Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Reflection Paper #3: Looking Back; Looking In; Moving Forward

Career Choice & Mobility
My initial thoughts are that anyone can choose the work they do. Yes, we are all limited by our experience and education, but beyond that--we all choose whether we want to clean hotel rooms, fill grocery bags, answer phones, run around the stock market floor, do other people's taxes, write books, or run a company. As long as it falls within our abilities, of course.

Having read a bit of Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed" (and having seen the play based on the book several years back while in college), it now seems apparent that while we can indeed choose our career track (or simply "job" if that's how you view it), sometimes that choice means not choosing between CEO and burger flipper, but rather choosing between sleeping in a bed under a roof between walls, or curling up in a downtown doorway after the majority of the middle- and upper-class have retired to their suburban homes and high rise flats for the night.

In order to choose one's labour more freely, one must already have a mailing address, a driver's license or other government-issued ID, several years of applicable experience already under one's belt, a college degree, and a somewhat attractive appearance. These qualifications have already eliminated a great portion of America's population, because there are many homeless people who would love to have a job to go to every day (or even every night), but they don't have a mailing address nor the funds to procure clothing acceptable for an interview, let alone going to work every day. The even sadder part is that many of these same people have masters degrees and have spent years or even decades working in their field, but one unfortunate shift of circumstances and they're stuck sleeping at shelters (if they're lucky) and begging at the freeway offramp for enough change to buy a 99-cent BigMac and a coffee for lunch.

What isn't working is the current system. I don't know the entire answer, because I'm not privy to the intricacies of the American government, but I firmly believe that funding (in our ridiculously indebted state) is not being prioritized well. We spend millions--nay, billions--of dollars trying to solve the world's problems when there are thousands of people in our own country who would gladly contribute to those efforts if we only created a way for them to make that happen.

Once you drop below middle class it is extremely difficult to find--or even work--your way back. You simply get further and further behind until there's absolutely no light visible at the end of your tunnel. When this happens, you cannot be on your own. You need help. And though there are many charitable organizations that work to make that assistance a reality, the government seems to make these efforts more and more difficult and therefore less and less effective. Restrictions on food service (to prevent lawsuits), taxes, expense of insurance, required documentation and procedures--all of these hinder organizations and their ability to help those who simply want to return to doing their part to support the economy and society--to their opportunity to thrive and enjoy a few things in life.

There are many ways that the lives of those who find themselves in lower or poverty classes could be vastly improved, but they all begin and end with the American government's priorities. And that is something that is so difficult to shift it seems--and sometimes is--impossible.

Visual Representation of Gender, Race, & Class in America
When I picture a visual that represents my view of gender, race, and class in America, this is what I envision:

A small group of white, middle-aged men in classy suits, expensive watches, and well-groomed haircuts (a few of them wearing wide-rimmed glasses) standing on a plank. This plank stretches from one side of a deep crevasse to the other. On one side of the crevasse is an upper-middle-class neighbourhood where the houses are all two-story and the lawns taken care of not by the residents but by paid landscapers. On the other side is an affluent gated community with a 24-hour gate attendant where the houses have a minimum of 15 rooms and the residents' children are raised by nannies and see their parents only while on first-class vacations to tropical locales every winter. Underneath this plank--supporting it and the weight of the men fully--are women, homeless people, Hispanics, blacks, immigrants, and children.

This image represents the way I see America functioning in its current state. Those who do the work to support the wealthy minority are those who suffer the most and are the most invisible to said wealthy. And they get nothing for it but the chance to toil to survive another day. Said wealthy begin with a notable advantage and significant funding, and simply use those in classes below them (actual or perceived) to make their way across the crevasse--without looking down--to even greater recognition, fortune, and perceived ease of life.

Racial Types in Media
I've mentioned the 90s American TV show "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" a couple of times in class because I have very little experience with black television, limited to aforementioned show and "Cosby" (or "The Cosby Show"--I'm not sure which was which) and another show no one I know has ever heard of called "Amen."

