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Sunday, October 22, 2017

We lie to young girls.

We tell them that they can be anything they want to be, that nothing will hold them back from their aspirations but their ability to dream big.

Lean in, women are told in mid-career. Keep your head down, be diligent, and network. You’ll reach your highest goals.

But women in their 60s and older suspect the truth. Women still are not regarded as full equals in America.

They know because they remember. One of the reasons women still struggle for equal pay for equal work and equitable treatment by the law and courts is directly traceable to something that didn’t happen 35 years ago.

In 1982, the Equal Rights Amendment fell short of being ratified. It needed three more of the 15 holdout states to reach 38. Mention this to younger women and they look puzzled. Women aren’t protected as equals under the U.S. Constitution? No, we are not. We skipped a crucial step.

The lack of Constitutional grounding allows for gaps and loopholes. What about the 14th Amendment, goes a common reaction, with its equal protection clause?

Here is what now-deceased U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had to say on that: “The Constitution does not protect women from sexual discrimination. No one ever thought that’s what it meant. No one ever voted for that.”

This huge lapse in constitutional protection is pertinent every day of the year. But let’s play the calendar game and use the upcoming March 8 annual International Women’s Day to grab some attention.

What would life be like for women (and men, because everyone would benefit) if the Equal Rights Amendment had been ratified?

If you do one thing this International Women’s Day, do this: Download a copy of the 2016 documentary Equal Means Equal, directed by Kamala Lopez. Buy a copy of the book by the same title. The author is Jessica Neuwirth, former director of the New York office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Both works shake complacency to dust.

Well-sourced, both walk through a range of problems that are exacerbated by the lack of an amendment: disparities in pay, sex discrimination cases, sexual assault, unequal access to health care, and poverty.

For middle-class women who are college-educated and comfortably situated in their careers and home lives, this might not seem all that relevant. It is relevant, however, albeit perhaps less piercingly than it is to their African-American and Latino sisters and to those who are less economically stable. Wherever gender disparities exist, women of color suffer at greater levels.

We’re almost numb to hearing that women earn less than men. But the problem clearly hasn’t been addressed. Women earn less than men, on average, in virtually every occupation, including nursing, where women far outnumber men.

Another outrage: The U.S. is the only developed country without mandated paid maternity leave. The impact on personal and family income is dramatic.

This ought to be mobilizing information. A resolution to support the Equal Rights Amendment passed out of the Nevada Senate Wednesday. And other states have pending proposals as well. The Republican Party can be counted on as opposition. Getting it to articulate why is key.

You have to wonder if our sexist president would indeed be the commander in chief if the Equal Rights Amendment had been ratified.

History will likely judge President Donald Trump’s electorate harshly for its attitudes about women in 2016. While there were many reasons people chose Trump over Hillary Clinton, strenuous mental gymnastics were required to dismiss his glaring misogyny on the campaign trail.

If women were considered full equals, if they had the Constitution firmly behind them, the nation would not have seen fit to elect a man with heinously backward views of women.

Our president is a grim reminder of how far women have yet to go to be treated as equals in America, and perhaps the best advertisement there is for a new Equal Rights Amendment.

IMAGE: Kansas City in the 1970s. The Republican National Convention took place in Kemper Arena in August 1976. The convention drew Equal Rights Amendments backers.

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