Women’s Suffrage and Personal Heroes

I wrote this piece for my college’s blog, so I thought I’d repost it here. Never delete anything you write. I mean, unless it’s just horrible, mean, or just plain wrong…. :O

An Anthropological Look at the Women’s Suffrage Movement

In August 2020, we commemorated the centennial anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment. Many books and other media are dedicated to this time, and the events that led up to the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. But as an anthropologist, I am dedicated to looking beyond the historical documents to the behaviors of the past, and how those actions and events affect us today.
The seed for the first Woman’s Rights Convention was planted in 1840, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton met Lucretia Mott at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, UK. The conference refused to seat Mott and other women delegates from America because of their sex. Stanton, the young bride of an antislavery agent, and Mott, a Quaker preacher and veteran of reform, talked then of calling a convention to address the condition of women around the world.

The Seneca Falls Convention was the first women’s rights convention in the United States. Held in July 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, the meeting launched the women’s suffrage movement, which more than seven decades later ensured women the right to vote.

“I am in Great Britain today because I believe that the silent indifference with which she has received the charge that human beings are burned alive in Christian Anglo-Saxon communities is born of ignorance of the true situation. America cannot and will not ignore the voice of a nation that is her superior in civilization.”

In 1893, journalist and early civil rights pioneer Ida B. Wells crossed the Atlantic for the first time to deliver that message to Great Britain. She had been ignored by the Women’s Suffrage movement in the States because of the color of her skin.
Many of the prominent women in the US suffrage movement had made the decision that if they tried to include women of color into the struggle, the powerful while male elite who were against granting women the right to vote would be even more against them. Instead of fighting for the equality of all women, they chose to segregate their movement and create a narrative of the “Republican Woman”, the white, educated women who were being denied the right to participate in the betterment of the country.

Today, anthropology tries to focus on intersectionality: the understanding that different aspects of an individual or a group’s social and political identities combine and create different levels and ranges of discrimination, privilege, and mobility in a society. The word itself was first used by scholar and civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. While still a student studying to be a lawyer, she saw that gender and race were being studied as separate issues. To Crenshaw, studying them in isolation to each other made little sense. She saw that women of color, for example, are doubly discriminated against, particularly within the criminal justice system. Acknowledging that there are many factors that surround how one is able to navigate our society is important. And gives us the opportunity to improve upon it.

Another example of what can happen when we exclude one group in order to be able to help another is the new Hulu series Mrs. America, which chronicles the “culture wars” of the 1970s and the Equal Rights Amendment, meant to clarify the Constitutional rights granted to people in the 15th and 19th amendments. The issues mentioned in the series can be directly traced back to that original decision, made by Susan B. Anthony and others, to exclude people of color in favor of getting some rights for their group sooner.

One of my personal heroes is Susan B. Anthony. I grew up writing reports about her in school, dressed up as her for History Day, and still have the original notecards that I used for a speech that I gave on her in 6th grade. I can understand the frustration of some who are disappointed in our heroes once we learn more about them.

But that’s the point of learning, isn’t it? Our heroes are human. They have human flaws. The mistakes made by these influential women still reverberate through our society today, as we struggle to deal with this problematic past and grow into an inclusive future.

We can understand the thought process and beliefs of people in the past without accepting them, or apologizing for them. Ms. Anthony knew that black women were even more oppressed than she was, she just didn’t consider that oppression a priority, or even really possible to address. She wanted progress, ANY progress, and was willing to sideline the oppression of women of color to get it.

I think she’d love the of “creation of “Ms.” And she’s my first stop for a cup of coffee and a chat when I get my own time machine. We have much to discuss.

Maybe information literacy is the answer to (some of) our woes?

I recently finished a graduate course on issues affecting higher education, and I wrote my final paper on Information Literacy (IL for short). The concept’s been called several different things over the years, or parts of it, at least – critical thinking, library literacy, source proofing, skepticism, etc. IL is all of that and more, as a way of thinking about the world around you and having the skills to be able to not only critically think about a source, but to be able to find the information you need given your level of accessibility. It’s a bit like understanding that a Hollywood star probably isn’t the best person to get vaccination information from, regardless if she has a bunch of likes on her YouTube video, or being able to trace a “fact” seen on Facebook back to it’s original source. Or even just being willing to use Google for 10 seconds to see what other sources might be reporting a particular event.