I never realized that "Fresh Prince" was written and produced by white people while "Cosby" was written and directed--at least in heavy part--by Bill Cosby himself. This definitely affects the representation of characters in the shows.

In "Fresh Prince" I believe two of the three racial types discussed by Hall: Clown/Entertainer and Slave Figure. On the show, characters Carlton and Will alternate being the clown/entertainer. Will has a great sense of humour, is very street savvy, and shrugs off anything he does that may be perceived by someone around him as stupid. He has loads of self-confidence and is skilled at putting his foot in his mouth. He's also a talented musician and dancer. Carlton is highly intelligent to the point of being socially awkward, and as a result his sense of humour is often lost on others, and theirs on him. He also enjoys music and dance, but is much less "cool" than Will, causing his renditions of any kind of performance to become more laughable than impressive.

The Slave Figure comes in the form of Geoffrey, the butler of the Banks household. Perfectly calm and poised in any situation, "G" (as Will calls him) waits on the Banks family with dedication, loyalty, and professionalism. However, he also is known to roll his eyes or make ridiculous gestures when certain members of the household's backs are turned. He clearly has opinions on everything that happens around the house, but keeps them to himself out of professional duty. However, the audience is allowed to guess his opinions of certain family members by the way he presents himself when none of the other characters are watching.

Personal Experience with "The Other"
As I've mentioned in class several times, most of my experience with diverse communities and races, ethnicities, and nationalities other than my own has come in the last year and a half since I've moved to Michigan. Prior to living here, my exposure to people of different racial backgrounds was extremely limited due to the demographics of where I was raised and spent the early part of my adult life.

The Pacific Northwestern United States has diversity, but nothing like the midwest. Seattle has a plethora of Asians (mostly Japanese and Korean, I think), Portland/Vancouver has an influx of Russians, and the Mexicans are spread pretty thickly throughout the entire region, with pockets of Native Americans here and there. Blacks are pretty rare in the PNW, which I never thought much about while growing up. Before college I had met two black families; by the time I graduated from college that number had increased only because my involvement in music ensembles took me to Florida and Bermuda.

Every interaction we as humans have with someone or something unfamiliar is driven by stereotypes. If we don't really know what we're dealing with, we assume the stereotypes to be true and therefore applicable in the current situation. I am no exception to this.

A few years ago my husband and I were driving to meet his family at his grandmother's house. She livd on a Native American reservation in eastern Washington and the stereotypes for Native Americans--especially those living on the reservations--is never anything but negative. Grandma had her mailbox on a six-foot 4x4 driven deep into the ground and reinforced with concrete and rebar. Grandpa had gotten tired of replacing the box when bored high school kids took a joy-ride through the orchard land knocking over mailboxes and wreaking general havoc. Their windows had bars on them, the doors were only unlocked if we were outside, and we all knew the story of the couple that had been murdered in their home in the next house over when some Natives broke in to steal valuables.

Needless to say, when we took a wrong turn in town and found ourselves lost in unfamiliar territory at dusk, we were nervous. This was before cell phones were expected in every car, so we had to find a pay phone to call my in-laws for directions. As we stood in the dark, empty parking lot, I prayed fervently as I watched some young male Native Americans loitering behind the adjoining building. I feared for my safety based on stereotypes.

This is just one example, but there are many. I'm sure anyone you ask could come up with a time when stereotypes directed their behavior in a particular situation because they simply didn't know anything about the people they were with. I hope that, if nothing else, this class has taught me to rely on facts and getting to know a person, rather than stereotypes.

Bamboozling Stereotypes
I never really noticed or thought much about stereotypes in media until taking this class. This is likely because I'm white and really had no cause or inspiration to consider racial stereotypes in my early life.

