The Equal Rights Amendment: Overdue or Overblown?

On this day in 1972, the United States Senate passed the Equal Rights Amendment by a vote of 84-8.  Good news, right? Not really, because an amendment to the Constitution has to be ratified by two-thirds (or 38) of the states before it can take effect and when the ratification period was up, it had only garnered the support of 35. Close, but no cigar.

Alice Paul, author of the ERA, 1921

Many people today don’t even know what the ERA is, let alone know that it was authored by the suffragist Alice Paul and originally introduced in Congress in 1923. In 1946 it was narrowly defeated by a Senate vote of 38-35. In 1950, the ERA is passed by the Senate with a rider that nullifies its equal protection aspects. (So, you may ask, what’s the point?) When it finally is passed in 1972, an arbitrary time limit of seven years was set for ratification.

Five years before, the new National Organization for Women (NOW) vowed to fight tirelessly for passage of the ERA and as the clock ticked, it threw itself into the campaign to get enough votes for ratification. At the same time, so did the opposition, headed chiefly by Phyllis Schafly‘s National Committee to Stop ERA.

I remember all the hoopla at the time: seven short and hectic years in which both sides made crazy assertions about what the effects of an ERA would be. Its opponents insisted that it would take away the protections that women traditionally enjoy, from almost always getting custody of the children in the case of a divorce to exemption from the draft. They also contended that there were already plenty of laws in effect that protected women’s rights.

Its proponents, on the other hand, contended that women needed such an amendment so that the protection of their rights would be consistent at all levels of jurisdiction, federal, state and local. They were concerned that the age of majority was different for women than it was for men and that women were routinely discriminated against when it came to gaining employment, establishing credit, buying or selling property or conducting a business.

As it has turned out, the opposition was right on many points. Over the years, many laws have been challenged in the courts and been changed to prevent discrimination against women. Joint custody is the norm. Either sex may be required to pay alimony to the other. Federally-funded schools and programs are required to have the same standards and facilities for women as for men. Women’s participation is up in politics, academia and traditionally male professions. (Not only that, but jobs are no longer allowed to be classified as specifically for men or women.)

But things are not that neat. Women still make only 77 cents to the dollar compared to men. They are often relegated to “pink ghettos”–jobs that are considered to be women’s work and which have fewer benefits and lower pay than traditionally “male” occupations. (A parking lot attendant who is a man, for instance, makes more than a child care attendant who is a woman–showing that we value our cars more than our children.) Laws that have been changed can be changed back. Crimes against women (sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence) are not prosecuted as vigorously as they should be. And a lot of laws on the books still discriminate against women.

The ERA, or the CEA (Constitutional Equality Amendment), has been presented to Congress every year since 1982. But it is apparently no longer even newsworthy. Is it a dead issue? Consider this: Even Afghan women have an Equal Rights Amendment. Why shouldn’t we?

Sources: Interview with Gloria Steinem in the Los Angeles Times, NOW’s Chronology of the ERA,  March 22, 1972 news story in the New York Times.

For more information, check out the University of North Carolina’s “Equal Rights Amendment Pathfinder.”

7 Replies to “The Equal Rights Amendment: Overdue or Overblown?”

  1. Terrible article. No wonder feminists are hated everywhere.

    Because you conveniently ignore why women should NOT have equal rights:
    Because they don’t have equal duties. You see, you give women the right to vote, and they vote for a war party but they will never be drafted. As long as women don’t have equal duties they should not have equal rights.

    Additionally women mean a far greater burden to society than men (women cause more car accidents per kilometer, women have more health problems AND live longer, single parenting moms are a crime production facility, etc), thus women should only get equal rights when they have equal duties and cause equal burden.

    @Ellen Keim (((“But things are not that neat. Women still make only 77 cents to the dollar compared to men.”)))

    And the 77 cents are still too much, because women work far less than men (for example due to pregnancy) and do the far less demanding jobs (“Coffee machine radius”).

    Additionally the “gender pay gap” is caused by WOMEN THEMSELVES (e.g. less education, less working hours, less dangerous jobs) thus women are not the victims of the “pay gap” but the perpetrators.