It would seem IL, and gaining skills to navigate our crazy, digital world, is overwhelming and unending. Because our world is constantly changing, and the speed of that change is increasing all the time, Information Literacy isn’t a set of skills our can just “get” and be done with. Not only does the information change, but how to access it changes. For a lot of people, it’s simply just too much work to make sure the information you believe to be true is actually correct, and they wouldn’t know how to go about checking that, anyway.

A lot has already been written on how to gain these skills, so I won’t repeat their work here. But for just a taste of the herculean task of how to acquire this skill (much less learn the traditional content matter, remember I’m a college professor), here’s the American Library Association’s Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, which does a much better job of breaking down what information literacy is and how to teach it than I can in a blog.

I’ll write more in a bit, but I seem to be having trouble accessing my posts from the visitor side. So, if you see this, leave a comment? Thanks.

The Depressing World of Anti-Intellectualism

I’ll admit, I’ve been a bit depressed as of late by the state of things in this country. In my field, I’m often asked for my opinion about topics of current affairs, or other generally complex subjects. But that hasn’t seemed to have made difference about how people view me, and other “intellectuals” in general.

I recently had a conversation with one such individual who had, in the past, asked for information on a few topics. But as soon as I gave them an answer they didn’t like, the “discussion” turned hostile.

“You think you’re so smart.”

I’ve heard that phrase, used as a way to try to shut me up, pretty much my entire life. I can recall hearing it specifically as young as third grade, and by a teacher. I didn’t have any tact as a child (still don’t have a lot, I just don’t have it in me to be less than usefully honest), but it stuck with me, that the teacher seemed to be threatened that I actually knew something more about whatever it was than she did. I don’t remember the exact subject, just that I was right and she sneered at me, “You think you’re smart, huh?”

Huh? Why wouldn’t someone want to know that they were wrong?

Of course, I now know that the phenomenon is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and it has been well documented. Those with a little bit of knowledge about a subject tend to think they know more about it than they do, and they are more confident about the accuracy of their knowledge than they really should be. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been as confident as a child in my own knowledge as I was, but when I know something, I know I know it. Simply put, no one has ever been able to gaslight me other than myself.

But back to my original question. Why wouldn’t someone want to know that they were wrong? To me, this gets at the heart of what’s happening across the country. Many who try to argue with me will accuse me of Appealing to Authority, or saying something is correct “because I’m smarter than you”, even though this is considered a logical fallacy and frowned on in the Sciences. I always try to bring evidence to bear in a discussion – a peer-reviewed journal article, verifiable data, ecetera. And that frustrates people “talking” to me, as they want to “win” the argument.

“You think you’re so smart, don’t you?”

Recently, I’ve finished reading an article published about research on how to help students tell apart fact from fiction, or more precisely a factual statement (regardless of the statement’s accuracy) from a statement of opinion. This work, conducted by Amy Mitchell, Jeffrey Gottfried, Michael Barthel and Nami Sumida, can be read here. The researchers found strong links to our ability to tell the difference between a factual statement (The sky is blue) and an opinion statement (A blue sky makes people happy) to our overall worldview. If the statement matches our already established ideas about how the world works (let’s go with political parties here), then we are more likely to think the statement is factual. And it becomes more and more difficult to be convinced that it not only isn’t a factual statement, but isn’t even an accurate “fact” the more strongly it matches that worldview. Because we’ve tied our personal identities into that worldview, or that political party, so if it’s wrong, then that means I’m stupid, which just can’t be, because stupid people are bad.

Whew, that was a steep rabbit hole.

That slide from discovering something you thought was true isn’t to “stupid people are bad” is called Reductio ad absurdum, or “reduction to absurdity”, and is considered another logical fallacy. But it explains a lot, to me, about why anyone would want to continue to think something incorrect was true long after they’ve been shown mountains of evidence to the contrary.