Since taking this class, however, I have begun to notice, particularly in TV shows (since I watch them much more frequently than movies), a trend in stereotyping. For example, two shows I enjoy watching are "Psych" and "White Collar." Both are crime drama comedies, and neither are gory or graphic.

In one particular episode of "Psych," the victim is Chinese. This drags the main characters, Shawn and Gus, into the middle of a Chinese family feud featuring gang kingpins, martial arts, and shady double-dealing. All of these elements revolve around ancient Chinese artifacts and cultural expectations and traditions within families.

In an episode of "White Collar" which I just watched last night, the daughter of a rich white man is kidnapped by a well-respected (in their world) black criminal (think pinstripe suit, tie, gold chain, expensive shoes, shades) and his gang--who are all black and dressed like your typical media "thug." They use "gansta" hand gestures and body language, abbreviate words in "black speak" (e.g. "what'chu wan, girl?"), and generally come across as aggressive, greedy, violent killers.

I never really questioned stereotypes like this because the stereotype assigned to people like me in the media I consume is typically positive--well-off financially, virile and sexually desirable, intelligent, clever, successful, happy, personable. However, the more I watch since taking this class, the more I realize that a vast quantity of the media I consume is rife with broad (and often inaccurate) stereotypes that do nothing but harm to the people they represent.

Challenging the -isms
Everyone has a circle of influence. Some are larger than others, but that doesn't matter, because everyone in the world is in someone else's circle of influence. This means that everyone is reachable somehow, by someone.

What this means for me is that I have a responsibility. I have a duty to dispel stereotypes, fight injustice, call out inequality, and refuse to accept or allow others to use -isms to degrade, insult, or mistreat anyone.

In my own small way I've already begun to do this. My language has changed (and continues to do so) since the start of the semester--for example, I've been trying to avoid using terms such as "you guys" when talking to females or a group that contains females. I've started asking questions such as, "Is saying someone has been 'shanghaied' a racist thing to say?" I call out racism (or other -isms) and address them when I see them in my friends' feeds/comments on Facebook. I read news stories, comics, and other articles with new lenses. The way I want to raise my children hasn't changed, but has become a bit more clear due to the readings and conversations in this class.

I have the opportunity to address and affect the thoughts and perceptions of my friends, my family, and anyone I interact with in day-to-day life. And while I do not in any way consider myself an expert on any of the -isms, I do believe I've garnered quite a bit of knowledge and understanding of them in the past couple of months, and hope I continue to do so as I develop and perhaps shift my own worldview even as a woman over 30. Always learning, always growing.

(Age is also an -ism.)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Film Analysis 3: "Joystick Warriors"

I'm not going to mince words. This film is disturbing.

I've never been a gamer. My version of electronic games as a child was on a dinosaur of a computer using the arrow keys to move a spaceship back and forth on a 4-colour screen to shoot 2-pixel bullets at DOS-quality aliens.

As a teenager in high school and college I had friends try and get me to play games with them (four computers in one room, one game) but I tried it and got bored (I'm not really a strategist). After college, at a party, I got to try "Guitar Hero" for the first time. I fell in love. If I could own one game, that would be it. My husband introduced me to "Civilization" where you build a civilization from the ground up, through the eras of history, trying to make friends with or defeat (in a very indirect way) your neighbours to expand your territory. I also, somewhere along the lines, tried the Sims--and multiple variations by the same company--SimFarm, SimCity, SimIsle, etc.--and enjoyed them, too.

Those games are nothing like what I saw in this film.

I saw chainsaws cutting body parts off of featureless victims tied up by their limbs. I saw a woman very graphically being torn in half--and screaming. I saw a man strapped down with a torture device over his eye, while a laser pointer helped the player aim the spikes directly into the victim's eye...and then the spikes hammered down into the man's eye, splattering blood everywhere. I saw a man shooting at police officers while they fell to the ground in pools of blood. I saw a gang of males attack a weapon-less man in a suit with knives, stabbing him over and over and over and over...leaving him bloody and mangled.

