When Women Donors Network decided to focus our energy and resources on elevating women's political and cultural leadership in the form of a new initiative, Women United For, we took a deep breath as we chose gun violence prevention as our first campaign. We knew that entering into this heated debate, even with something as objective as a bi-partisan poll about women's views on violence, would generate a fair share of criticism from the NRA crowd. We had no idea. Clearly, the data in this first national poll of women on gun violence -- showing that women overwhelmingly support common-sense solutions to gun violence, that they see how violence is intimately linked to other parts of society including the media and the mental health system, and that they are ready and willing to take action -- hit a nerve.
Reactions and commentary online about the poll -- including on Huffington Post and from a front-page article in the San Francisco Chronicle -- generated some predictable missives about second amendment rights, but it also generated some comments I did not really expect. From dismissive statements about women's intelligence, to admonishing demands that women stay home, stay married and raise babies, to things I care not to repeat here, the response has revealed that disrespect for women is still alive in this country and is often part of radical gun rights rhetoric.
Really, when we look back, these responses should come as no surprise. Simply standing for a woman's right to vote landed a famous suffragist, Alice Stokes Paul, in jail and subjected her to violent force-feedings back in 1919. Keeping women in "their place" has its history, as we all know.
And as recently as last year, when a young woman, Sandra Fluke, testified before a Congressional committee considering banning contraception, she was called a whore. When women spoke out against the ridiculous notion that their bodies magically "shut down" to prevent pregnancy during rape, they were told that if they did get pregnant it would be a "gift from God." When more women than ever were speaking on the main stage of the Democratic Convention, a CNN commentator derogatorily called the lineup the "Vagina Monologues."
Misogyny is alive and well, and living in Washington, D.C., Springfield, Missouri and San Francisco. Even in 2013, when women stand up and lead, many men get angry, and it is somewhat revealing when that anger against women is coming from the same people advocating the right to bear arms and the refusal to engage in common-sense legislation to encourage responsible gun ownership. Violence against women and the use of guns to kill women is no small part of the overall gun violence picture.
While alarming, the anti-woman comments I saw online in response to our poll simply reinforce the fundamental imperative that we at WDN are working towards, through our philanthropy and our activism: a just and sustainable society where women are equally represented in the halls of government, in corporate boardrooms, and on editorial boards. We know that we will get there by elevating the voices, activism and leadership of women to work in partnership with men in making important decisions about our world -- despite misogynist comments on blogs.