anthology after all, I told myself. Doesn't that mean I can pick and choose, hit or miss, whatever looks appealing? I read long into the nights, bleary-eyed even with my glasses, sacrificing sleep and not noticing. I kept a highlighter and a pen with the book at all times, tools for carrying on a silent dialogue with the unknown woman whose words I was reading. I highlighted or underlined her words. I wrote my responses back to her, in the margins or on scraps of paper. Ten years, possibly twenty, separated us. But her words entered my mind with blinding immediacy. They were words that informed. They challenged. They angered and inspired. They moved me.Sisterhood's contributors speak of how they came of age, how they awakened to their own reactions to their cultures' expectations and demands on women. They reveal their journeys of self-transformation and of attempts at transforming their societies. Without apology, they speak with bewilderment, frustration, and anger, of their own situations and what they have witnessed in the lives of other women. We hear the tones of resolution, of love and hope, of chagrin and a weary consciousness, a biting humor, and of despair. We read and say, "Yes, sister."Joni Seager's The State of Women in the World Atlas proved to be a useful companion to Sisterhood ... Only 126 pages, it contains 34 two-page Mercator projection maps of the globe, each displaying specific information about women by country, color-coded and keyed to define how percentages of women are affected in each country. Seager's maps, with stunning graphics, bring into focus seven thought-provoking categories of women's concerns: "Women of the World," "Families," "Birthrights," "Body Politics," "Work," "To Have and Have Not," and "Power." Separate maps illustrate numerous topics in each category, and each is accompanied by brief but illuminating lists of related data. Seager's list of sources includes Sisterhood Is Global, and a wide variety of other data collections from all over the world.As Joni Seager points out in her introduction to this 1997 edition of Women in the World (her first edition was published in 1986), "The world of women is defined both by commonality and difference.... at its best, mapping can simultaneously illuminate both. Mapping is a powerful tool; in showing not only what is happening but where, patterns are revealed on maps that would never be evident in statistical tables or even in narratives. On a map, the similarities and differences, the continuities and contrasts among women around the world become immediately apparent. So do the gaps in our knowledge." Seager cautions against over-generalization from the maps and hopes that "readers will use this atlas as a departure point for identifying issues and exploring the many questions that these maps raise but leave unresolved."In Sisterhood is Global, Ama Ata Aidoo of Ghana writes stirringly: "We cannot afford to limit ourselves by shelving any aspect of our consciousness ... Clarity therefore becomes the only reliable companion and weapon for a fighting woman. For with such company and thus armed, she can weather sexist disillusion and betrayal, and still move on." Joni Seager's Atlas offers us the clarity we need, powerfully illustrating the ways in which the recognition and preservation of women's human dignity have indeed been betrayed.In her "Notes and Commentary," Seager points out, "Rape is a violent act intended to assert male power and control. Rape is a way in which women are reminded of their place and among the ways by which women are disappeared, mentally and emotionally as well as bodily." For me, the data from both books seems to demonstrate the varieties of "rape," more subtle and psychological, for which the physical act stands only as the most brutal and savage symbol. A dynamic of cross-culturally institutionalized and collectively accepted attitudes toward half of the world's population emerges -- in which women are seen as two-dimensional commodities or possessions to be quantified, managed, manipulated, used (and used up), or wasted, like any other resource or unit of production. Should we wonder that the numbers most consistently up-to-date and obtainable were those used to measure women's activities as units of production or reproduction?I believe that Seager refers to something more than "simply" the physical violation of a woman's body in this passage from her notes on rape: "Female sexuality -- and virginity -- is often considered to be a legitimate interest of the state and the family; sex crimes are thus seen as violations of the community and family, which displaces women as the harmed party. Historically, the criminalization of rape was not designed to protect women, but to protect male 'property.' This is still a widespread judicial interpretation ... where the rape of a man's wife or daughter is considered a serious crime -- against him."Again and again, women articulate the challenge: "Apart from the need to change the system where there will be a more equitable division of income and a society with social services for the working man and woman, we need to change the attitudes toward women." (Margaret Papandreou, Greece)"The question is: do we choose to be the subjects or the objects of our own lives?" (Hilkka Pietila, Finland)"We are poised on the edge of the new millennium -- ruin behind us, no map before us, the taste of fear sharp on our tongues./Yet we will leap./The exercise of imagining is an act of creation./The act of creation is an exercise of will./All this is political. And possible." (From "A Woman's Creed," by Robin Morgan & others)Despite what seems to be a daily, unrecognized war being waged against women around the globe -- and despite, at times, our own unwitting complicity in the systems that hurt us -- we women will endure and persist in the struggle toward that utterly joyful and terrifying vision. We are the givers of life and light as we face the challenge of how to reach across all that divides us; we are bonded not by having shared a common womb but by having suffered common wounds, and we seek to create and believe in our own power to transform each other and the world.Pat Skinner is a writer and editor who lives in Schenectady, New York.

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