Shall I stop?

I have never seen violence like this in my life, and spending my adult life (until now) in a very progressive/liberal environment has exposed me to a lot more of this world than I wanted to be in the first place.

I had no idea video games were this bad. I knew they were violent but the level of graphicness and the gruesome detail in which players are able to maim, torture, and kill their opponents is appalling to me. As a parent I am terrified that my daughter will be attending school (and probably already is, though she's only in kindergarten) with people whose parents either don't see the danger (how is that possible???) or don't realize what they're allowing their children to see and do.

That said, this film is not a bad one. In fact, it's extremely good. I don't recommend it for everyone--unless they simply listen without watching. But in all honesty--it might be good for people to see these scenes from real games that are incredibly popular, well-known, and that their children are playing on a regular basis. For hours at a time.

For years I've heard the media tout the evils of video games using as examples the mass killings that are happening more and more frequently, such as shootings in shopping centers, movie theaters, and schools. I've heard arguments from both sides of the issue, even from people I love. It's hard to know where the evidence is, where the proof is, or whether there's enough of either to create a valid argument for either side of the issue.

After watching my friends play computer and video games throughout college I came to the conclusion that the idea that video games cause violent acts was unfounded--just because a lot of violent people enjoyed video games didn't mean there weren't other factors (such as mental instability or abuse in their own lives) that led them to commit such horrible acts of violence.

However. Seeing what I saw in this film has convinced me that violent video games can play a very large role in the decisions those individuals make to commit acts of violence in real life and not just on the screen.

As the film points out, however, it is not solely violent games that produce horrible acts of violence.

"What we’re not saying is that if there are no other factors, playing violent video games will produce a juvenile delinquent or a mass murderer. In fact, that’s not the case.”

The fact is that there are many factors that contribute to a person making the choice to create a scene in which they've participated many times on screen "IRL" (in real life). Violent video games is just one of those factors; others include poverty, family violence, peer influence, age, risky behavior, and gender.

Violence is also universal, so it's easy to translate into any culture, gender, race, or class.

“It’s relatively easy to script and produce violent video games, TV, and movies. It doesn’t take a great deal of creativity to figure out how to blow someone up. Also, violence travels well across borders. There are no language barriers, no possibilities of cultural misunderstandings…and when the industry depends on universality, the ability to use the same product in various countries is extremely valuable.”

Christians and positive people the world over like to say things like, "Share a smile--it's universal!" or "Laughter has no language." to encourage people to be cheerful toward those around them. The same argument can be made for violence. And violence--not smiling--sells.

One reason given for this sellability of violence is humanity's long-standing obsession with violence and what it means for us as people and societies. 

"We're fascinated by violence and we grapple with what it means and how to use it. We grapple with it by creating art about it."

As humans--in any culture--we are intrigued by what our ancestors have done with violence--why did they do it, how did they do it, and what did it accomplish? What do those abilities and urges say about the state of our psyches and the deep-seated savagery we wonder about that may or may not be ever-present. One way to explore that possible presence is to play with it in an environment that won't harm anyone overtly: a game.

The film also pointed out that video game fans are very demanding--they want the highest quality graphics and technology, and they're willing to pay for it. This pushes the production costs for video games extremely high, in the hundreds of millions of dollars. So the end product is extremely realistic and graphic, and the fans are pleased enough to spend ridiculously high amounts of money to acquire the next in the series of their favourite games.

This leads to the idea of the fascination with and love for the mechanics of the game. How it's played is just as awe-inspiring and addicting--if not moreso--than the violent acts those mechanics are producing.

"First you see the explosions and the guns and the shooting. But somewhere around the fourth hour players stop seeing the graphics. They're interacting with the mechanics of the game itself. While this can potentially be seen as a good thing--the players aren't playing to be violent--desensitization people see this as a really, really bad thing."

The film ends by pointing out that however realistic video games may be or become, there are some things they just don't do.

