An Imbalance

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Last spring just as the isolation

of the pandemic was

setting in, Hulu released a

nine-episode series called

“Mrs. America,” about

the movement to ratify the

Equal Rights Amendment,

the backlash that was mostly

unexpected, and the efforts

of activist Phyllis Schlafly to

maintain the status quo and

protect the rights of housewives

to stay home, even

as she worked as a full time

lobbyist and left her six children

in the care of her sister

and a housekeeper.

It’s a chance to learn about

the women who put forth

the ERA: Jill Ruckelshaus,

Bella Abzug and Brenda

Feigen among them, as

well as Gloria Steinem – all

played by well known actresses.

I thought Australian

actress Cate Blanchett

played a haunting Mrs.

Schlafly, though it never

ceases to amaze me that we

can’t get American women

to play American icons

while American Meryl

Streep played the British

suffrage movement icon

Emmeline Pankhurst in

“Suffragette,” alongside

Britons Carey Mulligan and

Helena Bonham Carter.

One fear of the ERA is that

women may be required

to sign up for the selective

service, the same as men. I

could get on board with that.

There are women in combat

who have made a big difference

and have continued

in public service from our

own Senator Joni Ernst to

Senator Tammy Duckworth

to many others who are less

famous.

Except, women don’t have

constitutional protection under

the law. Really no one

has the protection from discrimination

on the basis of

sex.

This means women could

be compelled to put themselves

in the line of fire in

the event of a draft, but nothing

is protecting them from

sexual harassment (despite

any rules, reports say it runs

rampant in some parts of

the armed forces), from discrimination.

Nothing compels

commanding officers to

promote women as quickly

as men in times of war, or in

other times.

The ERA is a simple piece

of future constitutional

greatness with just these few

words:

They started writing this

just after women received

the right to vote in the 20th

Amendment in 1919. Alice

Paul wrote the first draft in

1921.

Section 1. No political,

civil, or legal disabilities or

inequalities on account of

sex or on account of marriage,

unless applying equally

to both sexes, shall exist

within the United States or

any territory subject to the

jurisdiction thereof.

Section 2. Congress shall

have power to enforce this

article by appropriate legislation.

Iowa tied with Idaho to become

the third state to ratify

the amendment on March

24, 1972. The process continued

through the states until

Indiana became the 35th

state on January 18, 1977.

Forty, yes 40 years later

on March 22, 2017, Nevada

signed as the 36th state and

on May 30, 2018, Illinois

became the 37th.

But then we moved

backwards as Nebraska,

Tennessee, Idaho, and

Kentucky rescinded their

previous ratifications,

though there was nothing

in the U.S. Constitution

that indicated the rescinding

was allowed. Much of

the opposition was led by

Phyllis Schlafly, may she

RIP, who manufactured fear

propaganda that the ERA

might result in (gasp) unisex

bathrooms or (clutch those

pearls) women in construction,

mechanics, engineering

or other male-dominated

fields, or (heaven forbid)

a woman CEO, or (start

crying now) men as stay at

home parents while their

children’s mothers rock the

house at a better job than

what he had.

And the great thing is, even

if you’re a traditionalist and

don’t believe a man should

be home raising children or

fathers should be able to take

their babies or little ones to a

unisex family bathroom, or

that a woman should be a

contractor on your personal

home, there’s nothing in

the ERA that’s forcing you,

personally, to make use of

any of this. Hire whom you

want to work on your home

(though you should look at

the best bid from the best

contractor and not what’s

under their coveralls). If you

like your bathroom, you can

keep your bathroom. If you

don’t want to help the mother

of your child with the

kids, well really you should

rethink that nonsense and

start folding some laundry,

running some errands, reading

some books, and wiping

some tushes.

Finally there was hope for

the ERA as Virginia brought

the ratification up for a

vote. Then out of nowhere

a protege of Schlafly’s,

Family Foundation president

Victoria Cobb, came

out of the woodwork and

campaigned for the defeat of

the ratification in Virginia. It

worked.

It passed in the Virginia

Senate by 26-14 and went

on to the House.

In the House it failed by a

single vote.

Having the 38th state on

board would have met the

Constitutional threshold for

approval, though it would

likely have sparked battles

in courts and Congress over

the long-passed 1982 deadline

and other potential legal

issues.

Some say the ERA is being

pushed by pro-abortion

advocates as a method to

get an unfettered right to an

abortion, right up until the

moment of birth at taxpayer

expense.

My mother, who was president

of League of Women

Voters in the ‘70s and ‘80s

until she became ill, said at

the time in a letter to my uncle

about the ERA:

“Conflating the ERA with

abortion is unfair. After all,

as it stands now only women

have any access to abortion

services at all. Create a

world in which a woman has

the same economic opportunities

as a man, in which, unlike

our grandmother, she’s

not left with so few choices

if her husband leaves her

pregnant or with children to

raise alone, in which women

can stand up for themselves

against exploiters and assailants,

and in which women

are afforded the same respect

and dignity in public

spaces and agencies as men,

and I’ll show you abortion

rates that plummet.”

There’s still work to do to

create an equal and just society.

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