Kristof certainly dedicates plenty of words a year to the women at the bottom of the heap. But that’s another part of my beef. A classic Kristof story portrays a former prostitute-turned-businesswoman who’s lifted herself and her children out of grinding poverty. Watch his PBS series and it’s packed with this sort. There’s abuse and grinding poverty and then there’s the woman who gives her bootstraps a tug. It’s a similar narrative to the woman with the ho-hum career in the macho business – and then there’s Sandberg, who by dint of leaning in, rises to the top of Google, then Facebook.
What are common in Kristof’s stories are heroes. What are rare are movements or groups. A hero like Sandberg can win a prize, break a record, even crack a glass ceiling, but change the working conditions for all workers?
Even a woman who isn’t aggressive deserves not to be destitute. That’s what collective bargaining is for. Yet Kristof seems to like unions less than heroes. Peruse the long list of “ways to lift women out of poverty” at the Half the Sky program web site and collective bargaining doesn’t receive a mention. Last fall, when the 87-percent female Chicago Teachers Union went out on strike, Kristof came out strongly against. In a blistering column, he wrote, “Some Chicago teachers seem to think that they shouldn’t be held accountable until poverty is solved…. ”
In a question and answer session on Reddit, when a reader made the point that most teachers in Chicago get laid off for financial, not performance reasons, Kristof declined to comment.
I would only add how often Kristof likes to play the hero himself, helicoptering in to rescue deserving women. Ultimately, Kristof cares far more about creating a narrative than he does about creating meaningful change. The problem with that is that his powerful voice can actually hinder the creation of change, as he pushes narratives that emphasize modern-day Horatio Alger stories and denigrates the poor organizing to demand their rights.