"Games don't show players the geopolitical decisions. Games don't talk about those who make the decisions on why/if we're going to go to war and how we're going to go to war. Not those who are boots on the ground, following the orders of those who make those decisions. Games don't talk about the consequences to nations to civilizations. War is a violent, political response to conflict. And games don't engage that."

"Games don't portray a realistic picture of war. Games don't talk about the consequences of war--most of all to yourself. You may fail and die, but your'e back in the next game. You never experience danger and fear for your life the way real soldiers do. And the violence of video games is what George Gerber called 'happy violence'--it's violence delivered with a punchline or a joke. With none of the consequences of real war. None of the physical pain of dismemberment. None of the grieving of the family and friends of the people you blew away without a second thought. Unlike real war, everything is gauged on escalation. The more people you blow up the better. And never toward resolution."

"Video games don't create a violent person. What they do is glorify a violent culture and shut down our capacity as a society to imagine anything different. They short-circuit our ability to think about things in more productive ways. about the real violence in our lives. That's their real tragedy."

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Film Analysis #2: "No Woman No Cry" & "It's a Girl"

“No Woman No Cry” was a well-done documentary on the dangers of maternity around the world. It’s not just a third-world problem, either; it’s also a needless problem in the U.S., though for very different reasons.

One thing that really struck me from this film is that in Tanzania (and other poor countries in Africa), if you can get to the right healthcare, the care is usually free. In the United States, though healthcare is prolific and readily available to just about everyone, it is far from free.

Watching Janet suffer silently left me in awe. Her lips said she was hurting and that it felt like labour pains, but her face was stoic and calm. If I’d passed her on the dirt road between the hospital and her village I would never have guessed she was about to have her baby and was fighting excruciating pain. Though admittedly the only woman I’ve ever watched give birth in real life is myself (and even then I wasn’t really “watching,” per se), I would guess this is a cultural thing. American women are encouraged to grunt, moan, yell, scream, chant, pant, and make other noises to a) distract themselves from the pain of childbirth and b) relax the muscles that need to relax and allow the other parts of the body to do their thing.

I was also shocked by the stark emptiness of the hospital room Janet was in. They have nothing but a bed and yet this is where she desperately wants to give birth.

The amount of physical touch between nurse and patient was interesting. The nurse rubbed her hand on the woman’s face, touched her shoulder, tousled her hair, nipped her cheek with her finger. It was a very tender and caring scene to me. That would never happen in the U.S. Nurses are to be kind and caring and friendly, but never intimate or assuming a closeness that isn’t there.

In the United States, lack of access to hospitals, clinics, doctors, and medicine is not the problem, nor is poor sanitation, limited technology, or lack of knowledge. 1 in 5 women of reproductive age in America has no insurance. And this is one of the major problems affecting maternal mortality in this country today.

Contrasting what I know from giving birth to two children thus far in my life and what I learned of Tanzanian culture in this film was interesting. I have access to so much that those women do not have. I can walk into any hospital nearby and be given a sterilized, starched bed and access to nearly any machine or technology or drug I could need. It may cost me an arm and a leg, but I have the access.

The women in Tanzania have to walk five miles in the desert sun to get to the nearest clinic—not hospital—and there’s a very low chance there will even be a doctor there. One OB quoted in the film said that at one point he was the only obstetrician for an entire population of several million people.

One thing that fascinated me about the stories of the women in Bangladesh is the intense feeling of shame for a woman if she cannot give birth. Girl or boy is not as important as whether or not the woman can conceive at all.

Also, maternity is a family affair in this country. When the woman (I don’t recall her name) went to get an ultrasound to determine her baby’s gestation status, she didn’t just go alone, with a friend, with her mother, or with her husband. An entire crew of her family (and friends?) went with her. Even the small children came along.

