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Equal Rights Under the Web


Two weeks ago, a friend asked me to join a new mail list for women owners and chief executive officers of Internet businesses. Tired of being dismissed as "no one important" strictly on the basis of her gender, my friend decided to show the wide Web world just how much power women wield in the wired community. 

At first, the invitation and its rationale struck me as somewhat bizarre. Most of the Web business-owners I know are women, not to mention most of the Government Internet managers and professionals I work with in my day job.  

In fact, when the Department of Defense hosted its recent Quality of Life Conference in Seattle, they turned to a woman, Amy Jo Kim, to show them how to create and foster Web communities. In addition, women moderated at least half of the conference sessions and accounted for a similar percentage of conference panelists. 

Nevertheless, I joined my friend's list. What are friends for, right? Another booster group for beleaguered Web professionals certainly couldn't hurt, even if the list proved to be about as relevant as circular bacon strips. 

Obviously, I misjudged my peers' perceptions of the Web and their place in it. Today my friend announced her list now numbered over a hundred subscribers.  

The next email I received following my friend's announcement came not from the friend's list but from my assistant editor, Teri Dohmen. Teri's email linked to a column by Molly Ivins concerning the long slow demise of the Equal Rights Amendment.  

The principle of synchronicity strikes again. Those two emails show the two sides of the same coin. Twenty years ago, a constitutional amendment barring discrimination on the basis of gender died, ostensibly because the economy of the day made it irrelevant. But my friend's email list and her growing subscribers' list tell me that market forces did not do away with the need for a legal guarantee of equal treatment.  

The bias remains. Women at the forefront of the new electronic economy still feel compelled to do twice as well as their male counterparts, yet expect to progress half as far. One hundred fifty years after the first suffragettes, eighty years after (finally) attaining the vote, on the cusp of a new millennium, shouldn't we be doing better? Or at least, shouldn't we think we are? 

Jean Marie Ward 

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