Oh no not again…

My colleague Shawn Callahan from Australian business-knowledge consultancy Anecdote kindly posted a link via Twitter to the ‘Girleffect.org’ website

Just rewatching http://girleffect.org to remind myself how to use mystery to setup a presentation

As he says in the post, the site-design is a very good illustration of how to build a story to present an idea. But unfortunately I also looked at the content of the site – and found myself quietly roiling in irritation. Oh no, not again

Looking at it with a business-anarchist’s eye, I suppose I have to applaud its disruptive intent. But it’s what I would call “kiddies’ anarchy” rather than a true responsibility-based anarchy: the catch is that, as usual, it hasn’t been thought-through properly, and what they’re promoting as ‘the right solution’ will almost certainly cause more harm than good in the longer term.

For a start, it displays the usual rampant sexism of Western culture – best summarised by one of the old feminist slogans, “men are the problem, women are the solution”. In this case, it’s “girls are the solution”, but it comes to much the same in the end – there’s no mention of males at all anywhere in it other than one fleeting, quickly-removed reference to ‘husband’, in the same context as ‘cow’. The underlying model is a straightforward win/lose – we don’t actually have to do much to make things better for girls, all we have to do is shut the boys out of everything and it’ll magically all come out right because ‘girls are the solution’. The real end-result is that the boys, having been shut out of the society, will go off and create their own – which, yes, may well be rampantly misogynistic, and which would be no surprise at all given the way boys are treated. The only way that works is a win/win – everything else guarantees that everyone loses in the longer-term. And I must admit I find it so frustrating that would-be activists like the promoters of ‘girleffect’ still do not grasp that basic fact. Hence one reason for “oh no, not again…”.

The other is probably more subtle: the ‘solution’ is that putting a girl in a school uniform somehow magically leads to that girl receiving a cow which she will then somehow transform equally magically into a whole herd, which she will sell for dollars, and she will become a rich businesswoman, which will be wonderful for everyone. There’s no grasp of even basic economics; no grasp of basic environmental issues; no grasp of where this will fit into the societal context; nothing. Just magic. What it would really do – unless there’s a full socially-grounded structure such as Grameen behind it – would simply entrap the by-now-woman into the wage-culture – in other words, yet another owned not-quite-slave of globalised business, whilst tangling everyone else around her into the same mess, and almost certainly lead to a medium- to longer-term ‘tragedy of the commons’. Oh no not again…

Feminists in Asian countries especially have routinely expressed their annoyance at what they describe as Western-feminists’ ‘smug cultural-imperialist intrusions’ into their own much more complex societal contexts: judging from the content of the girleffect’ website, they certainly have a point.

Nice idea; nice sentiment and all that (if it wasn’t so damned sexist); but overall, I just wish these blasted people would think for once…


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