    In other words: In 50 years you will still have a pay gap and disgusting feminists will still claim that women are victims.

    Disgusting article. Now wonder women need uterus quotas. Without it nobody would listen to their nonsense.

    1. I agree that one of the reasons women make less money is because of their “lifestyle” choices. However, the pay gap also factors in whether or not women make as much money as men for the same job. All too often they don’t.

      Obviously, I’m not going to change your view of women. I do find it interesting that you even read this post. And I appreciate your comments.

      1. Thank you for not deleting my comment.

        I also don’t delete any comments on any of my sites, but many others do.

        I appreciate your comment policy very much.

        @Ellen Keim (((“Obviously, I’m not going to change your view of women.”)))

        I didn’t write anything about my views on women.

        The 3 statements of my comment were

        1) Equal rights only when equal duties and burden
        2) Gender Pay Gap is caused by women’s own choices (thus the wage gap will never disappear)
        3) Disgusting feminists need quota otherwise no one would listen to their nonsense.

        I didn’t write anything bad about women. In fact the conclusions of my comments are:

        1) Men may not get equal rights where their duties and burden are unequal
        2) Erasing the gender pay gap destroys womanhood by ignoring women’s choices
        3) Uterus quotas hurt woman by putting man-hating feminists in places they shouldn’t be

        If anything my comment was pro-woman.

        1. I stand corrected: you didn’t state your views on women. You very strongly stated your views on feminists. I should have said that I doubt I could change your view of feminists.

          I’m intrigued by your term “uterus quota.” Did you make it up? And what exactly does it mean?

          I looked at your web page and although your position is extreme, you do make some good points. I conceded in my last comment that women do sometimes make choices that hurt their earning power. But it is equally true that they are often discriminated against when it comes to hiring, promotions, and raises. All too often men lump all women into one group and justify their discriminatory practices on the fact that SOME women drop out to have children, etc.

          If you don’t like feminists tarring all men with the same brush, then you shouldn’t do it either. Not all feminists are disgusting. Nor are all women weak and lazy.

          As for my comment policy: I will communicate with a commenter as long as he or she is sincerely trying to express themselves. I will rarely delete a comment unless it is totally off the point.

  2. Wow, never seen so much ignorance in all my life.

    Where in the US is joint custody the ‘norm’. Women receive full custody in over 90% of divorces.

    Men pay 98.27% of every alimony dollar.

    Women make 77 cents on the dollar, that stat does not account for any factors such as education, experience , willingness to travel, work risk etc. And the example of the parking lot attendant, you says it proves we care more about our cars than our kids, sorry, do you realize that working conditions and work risk play a huge role in how much someone is paid, plus how many people apply for a job.

    You really should broaden your knowledge before making an article.

    1. You raise some valid points and I appreciate your writing. However:

      According to FindLaw, almost all states give both parents equal rights to custody. However, judges will rule according to their own prejudices and experience. I have a friend (a woman) who was not awarded custody of her children because the judge ruled that the father had a more stable environment: he has a better-paying job, a house and family nearby. My friend had just relocated so that she could go to graduate school and is living in a small apartment. She has since abandoned her plans for graduate school and taken on a full-time job, but she knows she will not be awarded custody (either sole or shared) anytime soon. Oh, and she was also ordered to pay child support even though she didn’t have a job at the time. And this was in fairly conservative Ohio.

      Also, the person who pays alimony is the one who makes more money (usually a lot more). Since this is usually the man, it makes sense that he would be the one to pay alimony rather than the woman. And the reason women are notorious for not wanting to take on more job responsibility is because they are the ones who already have most of the home care and child-rearing responsibilities. It might be a choice on their part, but it’s usually a choice that’s based on necessity. If more men took on housekeeping and child care responsibilities, they might find their wages going down as well, this making pay more equal between genders.

      As for my example of parking lot attendant versus child care attendant, I still stand by what I wrote. The point I was trying to make is that “male” occupations generally pay more than “female” occupations. I would argue that the working conditions and risk are at least equal, if different.

      I realize that some of these things are cultural, not legal issues. But that does not negate the fact that women have the right to be equally represented in all spheres of life.

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