There’s a great scene in The Big Bang Theory between Sheldon and his mother, which goes something like: Mrs. Cooper: You watch your mouth, Shelly. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. Sheldon: But evolution is not opinion, it’s a fact. Mrs. Cooper: And that is your opinion!

Because you’ve wrapped your entire self-worth and value into your opinion being fact, you now can’t separate the two. So the person who pointed that out to you becomes the problem, which makes you double down and use another logical fallacy to continue to be “right” – attack me personally. Known as anAd hominemargument, it means that if you can make the other person out to be a “bad” person, their argument must also be wrong, right? Or telling me that while I might be right, I’m “saying it wrong”, which is better known as tone policing.

There’ve been a lot of logical fallacies in the media and in our own personal discourse in the last few years. Maybe I’ll write about that soon.

So, as I’ve said, I’ve been a bit depressed lately. Because I’m fed up with the Ad hominem attacks simply because I pointed out that your opinion isn’t fact. But I keep doing it anyway, because I honestly believe that you deserve to know.


Make the time to explore your own backyard

Too many people, to my mind, get jealous when I talk about some of the “other” places I’ve visited and lived: Scotland, Mexico, Peru, Germany, and more. I’ve been very lucky to have the opportunity to explore a nice chunk of the planet.

But there’s always so much in your own backyard worth exploring. Just because it’s right next to you doesn’t mean it’s not amazing. You don’t have to go see something “other” to explore. No where else have I found that more true than Wyoming. Where, quite literally, every square mile is a historical or geological treasure. I love Wyoming. In the Southeast of Wyoming is Devils Tower, with Mount Rushmore only being a couple hours further. In the north, YELLOWSTONE. Amiright? In the Southwest, it’s the Oregon Trail, The Green River Formation, Fossil Butte, and the Red Desert. And there’s so much more.

The Green River

A great way to start exploring what’s right next to you is to google your state travel/tourism website. These websites are designed to explain to someone from out of state what’s so exciting about coming to visit. Sometimes, you might not even have heard what’s interesting about your local area, simply because there’s no one giving talks or designing web sites geared to locals. Wyoming has a fantastic site, at Travel Wyoming. Heck, the Continental Divide, or the Great Divide Basin of Wyoming, is something that’s in every science textbook. And in Wyoming, you cross it twice driving on I-80!

If it’s cultural sites that interest you, there’s so much to see. It’s always good to stop at the historical markers in your area, and they’ve even made it easy for you to find them with an app (there’s an app for everything). Just search for “historical markers” in your app store on your smartphone. Sometimes, just ask your neighbors for suggestions. Every area has a “special town” that’s decided to do things differently. Near me, there’s Heber City. It’s just across the boarder in Utah, but it includes the Zermatt Resort, modeled after a “Swiss Village”, which is pretty funny, as I lived in Switzerland for several years.

From Utah.com
Okay, not everything around me is super fascinating. But you get the idea.

Start driving. Take the bus. Carpool with friends. Walk. Try as hard as you can to make time in our incredibly busy lives to see something new. Someone asked me recently how I find time to do “all the things I do.” It always comes off as flippant, but my only answer is “You only live once.” If you don’t make the time now, there’s no do-over. No one will feel bad for you that you didn’t get the chance to experience the world we’re so lucky to be born into. Make the time.


My Synesthete Journey

I am always excited, and a bit surprised, when I learn something new about myself. Especially as I’m nearing a half-century in age. And if I have the chance to learn something BIG about myself, I really sit up and pay attention.

So it was when I watched the TNT series The Librarians for the first time. (https://g.co/kgs/MFHF6m) One of the characters, Cassandra, is a synesthete. In the show, all five of her senses are “cross-wired” in her brain, meaning that she sees numbers as flavors, hears words as musical notes, and memories have texture.

I had never heard the word before, which is a rather noteworthy occurrence for me. I watched the first episode with some skepticism, and afterwords went directly to the Internet to determine if this word, and the episode’s description of the condition, were real. Because they had just described something I had experienced my whole life, without knowing that not everyone experienced it as well.

