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Why It’s Time To Revive The Equal Rights Amendment

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.

Trump’s Misogyny Takes Its Toll On Women

Reprinted with permission from The Washington Spectator.

Patricia Bosworth met her future husband in a bar when he punched out a drunk who pinched her bottom. She was only 19, but they married with dizzying speed.

He began to abuse her almost as quickly. One night they argued about money, in the back seat of a taxi, and he started hitting her. Screaming and sobbing, she begged the cab driver for help, only to have him shrug off her pleas.

“He’s the boss, lady,” the driver said.

Bosworth finally left her husband when he tried to choke her to death because he was angry that his pet bird escaped. Now 83, she has since had a long career as an actress and author. Her latest book—The Men in My Life: A Memoir of Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan—describes the harrowing story of her first marriage in an era when the prevailing culture simply assumed that men were entitled to beat their wives.

“I was brought up to believe the husband was always right,” Bosworth recalls.  “That’s the way things were in those days.”

As the women’s movement gained strength, feminists raised public awareness about the prevalence of domestic abuse, and laws were passed to protect women from violence by intimate partners. But Donald Trump’s candidacy alarmed a wide range of women’s advocates—and things quickly got worse.

Although many activists had assumed voters would reject a nominee caught boasting on tape about grabbing female genitalia, Trump’s victory signaled a disturbing public acceptance of such retrograde behavior. His actions since then have generated growing fear that the Trump administration heralds a return to the policies—and the predations—of the past.

Women’s advocates were particularly dismayed by the news that Trump is planning  “dramatic” federal budget cuts that include all 25 of the grant programs managed by the Office on Violence Against Women, which is housed in the Department of Justice.

“We’re deeply concerned about cuts in the funding that enables us to provide legal and social services to victims,” says Jennifer Friedman, managing director of the Center for Legal Services at My Sisters’ Place, a nonprofit organization in New York’s Westchester County that provides shelter and counsel to survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking.

Such cutbacks would be dangerously counterproductive, according to activists in a broad range of women’s rights, civil rights, faith-based, labor, and law enforcement groups. “I don’t think it is extreme if I say to you that women will die,” Lynn Hecht Schafran, senior vice-president of Legal Momentum, warned in a call for action sent to the organization’s supporters.

The proposed budget cuts don’t even make economic sense, according to experts.  “VAWA (the Violence Against Women Act) has saved taxpayers billions of dollars in costs for medical and mental health services, as well as costs for law enforcement and justice system expenditures,” Schafran wrote. “VAWA’s 25 grant programs are not wasteful, and they represent just over one hundredth of one percent of the federal budget.”

Despite considerable progress, the need for such assistance remains acute. “Domestic violence is still happening in huge numbers,” Friedman says.

The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 40 percent of female murder victims are killed by their intimate partners. Two-thirds of all women who report being raped, assaulted, or stalked are victimized by current or former husbands or boyfriends, and more than a million American women are physically assaulted by their intimate partners every year, according to the Department of Justice.

And yet male office-holders have long neglected the problem, preferring to focus on other priorities. President Trump emphasizes the potential threat from foreign-born terrorists, but far more Americans die from domestic violence, as was made painfully clear by a recent headline on a New York Times op-ed column: “Husbands are deadlier than terrorists.” In the United States, the death toll is exacerbated by ready access to firearms, as Nicholas Kristof pointed out: “In other countries, brutish husbands put wives in hospitals; in America, they put them in graves.”

Equally curious is the ongoing failure of male-dominated legislatures to address the economic consequences of such abuse, which are enormous. “One in three women is the victim of domestic violence in her lifetime, and it costs the U.S. billions of dollars a year in loss of productivity, health care, and other costs,” says Alyse Nelson, president and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, a non-profit organization that works with women leaders on economic empowerment and human rights issues.

Popular stereotypes often assume most victims are women of color and those in poverty, but domestic violence occurs in all socio-economic, religious, racial, and cultural groups. Steph Wagner, a San Diego-based financial consultant who specializes in divorce, sees women in every income bracket. “I had a prospective client whose estate was 15 to 20 million dollars, and we had to create an underground-railroad safety plan before we could even talk,” says Wagner, who grew up in Texas with an abusive father. “People think that if women have money, they can get out, but my mom was making well over six figures when my dad held her underwater in a hot tub.”