I go to OB appointments alone most of the time, only taking my husband when there’s a significant test being done like the gender ultrasound, or if there’s a concern. This is not a cultural thing but a preference and one based on economic convenience and necessity at that (he works an hourly job and time is money). And I am comfortable with this. Considering the idea of my entire (extended?) family coming with me to an ultrasound is awkward and uncomfortable to me. And that could be caused by both culture and personality.

The doctor also expected her “people” to be able to tell him when her last period was. Likely the only person who can tell my doctor that about me will be my husband.

Interestingly, although I felt the doctor was abrupt, harsh, demanding, demeaning, and rude, I also felt that the health educator (the protagonist, if you will, in this story) was a bit too hard on the woman, as well. “Why did you even try to do it at home? What kind of people are you? How do you think we feel?” It was a complete guilt trip for her to have made the decision she made, which is firmly rooted in a culture in which she was raised deeply entrenched.

The story of the man whose wife died in childbirth was heart wrenching. Imagining my husband left with my daughters and me never holding or knowing my children…and them never knowing me…was a painful vision. And to think that it happened in this country is a bit frightening. It could happen to anyone. It almost happened to my mother when she gave birth to me. That father could have been my father. His son’s story mine. My life could have been very, very different. And medicine has come a long way in 31 years.

One woman interviewed said, “There’s an assumption in third world countries that if we build a clinic, the people will use it.” That’s not necessarily true because from this film I determined that the shame in asking for medical assistance is so great, that many women opt to take their chances alone and at home with inexperienced help than bear the shame of going to the hospital where experts could save their life and the life of their baby. This fact makes me sad, and yet…what can we do?

It’s about education. Education for the medical staff on how to properly handle a childbirth and a newborn. Education for women on pregnancy and childbirth and what a healthcare system can and does do. Education for men and women on the care women need while pregnant and giving birth. And education alone can’t fight the problem; there has to be a shift in culture.

This was also the issue in “It’s a Girl!” that I watched as my second film. This documentary focuses solely on India and China and the extremely high rates of gendercide, feticide, and infanticide due to cultural value systems that are highly skewed in favour of males.

One thing that struck me about the situation in India is that the gender issue is not just about gender; it’s also about class. A poor family cannot afford to feed a large family. So boys are fed well, and the girls are not. If a boy gets sick the family will find a way to get medicine for him. If a girl gets sick and they cannot afford medical care, they will allow her to suffer and even die. This is not necessarily a direct result of gender preference, but it’s a bit of a circular cycle, in which gender preference leads families to take better care of male children, and the higher value placed on male children is evident from the beginning and therefore continues the cycle of devaluing females, causing/reinforcing gender preference.

In addition, if a family is wealthy it expects to receive as dowry expensive cars such as Mercedes and other high-value items. However, this also means that they are expected to pay that in dowry should they have a daughter to wed. Therefore greed plays a major role in gendercide, since families view dowry as an easy way to get even richer—gain property, money, and expensive items. Having only boys means they get more and more and never have to give.

I was absolutely shocked at the ability of the Indian women to explain how they kill their female babies…while smiling. They talk about pouring acid on the baby’s face to suffocate her, strangling her, feeding her poison, putting a wet cloth over her face so she can’t breathe—and through all of this explanation they are smiling as though talking about how they made a beautiful cake for their child’s birthday on Sunday or went for a walk in the park last night with their lover.

They. Are. Murderers.

And they stand there explaining why it was necessary and how they don’t feel any guilt at all.

In China, families are intensely prosecuted by law if they go against the policy stating that city-dwellers have only one child and rural families have no more than two. A spy system is put in place and held there by the government, so you never know who will report you if you are illegally pregnant, which means fines, imprisonment, forced abortion, and/or forced sterilization.

On average, 1,500 abortions are performed every hour in China. Many are forced, even up to the last month of pregnancy.

As a result of this required and strictly enforced policy, gender preference is extremely evident in the
culture. Men now outnumber women in China by 37 million. This means finding a woman to marry is incredibly difficult and has resulted in extreme prostitution markets, child bride kidnappings, and child abductions as men seek to satisfy their physical desires and families seek to find wives for their sons.