Synesthesia is a condition in which one sense (for example, hearing) is simultaneously perceived along with one or more additional senses, such as sight. Other forms of synesthesia join objects such as letters, shapes, numbers or people’s names with a sense such as smell, color or flavor. The word synesthesia comes from two Greek words, syn (together) and aisthesis (perception). So, synesthesia literally means “joined perception.” A great web site for more information on synesthesia is here: https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/syne.html.

I was stunned after just a little bit of research. I had never thought that my ability to remember a phone number was particularly special. Useful, yes, and people had commented on it on occasion, but nothing significant. I would always just say, “I just remember the sound the number makes on the phone. Bee boop beep, beep beep beep beep (that’s 254-4444, if you’re wondering).

I had discovered I’m slightly colorblind just a few years before this (colorblind females are only 2-3% of the general gene pool). Which explained a lot about my childhood and my inclination to wear colors that others think are “weird” (I love blue and pink together, and green and yellow). But it also explains why I never thought much about why I’m always choosing differently than others, when I was made fun of for those choices pretty regularly in school. I’m definitely not as “cross-wired” as the fictional Cassandra, who basically used her synesthesia almost like a super-power in the show, but it gives me a way to examine my perceptions from an outsider’s perspective. I simply have a different relationship to my senses than most people do. What do you mean, you don’t think numbers have sound, that words have colors, and inanimate objects can tell you their true names if you listen right after talking to them? 🙂 Yes, all of my stuffed animals have names, and my cars. The feel of touching them “sounds” like a name….

This new understanding of what I experience has been an eye-opener for me to understanding myself and the world around me. I’m not “bad” at math, but word problems have always been frustrating, as they seem so “noisy” and filled with extraneous information. I would always say that they sound to me like “Two purple trains running on pancakes are about to crash into a McDonald’s. How many milkshakes will it take to build a new golf course?”

And yes, I’ve actually said this to students who complain about doing their math homework ;), because I then explain the way that I figured out to do these problems, which is to take the sentences apart and concentrate just on the information you need to solve the problem. I had never realized before that there actually wasn’t that much extraneous information, but my brain was connecting the train to the sound of driving through the drive-thru at McDonald’s for breakfast. Yikes. Maybe that’s why I really liked calculus, and still hate statistics. Too much information in stat problems, when clearly my brain is supplying even more. :/

Two of the main characteristics synesthetes experience really stuck out to me. One of them is that the experiences are involuntary – I don’t have to think about “what I see/perceive”, I just do, which is specifically why it hadn’t occurred to me before hearing the condition described that I was “seeing” anything different than anyone else.

The second characteristic is that the “crossed sense” is projected – I don’t see a color of the name in my “mind’s-eye” or hear the sound of numbers inside my head, but experience them outside, just like a normal physical sense. I see different colors of the written word on the page, I hear the sound of the numbers as if someone were playing the keys on a piano, and feel the shape of the numbers when I say them out loud. Though not all synesthetes perceive the same things, and not all synesthetes even have their senses linked to the same other senses. I seem to have more cross-wiring than most, but it makes me wonder if there isn’t more cross-perception out there than is widely accepted, with almost everyone having maybe at least one sense crossed with another. How would you know, if you had always experienced the world in a certain way, that it was not how everyone else experiences it?

I honestly find it even hard to describe to others today when they ask what I see or feel, such as what the number six sounds like (I’ve been asked this recently, and the answer that popped out of my mouth was that “six sounds round” which even I know sounds ridiculous, but there you are), or what color their name is. I have to see the letters of their name to tell them this, and that’s a different experience from hearing their name, which has a sound associated with it for me.

Artist Melissa McCracken has spoken about what she perceives when she hears music. It’s pretty amazing.

Vincent Van Gogh and Wassily Kandinsky are some other famous artists who painted the sounds that they heard.

Dr. David Eagleman of Baylor College of Medicine explains the science behind the experiences here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vs-ez62DVc

I really like Dr. Eagleman’s explanation. It tells me something about why I prefer a keyboard that makes the tradition “clickety-clack” sounds when I type to a flat keyboard with no real keys. And that’s something that I just learned about myself in the last 5 minutes.