The stubborn persistence of such assaults only highlights the fact that most men have not joined the battle. “The majority of men are non-violent, but unfortunately the majority, for the most part, stay silent,” Nelson said at Vital Voices’ annual gala last December.

Seeking new ways to address the problem, some organizations are now enlisting men. “Violence against women is one of the greatest challenges facing the human race, but it’s always been thought of as a women’s issue, and it’s only going to get better through engaging men,” Nelson says. “We can’t expect to eliminate violence against women without men as active partners and allies. We have to show them that this is where they need to lead.”

The Vital Voices event, Voices of Solidarity, honored male leaders who are helping to fight violence against women in countries around the world. The honorees included a Heineken executive in Mexico, the mayor of Dallas, and the actor Patrick Stewart, whose abusive father served in the British Army. All spoke eloquently about their efforts, and the mood that night was hopeful.

But Trump’s rise to power has ratcheted up fears of a return to the bad old days. During the presidential debates, many viewers perceived his behavior toward Hillary Clinton as threatening, and therapists and service providers saw a surge in abuse survivors who reported that the public conduct of the GOP nominee had triggered a flare-up of their post-traumatic stress symptoms.

“Women felt Trump’s presentation was that of a batterer, and all of us saw an increase in women coming out of the woodwork to tell their stories,” says Friedman. “People you never knew had a story came out and said, ‘This is what happened to me.’”

Many survivors felt traumatized by Trump’s bullying tactics, which included verbal abuse and the denial of objective reality, known as gaslighting, a tactic abusers often use  to assert their dominance by creating confusion and anxiety. “The fear is so great it’s like living under Saddam Hussein,” says Wagner. “It’s about mental control. The humiliation and control are just as painful as being punched in the eye.”

That perspective reflects an evolving understanding of domestic violence, whose treatment increasingly incorporates a recognition of its psychological and economic dimensions. “The word ‘violence’ implies injury, but domestic violence is defined by advocates as a whole range of behaviors, including emotionally abusive power, and control issues that may not be physical,” Friedman explains.

Trump’s history includes an accusation of rape by his first wife, Ivana, the mother of his three oldest children. But despite such charges, 53 percent of white women still voted for him. “No matter how far we’ve come, I still think the majority of women are traditionalists,” Bosworth says. “They think it’s a man’s world, and men should have control.”

When Trump assumed office, he chose other alleged abusers as close advisors — including Steve Bannon, the far-right media executive who became his senior strategist and White House counselor. During their divorce, Bannon’s second wife accused him of abuse, and he was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery, and dissuading a witness. The charges were dropped after his ex-wife failed to appear in court, although she said her absence was due to threats made by Bannon and his lawyer.

Bannon’s divorce and custody files also included charges that he was abusive toward his children; didn’t see them for a full two years, during which time they had no idea where he lived; threatened school administrators; and failed to pay child and spousal support.

A former Trump cabinet nominee raised similar concerns. Trump named Andrew Puzder, chief executive of the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., as his secretary of labor. Puzder’s first wife Lisa Fierstein had appeared in disguise on an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” titled “High Class Battered Women” to accuse Puzder of domestic abuse. Fierstein, who had called the police during one incident, said Puzder told her, “I will see you in the gutter. This will never be over. You will pay for this.” Fierstein later retracted her charge of spousal abuse as part of a child custody agreement; the couple divorced in 1987. Despite Puzder’s history, Trump was apparently unperturbed, and it was only when the Oprah tape became public—and senators from both parties reportedly saw it at private screenings—that Puzder finally withdrew his nomination.

Yet President Trump’s apparent tolerance for assault has raised fears of a growing male backlash against women’s empowerment. “Violence against women is an age-old problem, but it isn’t getting better—it’s getting worse,” says Nelson. “We have seen great progress in the U.S., but men are threatened by women’s rise in power.” Their reactions will soon be measured in dollars and cents, with decisions made by the aging white men who dominate both Congress and the new administration.

