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Tainted WitnessWhy We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives$
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Leigh Gilmore

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780231177146

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231177146.001.0001

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Witness by Proxy

Witness by Proxy

Girls in Humanitarian Storytelling

(p.119) 4 Witness by Proxy
Tainted Witness

Leigh Gilmore

Columbia University Press

Chapter four takes up the interest in second hand life narratives of girls exemplified by Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea and Nicholas Kristof’s Half the Sky and argues that humanitarian campaigns now promote ever purer (and younger) victims as deserving of empathy and Western intervention. The chapter goes on to identifiy the preference for blameless witnesses, sufficiently innocent to arouse nearly universal sympathy and often the victims of profoundly unsympathetic criminals populate accounts by Mortenson and Kristof, specifically by examining the “Three Cups of Tea” scandal. The chapter also theorizes that girls and women spark international awareness campaigns, as they should, but that humanitarian efforts like Mortenson’s do not necessarily operate in concert with local efforts at feminist reform. Finally, the chapter posits the appeal of the proxy witness: the man who speaks on behalf of girls and women who, in a turn of the humanitarian screw, is not so much their proxy as they are his.

Keywords:   Humanitarian Neoliberalism, Proxy Witness, Girls in Crisis, Greg Mortenson, Nicholas Kristof, Scandal

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