Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
93 years after American women won the right to vote,
90 years after the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the US Constitution was originally proposed,
53 years after The Pill,
50 years after The Feminine Mystique awakened middle-class housewives from the slumber of the 1950s,
47 years after the creation of the National Organization for Women (NOW),
40 years after Roe v Wade legalized abortion in the US,
and 31 years after the ERA died because it fell short of state ratification by 3 state legislatures…
Where are we?
Women earn less than men. Compared to white men, Latinas earn 59 cents for every dollar earned by a white man, black women earn 68 cents on the dollar, white women earn 81 cents on the dollar, and Asian women earn 88 cents on the dollar. In 2012, the Republican Party’s presidential candidate said he would not have signed the Lilly Leddbetter Fair Pay Act, thus perpetuating this inequality.
Single women and their children live in poverty. According to the National Poverty Center, “Poverty rates are highest for families headed by single women, particularly if they are black or Hispanic. In 2010, 31.6 percent of households headed by single women were poor, while 15.8 percent of households headed by single men and 6.2 percent of married-couple households lived in poverty.” Here is Tucson, 52 percent of children live in single parent households; 71 percent of these children live in poverty, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
28 million women provide unpaid care for the elderly. Many working women joke sarcastically about starting their “second shift” when they leave their paid jobs at the end of the day. For some, the second shift is going home to cook, wash dishes, and help with the homework. For 28 million women, the second shift is caring for elderly family members (usually their Moms) or friends. According to a new report released by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), 42.1 million Americans (66 percent of whom are women) provided $450 billion in uncompensated care in 2009– more than the cost of Medicaid. The “average” family caregiver is “a 49-year-old woman who works outside the home and spends about 20 hours a week caring for her mother without pay.”
Politicians (mostly Republicans) promote and enact laws that oppress women. Cutting food stamps, which help poor women feed their families. Cutting Head Start, which helps poor children succeed. Cutting low-income childcare subsidies, which help poor women find and keep jobs. Cutting public education, which levels the playing field across the classes. Defunding Planned Parenthood, which offers reduced or free contraception, allowing women to choose pregnancy (or not). Closing women’s health clinics in multiple states, which denies access to care and access to safe, legal abortions. Intimidating and demeaning women by forcing them to have unnecessary medical procedures, particularly vaginal ultrasound. Pondering the question of “legitimate rape” in the US Congress. Allowing employers to drop contraception from health insurance plans. Making voting more difficult. Balancing budgets on the backs of the poor, while keeping the military-industrial complex fat and happy.
Sexism has become institutionalized and codified in the US. It’s OK to say “duh” now, but even on the left— among people fighting for racial equality–it’s OK to be sexist. From the Huffington Post…
“We have to stand together with a single goal,” explains Desiree Jordan, founder of Unite Women NY, one of the leaders of renewed ERA efforts and an organizer of the rally on the 24th. “Constitutional equality for all. We can’t deny equal rights to half of our population and at the same time claim to be “leaders of the free world.” As she points out, as a country, we are keen on making sure acknowledgement for women’s equal rights is written into other countries’ constitutions. [Emphasis added.]
As David Rothkopf put it earlier this year, “the underrepresentation of women in positions of power is proof not so much that men still dominate the top of the pyramid as it is of a system of the most egregious, widespread, pernicious, destructive pattern of human rights abuses in the history of civilization.” Being “equal enough” in the United States is squarely part of this global sex-based caste system. It’s beyond embarrassing that we haven’t passed the Equal Rights Amendment, a necessary step to dismantling “traditional” discriminatory power.
Is it time for an Equal Rights Amendment?
Hell, yes! Back in the 1970s, after the Congress passed the ERA, there was a huge push by feminists to encourage state legislatures to pass it and make the ERA an amendment to the US Constitution. One of the prevailing memes of the times was that the ERA was unnecessary because, of course, women are equal. Well, obviously, things have not played out that way. Even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says US laws don’t protect women from discrimination. From the Huffington Post…
Without the ERA, gains made for and by women remain vulnerable, politically negotiable and constantly at risk. Some believe that the 14th Amendment secures women’s rights under the Constitution. But, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is fond of explaining why this is not the case: “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t. Nobody ever thought that that’s what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws.” The 14th Amendment was not written to include women and gives no guarantee based on sex. [Emphasis added.]
Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) and allies are pressing for passage of the ERA by eliminating the time limit on ratification by the state legislatures and implementing a “three state strategy”, since the ERA fell three state legislatures short of passage back in the 1980s. Go here and scroll down to see a map of states that never passed the ERA. Of course, it’s the “usual suspects” who have not passed it. Think of the states that passed vaginal ultrasound, defunded Planned Parenthood, cut public education, or voted not to extend Medicaid under Obamacare. It’s just about the same list– the deep South + the Libertarian West.
Why is the ERA important?
When you read this statement: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” and think of the literally hundreds of anti-woman bills that have been passed just in this decade, it’s obvious that the ERA is as important today as it was in 1923. The Equal Rights Amendment and the 50th Anniversary of The March on Washington in the Huffington Post provides a thorough look at the ERA and related issues of sexism and racism. Two of the most salient points from the article are:
1) The ERA would shift the way in which sex discrimination cases are dealt. “Sex” would be a classification requiring “strict scrutiny,” like race, sexuality, As The Feminist Majority puts it, “Those fighting sex discrimination would no longer have to prove discrimination, but instead those who discriminate would have to prove that they did not violate the Constitution.” Think about the millions of women who’ve faced pay discrimination at Walmart, but still can’t sue as a class, because they can’t show they “have enough in common.”
2) Passage of the ERA will institutionalize equitable considerations of women’s need as they differ from men’s. Currently, our normative interpretation of laws is based almost entirely on men’s needs, bodies, experiences and life stages. For example, in the study reported on by Covert, the majority of men surveyed, “feel that the “country has made most of the changes needed to give women equal rights as men,” but just 29 percent of women felt the same.” These “feelings” become the basis for legislation, norms and discrimination that is perpetuated and unaddressed.
It’s time. Let’s do this. Joint resolutions SJRES15 and HJRS43– currently in Congress– would remove the ERA ratification time limit. Call your Congressional representative and urge backing of these resolutions. If you live in a state that never passed the ERA, check out PDA’s the three state strategy. We can make equality for all an issue in the coming elections.
A few months ago, I heard author and activist John Nichols call for the foot soldiers in “the new progressive movement” to fight for three Constitutional Amendments, which would guarantee the right to vote for all Americans, get money out of politics (by denying corporate personhood and denying money = speech), and eliminate the Electoral College.
These are all great ideas, but passage of the ERA should be added to this list. Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech and 50 years after Betty Freidan’s The Feminine Mystique, oppression and discrimination– in the forms of racism and sexism– run rampant in the “land of the free.” It’s time to put a stop to this.