“If Congress cuts funding, it would be turning back the clock,” says Friedman. “People don’t give up privilege that easily, because privilege is power. The notion that women and men are equal only became embedded in our law a few decades ago. You’re challenging all of human history in a generation or two. We’re waiting to see what’s going to happen, but there’s an atmosphere of trepidation now.”

Leslie Bennetts is a longtime journalist who has covered presidential politics since the 1970s and a best-selling author whose latest book is Last Girl Before Freeway: The Life, Loves, Losses and Liberation of Joan Rivers.

IMAGE: People gather for the Women’s March in Washington U.S., January 21, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Big Orange Trumpster Is Very Much A Story Of Hope

Pinch yourself. Slap yourself. Go howl at the moon.

It’s not a dream. Donald J. Trump is in the White House.

Say what you will, but no other candidate in our nation’s history has overcome such daunting obstacles on his way to winning the presidency.

Never has a human personality seemed more ill-fitted for political campaigning — a bombastic, thin-skinned egomaniac, incapable of humility, grace, or introspection.

Hardly any journalists, myself included, thought he could pull it off. His quest seemed doomed by the weight of multiple character defects.

The surprise triumph of the Big Orange Trumpster is very much a story of hope. The message is simple: These days, anybody — absolutely anybody — can become president.

You don’t need facts. You don’t need experience. You just need a good act.

Many past candidates had been born into wealth, but almost always they’d made an effort at public service. Not Trump.

He bragged about being rich and getting richer. He bragged about his hotels and golf courses. He bragged about his cheesy beauty pageants and reality shows. He even bragged about his bankruptcies.

Any other candidate with such motley credentials would have been laughed off the stage way back in Iowa. Not Trump.

As a hot-button issue he chose immigration reform, characterizing Mexicans who illegally cross the border as rapists and criminals. The cruel slur offended many Hispanic voters throughout the country, and it could have been fatal to any other campaign.

Trump, unapologetic, marched on.

He publicly belittled Sen. John McCain for getting captured in Vietnam — an audacious insult from a man who’d ducked war duty by claiming “bone spurs” in his foot, an injury that didn’t keep him off the tennis courts while McCain was being beaten in a POW camp.

Again, any other candidate would have been repudiated for doubting the senator’s heroism. Not Trump.

After a disabled reporter asked a question Trump didn’t like, Trump made fun of him with savage mimicry. And after Megyn Kelly of Fox News asked a question he didn’t like, Trump retaliated with an interview suggesting she was menstruating.

Jeb Bush wouldn’t have gotten away with that. Nor would Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, or any of the other men running for president.

True, they would never in a million years have said such a thing. No stable, half-sensible person would.

But that illustrates the magnitude of what Trump had to overcome — an almost uncontrollable impulse to spew (or tweet) the most offensive thoughts that popped into his twitchy brainpan.

Every time you thought he’d hit a new low, he’d go lower. Top Republicans abandoned him, and the imminent demise of his campaign was predicted on a weekly basis.

Name one other candidate who could have survived telling black Americans to vote for him because their schools and neighborhoods are so awful that they’ve got nothing to lose.

Name one other candidate who could have survived the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape, in which the recently married Trump boasted lewdly about groping women. He made Gary Hart look like a Franciscan monk.

Name one other candidate who could have proclaimed a man-crush on Vladimir Putin, and still swept the primaries.

No presidential contender has ever done more than Trump to damage his own image, and still won. No other candidate has so casually demeaned so many key voter segments, and still won.

What Trump accomplished was amazing. Evangelicals stampeded to cast their ballots for a self-proclaimed p—y grabber. Lots of women did, too.

This big-city billionaire who pays no income taxes somehow convinced rural working-class Americans that he felt their pain. Today some people still think there’s going to be a giant wall along our southern border, and that Mexico will pay for it.

I’m serious. They really believe this.

It’s a tribute to Trump’s stage skills. Never have American voters been inspired to overlook so many startling deficiencies in a presidential nominee. Even his own staff expected him to lose.

