Monday, April 02, 2007

It's Back...

I still remember the day in 1972 when the Equal Rights Amendment was passed by the U.S. Congress and sent to the states for ratification. I was a senior in high school, not yet quite a feminist, but convinced that I had a place in the Constitution.

I also remember the day ten years later when it failed to get the necessary 38 states to ratify it. Now, 28 and very much a feminist, I couldn't believe that people like Phyllis Schlafley had scared enough people in enough states with the threats of unisex bathrooms and women in the military to defeat it.

Well, I read this weekend that the Equal Rights Amendment, now known as the Women's Equality Amendment, has been introduced again in the Congress. It reads, as it did in 1972 and indeed in 1923 when it was first introduced,

"Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

I've also read that Ms. Schlafley is once again protesting it in states. (How old could she possibly be now -- and where has she been since the 1980's?) The spectors she raises today include same sex marriage and revised Social Security Laws.

There is no question that things have changed in the past almost 35 years...and some of Schlafley's fears are now facts of life, ERA or no ERA. More women are working, more women are professionals, more women are legislators, Title IX means girls are playing sports, some places indeed have unisex bathrooms and there are women in the military.

But women still make less money then men in the same professions...there still isn't gender parity in many professions...the double standard in sexuality is still alive and well...and as I wrote about last week, women are still too often victims of sexual harassment and violence.

And, 35 years later, I'm the mother of a young woman who is about to graduate from college...and even more committed to the concept that women belong in the U.S. Constitution too. Ms. Schlafley, this time it's going to happen.


DeniseUMLaw said...

"this time it's going to happen"

We can hope and work for it!

I, too, remember its introduction in 1972 and its ultimate failure to become ratified. Hopefully, the Schlafleys of this country will see it for what it truly is this time around.

Can you imagine being *against* an amendment worded such as this? It boggles the mind...

Pam said...

My question is how will this amendment help mothers? Will it mean that even breastfeeding mothers with very young babies will be drafted into the military because of the principle of forced gender sameness?

I've already found that mothers with breastfeeding babies often have difficulty postponing jury service because there is a strong attitude that women are the SAME as men and if MEN wouldn't get a breast infection from being forced to sit for 10 hours while their breasts filled up with milk, women shouldn't get a "break" either. (In my advocacy work, even full-time working moms are often denied the right to pump their breasts, even to relieve their own discomfort - never mind any possible benefit to babies who don't matter in our society anyway.)

Will postpartum mothers (even low-income single mothers) be disallowed six weeks' maternity leave because they are supposed to be "equal"? Will it mean that there will be no protection for mothers and babies - especially breastfeeding mothers - because if men can't have babies and breastfeed, women shouldn't have any accommodation for these things?
(Hey, we can all be sterilized or take Seasonale to make sure we don't even have a monthly hormonal blip or anything.)

There are a few conditions - motherhood being the primary one - in which strict gender sameness and interchangeability can end up actually burdening women (and children, but again children don't matter much in our society).

Of course, I am for women getting paid the same as men for the same work, having equal educational access, etc.

But I do think that when a woman becomes a mother, there are some legitimate accommodations,some situations in which the fact that a woman is capable of childbearing and breastfeeding makes disparate treatment of men and women legitimate.

I think some of the unintended (or maybe intended) consequences of a "Womens' Equality Amendment" will actually be to erode the protections (however small they still remain in our society) for mothers and babies - the one area where gender difference actually does matter the most.

For feminists (like myself) who believe that mothers and young children still deserve protection and respect, this amendment makes me think that they will be the ones who end up lacking protection.

I hope I'm wrong, but as long as there is a strong movement to say that gender difference may never be taken into account for any reason, motherhood (and the baby's need for its mother) will be endangered. I'm sure some people think this is great, but I think if this is the case, humanity will ultimately suffer.