Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thursday in History: Coequal

On this day in history in 1850, the very first National Women’s Rights Convention was held. Among other things, it aimed to change public opinion about the status of women and move society toward “Woman’s co-equal sovereignty with Man.” Susan B. Anthony, one of the most famous advocates for women’s rights, was not in attendance, but was converted to the cause when she read a speech given by Lucy Stone at the convention:

“We want to be something more than the appendages of Society; we want that Woman should be the coequal and help-meet of Man in all the interest and perils and enjoyments of human life. We want that she should attain the development of her nature and womanhood; we want that when she dies, it may not be written on her gravestone that she was the “relict” of somebody.”

On this day in history in 1915, around 30,000 women marched down Fifth Avenue in New York City for the right to vote.
And on this day in history in 2014, the internet is in a screaming match about women. This isn’t terribly surprising, as the internet is usually in a screaming match about something, anything. This screaming match started when a bitter ex-boyfriend posted a rant about a female game developer he had been dating. Anonymous jerks online rallied to his side without checking any facts, and this woman (and her family) were deluged with threats and obscenities. Many humans who actually stopped to listen hoped that the movement would tire itself out and go find something else to do.
But it didn’t; instead it took a new turn. Sure, the game developer’s father isn’t getting as many offensive phone calls as he was, but that doesn’t mean that those behind the movement are finished. Now that they’ve got attention, they’re lashing out at anyone who speaks out against them. Well, any woman who speaks out against them.
Anonymous online jerks are resourceful. They can find many things. Women online aren’t even allowed to look like they’re mentioning this movement, because they are afraid that they will be next. “...Seeing another gamer on the street used to be an auto-smile opportunity, or an entry into a conversation starting with, “Hey, dude! I love that game too!” Me and that stranger automatically had something in common,” Felicia Day wrote on her tumblr earlier this week. “For the first time maybe in my life... I walked towards that pair of gamers and I didn’t smile. I didn’t say hello. In fact, I crossed the street so I wouldn’t walk by them. Because after all the years of gamer love and inclusiveness, something had changed in me. A small voice of doubt in my brain now suspected that those guys and I might not be comrades after all. That they might not greet me with reflected friendliness, but contempt.” Within minutes of putting up her post about how this movement has changed the way she feels about the community that she loves, Felicia Day’s home address and personal email address were posted online by an anonymous jerk.
I guess we could ask why these anonymous online jerks are acting this way. Is it because they think that feminism is a bad thing? Is it because they want to show that they have power over women? Or are they just doing it because they’re anonymous and because they can?
I’m not sure what should or can be done to slow down or stop this internet screaming match. Maybe we need to have another National Women’s Rights Convention. Maybe we need to march en masse down Fifth Avenue. Maybe enough of us need to stand up and shout that stalking someone or threatening to rape them falls under criminal harassment, not the right to free speech.
I suppose that it could be argued that the currently women are enjoying the “coequal... perils... of human life,” but what Lucy Stone spoke out for at that first NWRC was not just for women to have to put up with the same kind of crap that men do. It was for “all the interest and perils and enjoyments of human life.” She was speaking out for coequal status, coequal benefits, and coequal respect.
In 1850.
I think the one thing we can expect is that this issue isn’t going to quietly go away anytime soon.

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