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Why It’s Time To Revive The Equal Rights Amendment

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Why It’s Time To Revive The Equal Rights Amendment

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Equal Rights

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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Mary Sanchez

Mary Sanchez has spent years covering immigration, schools, and other volatile beats for The Kansas City Star. She is now an editorial columnist for the Star, where she continues to offer insightful commentary on immigration, culture, and politics.

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4 Comments

  1. dbtheonly March 4, 2017

    Ms. Sanchez,

    The ERA failed in the 1970s and Early 80s. Do you really expect it to succeed in the Trump Era of bathroom bills?

    If not, then is this the fight worth picking? Are there other fights that have a better chance of success? Would we be more successful with “equal pay” legislation?

    Reply
  2. Aaron_of_Portsmouth March 4, 2017

    I find it appalling that we still have to have this conversation about the the inequities women still have to face today. And the root of the problem, as I see it from my exposure to Baha’u’llah’s Message over the years, studying informally the cultural norms by different societies, and traveling to different regions of the world as a tourist, is the failure of so many men across the globe to erase from their psyches the ingrained concept of the devalued worth of women. I could start from just the casual recognition that societies for the most part had to allow for inequality of responsibilities allotted to men and women based on the urgencies of earlier times when humans began to walk upright, coalesced into tight-knit groups for protection and to acquire resources for survival, and to constantly have to fight off challenges from rival groups, later tribes of groups, and now nations of “tribes”/ethnic groups.
    Muhammad was instrumental in bringing about a change in the hostile perceptions men had already acquired as a result of devaluing the importance of women in society; but He couldn’t allow for full “emancipation” of women yet. However, He specifically forbade the burial of infant girls in the desert sands while they were still alive because of the cultural norm that had evolved in Arab societies that saw the girl child as a liability—the requirement of dowries(still a requirement in Muslim, Hindu, and other cultures) may have beeb a rationale for this barbaric practice. Also, Muhammad stressed repeatedly in the Qur’an for women to be guaranteed financial support and to be protected by the tribes when their husbands were lost in battles or due to other hardships. Although he allowed for the ancient practice of polygamy to persist(a holdover from Judaeo-Christian eras), yet He alluded to the benefits of one wife, and not to take advantage of women if “your right hand doesn’t possess them”—a reference to not having conjugal relationships with women you’re not married to or who have been “given” to you “legally” by virtue of a contract. Yes, still paternalistic and crude by today’s standards, but was a permissible arrangement for those ancient times.
    But no more, with Baha’u’llah mandating one wife only,requiring equality of opportunities for women and men,and in the case of educating the boy or the girl when a family had the means to educate only one, then to unhesitatingly allow for the girl to get the education.
    Clearly, we’re far from the letter and the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s Message regarding the equality of women and men, and the new requirement of seeing women and men as being as the two wings of the “bird” of humanity.

    Reply
  3. Aaron_of_Portsmouth March 4, 2017

    I find it appalling that we still have to have this conversation about the the inequities women still have to face today. And the root of the problem, as I see it from my exposure to Baha’u’llah’s Message over the years, studying informally the cultural norms by different societies, and traveling to different regions of the world as a tourist, is the failure of so many men across the globe to erase from their psyches the ingrained concept of the devalued worth of women. I could start from just the casual recognition that societies for the most part had to allow for inequality of responsibilities allotted to men and women based on the urgencies of earlier times when humans began to walk upright, coalesced into tight-knit groups for protection and to acquire resources for survival, and to constantly have to fight off challenges from rival groups, later tribes of groups, and now nations of “tribes”/ethnic groups.
    Muhammad was instrumental in bringing about a change in the hostile perceptions men had already acquired as a result of devaluing the importance of women in society; but He couldn’t allow for full “emancipation” of women yet. However, He specifically forbade the burial of infant girls in the desert sands while they were still alive because of the cultural norm that had evolved in Arab societies that saw the girl child as a liability—the requirement of dowries(still a requirement in Muslim, Hindu, and other cultures) may have beeb a rationale for this barbaric practice. Also, Muhammad stressed repeatedly in the Qur’an for women to be guaranteed financial support and to be protected by the tribes when their husbands were lost in battles or due to other hardships. Although he allowed for the ancient practice of polygamy to persist(a holdover from Judaeo-Christian eras), yet He alluded to the benefits of one wife, and not to take advantage of women if “your right hand doesn’t possess them”—a reference to not having conjugal relationships with women you’re not married to or who have been “given” to you “legally” by virtue of a contract. Yes, still paternalistic and crude by today’s standards, but was a permissible arrangement for those ancient times.
    But no more, with Baha’u’llah mandating one wife only,requiring equality of opportunities for women and men,and in the case of educating the boy or the girl when a family had the means to educate only one, then to unhesitatingly allow for the girl to get the education.
    Clearly, we’re far from the letter and the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s Message regarding the equality of women and men, and the new requirement of seeing women and men as being as the two wings of the “bird” of humanity.

    Reply
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