Although he fell almost 3 million votes short of Hillary Clinton, Trump won enough states to seat himself in the Oval Office. The fact that his popularity ratings are higher in Moscow than here at home shouldn’t diminish the significance of his electoral upset.

Imagine how many votes he might have gotten if he’d behaved like a grownup.

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump hosts a meeting with business leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington January 23, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Rockettes Balk At Dancing For Our POTUS-To-Be

Guessing how many Radio City Rockettes will show for the Trump inauguration will be something of a parlor game in the coming weeks.

A sad new day is dawning when such a classic slice of Americana is dragged into the political fray. Members of the famous high-stepping troupe are no longer under orders to perform for the president-elect. The choice to dance or not will be voluntary.

Or so goes the about-face from the Rockettes’ union, the American Guild of Variety Artists.

Just before Christmas, members of the Rockettes joined the growing list of professional entertainers who have declined a role in the inaugural festivities for President-elect Donald Trump. Reportedly, a majority of the nearly 100-woman ensemble were repulsed upon learning that management had booked them for the Jan. 20 event.

One Rockette spoke at length with MarieClaire.com, detailing the concerns as a moral question on which the dancers wanted to express solidarity with their many support staff who were demoralized by the Trump campaign rhetoric and misogyny.

“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue — this is a women’s rights issue,” the woman, who was quoted anonymously, said. “This is an issue of racism and sexism, something that’s much bigger than politics.”

For those valid concerns, the ladies are being painted as petulant, hyper-liberal whiners who can’t get over the election results.

Nope. This is a workplace issue. The 13 full-time dancers in the Rockettes, in particular, know their jobs may be on the line if they refuse to perform.

For the rest of us, this saga is a taste of the next four years. When and how will it be appropriate or pragmatic to react to the latest Trump offense or to recall the heinous rhetoric of his campaign?

A tenor of the Trump administration is already on full display. His crazy becomes the norm that everyone else accepts. There appears to be little other choice. If you work in government, or in a business that deals with government, you will ultimately have to answer to Trump. And the only realistic checks on his power, Congress and the courts, are dominated by Republicans who have zero or unknown inclination (respectively) to exercise it.

Thus, many Americans are behaving like families do around a member who is a volatile alcoholic or addict. They walk on eggshells, lest they ignite unwanted fury. Better just learn to live amid the dysfunction, they decide.

The problem is it tends to make people complicit, co-dependent.

We see a parade of business, military and political leaders march into Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago to genuflect before the gilded one. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Amazon, and Apple have been represented, along with past political rivals. Other industry giants, like Bill Gates, have apparently spoken with Trump by phone.

You can’t fault them for trying to take a measure of the man, or for trying to fill the empty vessel that he is with some of the understanding he will need to lead the nation. At times he seems to be listening, giving hints that he’s open to persuasion on issues of high importance such as climate change, the environment and torture as a tool of war.

But what one suspects their audiences with Trump are all about is flattering him, getting a good word in, kissing his ring, because the man will do as he pleases.

The Rockettes drama may seem trivial compared with the other items of the news cycle. Yet this may turn out to be an object lesson about preserving our core democratic values in the face of power. The office of the presidency is due respect, but we must also demand respect for everyone the incoming president maligned to get elected: women, minorities, the disabled, immigrants. Maybe it takes a chorus line to remind us.

Trump’s disgusting behavior and attitudes toward women are beyond disputable — his own words indict him. Need a reminder? Here are three: his demeaning talk of grabbing women’s private parts, his gross verbal assaults on female newscasters and entertainers who challenged him and his bragging about walking in on undressed teenaged beauty contestants.

His behavior is the very pattern and practice of sexism. No sane human resources director would countenance compelling a female employee to work for such a man. And yet the Rockettes are expected to dance.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable standing near a man like that in our costumes,” one dancer wrote in an email to her colleagues, according to MarieClaire.com.

Thank you, ladies. Without even stepping on stage, you offered a well-timed reminder of one of the major challenges we face in the coming four years: ensuring dignity for all.

The applause is deservedly yours.

Mary Sanchez: 816-234-4752, msanchez@kcstar.com, @msanchezcolum

IMAGE: Ralph Daily/Flickr