Let's Get Historical
Cass - June 12, 2020
"Do you have any books on the Equal Rights Amendment?"
The library clerk stopped what she was doing and gave me the look. It's the one that says, "you're one of those."
I offered her my cell phone so she could see what I was looking for. I had done some research, and had about a dozen authors and titles displayed for her to see. While she searched on the computer, I made some conversation about my query.
"You know, the 38th state ratified the Equal Rights Amendment in January. I wanted to read up on it, see what it's all about." The clerk remained silent as she tapped away on the keyboard. After a few moments, she replied.
I blinked. "There are like, twelve authors and titles here. You don't have any of them?"
"No." She paused. "I can't find anything, but I'll ask the librarian if she can find something for you."
I thanked her and left the library with my one book on how to start a blog or a podcast.
Now that we're here, we're going to look at the long history of the Equal Rights Amendment, how it has devolved and evolved, and at the end, we'll give you our two cents. If you're here for the money and you know the history, skip to the end and we'll give you what you're looking for.
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)
On January 27, 2020 Virginia became the 38th state in the U.S. to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment that was presented to Congress on March 22, 1972.
50 years before, in 1923, on the heels of the women's suffrage movement, Alice Paul released a public announcement that she was beginning work on what she dubbed the "Lucretia Mott Amendment." Paul had been a major player in the passage of the 19th Amendment that earned women the right to vote, but she believed and taught other women that the fight for true women's equality under the law was far from over. Paul's new project was for a constitutional amendment that would provide "equal rights [for men and women] throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction" (The Alice Paul Institute). This proposed amendment was introduced during every Congress session from 1923 until it was passed into Congress in 1972.
It was renamed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1943, and rewritten to provide more inclusive language.
It was one of few amendments that was approved by Congress on the condition that 38 states would need to ratify the amendment within seven years. Seven years came and went--and that timeline was even extended by President Carter until June 30, 1982--and with the backlash from those who opposed the ERA, only 35 states managed to ratify the amendment within the deadline. Five of those states voted to revoke their ERA ratification after the fact, the legality of which has still not been determined, as there is no precedent for state revocation of a ratified federal constitution amendment.
It has taken more than three decades to revive civil interest in the legal protection of women's rights.
Why Didn't It Pass?
It isn't that women in the other 15 states didn't want equal rights. There were moderate women across the country who were excited by the idea of having access to the world equal to men, who still possessed some very valid concerns about the way their life might change under the influence of the ERA. Working women were concerned that the labor protections they had would disappear. Many argued that the ERA would put housewives at a disadvantage, cause them to lose protections such as alimony, eliminate the tendency for mothers to receive child custody in divorce situations, cause women to be drafted into the military and more. Most women saw these as benefits that gave them an advantage over men in a world that was ruled exclusively by those same men. Their fear was that if they lost these provisions--none of which were written explicitly into law, anyway--they would still be ruled by men, but without the few benefits they were given. To them, the ERA was not a guarantee that they would be treated equally, but it was a guarantee that they would lose their consolation benefits.
Phyllis Schlafly was a strong-willed woman who opposed the ERA, and she became the face of the opposition. The women who quietly feared the ways their lives might change under the ERA mobilized to rally behind Schlafly, and were essentially the force that stopped the momentum of the ERA. For every Equal Rights Amendment support rally, a "Stop ERA" gathering could be found.
Revived Civil Interest
In 2006, Tarana Burke--an activist and advocate for young Black girls and women in general--founded the Me Too movement. Many of you reading this likely associate the phrase #MeToo with the explosion of sexual allegations that followed the abuse accusations against Harvey Weinstein in 2017. While these events certainly garnered awareness and helped to gather momentum for Fourth Wave Feminism, it was by no means the birth of the movement. Burke began this movement as a way to raise awareness about sexual abuse and assault in society and its pervasiveness.
In the 2010s, due to influences such as the resurgence of the Me Too movement and the official birth of Fourth Wave Feminism, many people began showing renewed interest in the passage of the ERA. In 2017, Nevada became the first state to ratify the amendment after the deadlines had passed. Illinois ratified in 2018, and in January of this year we saw Virginia become the 38th state to ratify the amendment, officially fulfilling the three-fourths majority requirement--provided that the states who voted to rescind their ratification are still counted among that number.
There is some debate as to whether or not the seven-year deadline will be upheld at the federal level, with both outcomes having been decided by Congress in the past. What happens next, we'll just have to see.
The oppression of women cannot be dated. This historical research we’ve done provides a brief glimpse of the social context in which women have existed, but it stretches well beyond the birth of the United States. For reasons related to culture, religion, education, health, and in some cases, survival, the rights of women have been withheld and concealed within the hands of men for generations, centuries, millennia. While this is certainly a discouraging thought, it’s important to remember that more progress has been made toward women’s equality in the last hundred years than ever before. It’s our job to keep trying, keep being seen, keep being heard, and keep going.
Cass' Two Cents
As I write these things and research the facts, I have to ask myself constantly: Is it okay to say this stuff? Are men going to trash me over this? How can I state the facts without offending anyone?
You know what? That's what society wants me--and other women--to think.
As a young girl in the 1970s, I didn't know that women didn't have equal rights; a lot of us didn't. I was a girl raised on a dairy farm with five brothers. My two sisters and I worked the farm beside our brothers and dad, without much talk of "girls do this, not that," until it was time for dinner. When the work was done, we went into the house for the night. The boys dropped down in front of the TV, but we girls were told to help our mom finish dinner. While I was cooking dinner with my sisters and mom in the 70s, adult women had just obtained the ability to apply for a loan or credit card at the bank without a man's signature.
Look at yourself, look at women today; they can go to college to learn, not just to find a husband. And when they go to college they can sign for their student, auto, and personal loans. They can get a credit card. They can complete their own registration. Fifty years ago, we couldn't. Our grandmothers, mothers, and aunts couldn't. But a step in the right direction isn't enough.
In three years, it will be ONE HUNDRED years since Alice Paul introduced to Congress what would be the Equal Rights Amendment. For a modern-day, post-Industrial Revolution, Equal Opportunity Employer, non-discrimination society, that is too long for women to continue being oppressed. That is too long to keep women from having equal rights under the law.
To some of you, we might be too radical, but look at it this way: I sat in bed with a broken ankle and stared at my clothes dryer. And I wondered--what the hell? If I were to design a clothes dryer, if any woman were to design a clothes dryer, I would put in a door to access the lint trap without killing myself, so I could clean out the lint and prevent a house fire. And do we really have to bend over so far to get clothes in and out? It occurred to me that this dryer was a small-scale example of what is happening nonstop in the world around us: in most cases, men control design, environment, and decision-making opportunities, leaving women most often between a rock and a hard place. For those men, the struggles of women fall under the out of sight, out of mind umbrella along with a few other choice topics I'm sure we'll address another time. Well... don't you think enough is enough? Haven't we been saying it all along?
Think about it, sisters. Just think about this story. And hey--what's your story?