Thursday, August 26, 2010

Women's Equality Day

Here in the US, it's Women's Equality Day-- the 90th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave US women the right to vote. The text of the amendment is clear and simple:

Section 1. The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The text of the Equal Rights Amendment is equally simple:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

It was passed by the US House of Representatives in 1970 and the US Senate in 1972. Richard Nixon endorsed it, if you can believe that. 35 states ratified it, but three more were needed for passage. In Illinois, where I was living at the time, the Illinois State Senate approved it, but not the House. I was among those who worked to get it passed, but Phyllis Schlafly did her damnedest (one of her favorite stunts being the delivery of home-baked pies to the legislators by women claiming to be defending their virtue against feminists determined to make them use single-sex bathrooms--another of those myths invented to defame second-wave feminists) and apparently succeeded. Illinois was not alone in coming close to ratification-- seven other states gave approval in one chamber but not the other. And five states that ratified actually rescinded their ratification.

So here we are, almost forty years later. And the amendment keeps getting proposed every year, and every year keeps failing.
The Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, was drafted by suffragist leader Alice Paul and introduced in Congress in 1923 to fix the deficiency of the 14th Amendment by providing the constitutional foundation that women have equal protection under the law. The ERA passed Congress in 1972 but failed to be ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures. Every year since 1982, the ERA has been reintroduced in Congress and repeatedly shot down. Opposition to it has been consistent and vitriolic.

"For far too long this nation has deprived women of a constitutional guarantee of equality," says O'Neill. "But our progress has clouded this fact. We must educate women that they do not have the same rights as men in this country. We must work together to re-ignite a movement of advocates who refuse to accept second-class status for women."

NOW's entire statement can be read here.

Hmm. I'm starting to remember all the stupid things people said to me when I was leafleting and lobbying legislators. Schlafly, it strikes me in retrospect, had a lot to do with pitting "housewives" against "feminists." "Feminists," she preached, were out to rob "housewives" of their home and financial security (besides making them share bathrooms with men and open doors for themselves). Not that Schlaffley herself was ever a housewife...

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