We all know about China’s one-child policy, and most western countries believe this to be an abhorrence. However, as one interviewee pointed out in this documentary, “Raising the birth limit to two won’t solve the problem. Women who come from cultures where they are treated as equals to men need to stand up for their sisters because they cannot do it themselves.”

This leads me to question…whose worldview is right? Who’s to say that the western view on equal rights and treatment of men and women is the “right” way to see things? Who decides that killing female children is wrong and valuing both genders equally is right? How can we even approach the issue with such vastly different worldviews and expect to convince anyone of anything that goes against their centuries-old cultural norms? What would our reaction be here in the U.S. if a group of “educators” from India came over and started telling us that placing equal value on male and female children was wrong and desiring only male children was right? Would we listen willingly and nod our heads and consider the arguments and make thoughtful decisions to change our culture? Doubtful.

So how does one solve this? It’s a major problem—admittedly, from my own worldview—and I don’t see how education or argumentation is going to change anything. Culture is difficult to shift—in any direction—specially on major issues such as gendercide and value systems.

Another interviewee said, “When we put up pictures of little girls and say, ‘save the girl child,’ who are we talking to? No one is listening. We need to turn the mirror around and take a good hard look into our own psyche and moral conscience. As a nation (India) we have a need for examination, shame, and change, to confront it within ourselves. Unless we do that, nothing is going to change. There needs to be an assumption of responsibility. This is something we have allowed to go horribly wrong and we’re each responsible for it.”

I think she’s right. It has to come from within, this change. We as Americans can’t do it. The British can’t do it. The Germans can’t do it. The Australians can’t do it. The South Africans can’t do it. Even the Canadians can’t do it. It has to be an internal push for internal change. And it will take an extremely long time. And, unfortunately, a lot more deaths.

Watching these films as a mother was probably a different experience than that of others watching them. The first was simply a treatise on the childbirth experience in general, but the second was more difficult as it dealt with devaluing females. I have two girls. It goes without saying that I value them very much—they are special to me and their father, and we would never ever in a million years wish they were boys instead.

It was very difficult for me as the mother of girls to hear the stories of the girl babies in India being murdered by their own mothers minutes after their birth, simply because they didn’t have a penis.

I cried as I listened to the stories about unwanted daughters in China—the fact that there is a very fast-growing population of illegal children (mostly female) in China who technically—legally—don’t exist. They can’t go to school, receive healthcare, travel by plane, hold a job, get married, or leave the country. Many of them are abandoned or neglected/abused simply because they are girls and therefore a burden on their parents.

I sobbed as the sorrowful mother shared her story about having to leave her three daughters with different family members while she and her husband fled to a location 1,000 miles away in order to avoid penalties from the government for having more than their allotted number of children. They try to visit their daughters once a year. If they have enough money saved. “I miss my children very much,” said the mother. The oldest daughter came on the screen and said, “I want my mother to come home. I don’t want her to work anymore. I miss her.” It broke my heart.

My heart skipped a beat when I learned that women in China not only have to have a pregnancy permit to conceive, but they also must have a birth permit to actually give birth to the child.

A pregnancy permit does not guarantee a birth permit.

Just let that sink in.

Needless to say these films were very enlightening and I’m glad I watched them, though parts of them were painful to see. I am very fortunate to live in a country where I am equally valued (though even that, in our western culture, is debatable on a very different level), where I can get pregnant when and how I so choose, and can give birth to as many babies as I wish, without interference from the government.

I felt they were both well-done though the first (“No Woman No Cry”) was very obviously done by someone with a bit less experience, or at least an extremely different style than the maker of the second (“It’s a Girl!”). They are both high quality and very informative, with contemporary information and touching stories.

Now to find answers to my questions and figure out whether or not documentaries like these can and do make any difference in the world.