Windows and Mirrors - ERA

What Goes Around…

By Florence Sprague

 What goes around, comes around, they say. In the case of the ERA, I hope that in this iteration the outcome is different.

 Yes, people are talking about the Equal Rights Amendment again. We still need a law to guarantee equal treatment to women. As more than half of the population, you might not think that this would be necessary, but sadly, it is.

 An Equal Rights Amendment, drafted by Alice Paul and called the Lucretia Mott Amendment, was first introduced in Congress in 1923. It declared "Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction."  Today that doesn’t sound very radical, does it? The nascent League of Women Voters supported the ideas underlying this amendment, but not the amendment itself. It may now will seem ironic, but it was feared that it would endanger then new labor legislation protecting women and children. The League also wanted to be seen as an organization with broad interests, not just a women’s group.

This amendment did not gain widespread support. In 1944 Paul drew up a new version of the ERA with the wording familiar today “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” While women had made some progress in the intervening 20 years, and the wartime job opportunities whetted the appetites of many for greater equality, the LWV still did not support this amendment.

Congress did not pass this version of the ERA until 1972, sending it out to the states for ratification.  That same year the members of the League of Women Voters voted to support the ERA at the national LWV convention. The women’s movement invigorated the drive for the ERA. LWV support of the ERA fits as part of its social policy, which today more widely states that we seek to “Secure equal rights and equal opportunity for all. Promote social and economic justice, and the health and safety of all Americans.” (LWVUS position on Social policy, with some history of support for ERA and more is at )  

You can read a fascinating history of LWV and the ERA “Changed Forever: The League of Women Voters and the ERA,” at .  This is a 43 page report by LWV EF (copyright 1988.) It notes that there is a direct link between the fight for suffrage and the ERA.

And now there is a new push for equal rights for women; equal, fair and sensible protection for women and girls under the law.  

And it is still needed.

What do you remember about the exciting and frustrating drive for the ratification of the ERA in the 70s and early 80s? I recall two primary threads to the opposition-1) that it was not necessary, there were other laws that covered the rights sought without amending the Constitution and legal protections might even be lost, and 2) women would have to share bathrooms with men and be drafted into the military. Will these arguments hold water today?

Taking the second thread first, there have been significant changes both here and abroad that diminish the power of bathroom questions. Anyone who has ever flown on an airplane knows that people can and do already manage to share bathrooms sequentially. On more than one occasion in Europe this summer I found that there were not separate M/F restrooms, just restroom stalls with walls and full length doors sometimes with a sink in the lavatory and sometimes with communal sinks outside the private stalls. It worked, but I don’t think that the ERA would require us to change the current system and adopt a unisex style. And while the push for more respect for the transgender population continues to raise heated opposition, I feel that for the cisgender majority, this is no longer such a fraught risk. Those who use the argument of loss of privacy for anyone of any gender would likely be doing it to undercut the bigger, money issues. It is a ploy to enflame emotions, not argue substance.

Of course, bathrooms can also be a great place to start a discussion of the difference between equitable and identical. Every person knows that having bathrooms the same size advantages men. Besides, the men would miss their urinals if things had to be truly identical. But I digress.

 As for the military, more and more women are choosing to enter our all-volunteer military service and are challenging restrictions on their job opportunities within that hierarchy already. We do not currently draft anyone and this could spark a good discussion of the potential benefits to the nation of asking all young adults to commit to a year of service of some type.  The options could include military service and many other types of work. Women are no less patriotic than men.

 Returning now to whether this amendment is needed, the answer would be yes. I do not have room here to itemize all of the whys, but one example would be pay equity. While you may hear different numbers depending on how the measurements are done, it is generally acknowledged that women working full time make only 80 cents on the dollar to men. . We could debate the many factors that contribute to this in a variety of situations, and the level of intentionality in each case, but suffice it to say that women doing the same work as men cannot be sure that they will receive the same pay as those men. Just ask Lilly Ledbetter. . She was hired when the law purported to guarantee women equal pay, but it gave female workers only 180 days from hiring to file their claim. Well, do you discuss pay with your male coworkers? Not likely. This is a taboo which employers encourage for men and women alike, to maintain maximum flexibility for management, not to protect workers. Despite clear evidence of pay discrimination, she lost her case. Having a law on the books does not guarantee compliance; creative avoidance is also endemic in some work environments.

 Do you need more information? Come to see Equal Means Equal on March 9th at 6:30 at the Roseville Library. You probably got the flier about this screening in your email. The Roseville Area LWV is co-sponsoring a screening of this film with Do Good Roseville and the Ramsey County Library. It is a powerful production. It focuses on ten dramatically disparate areas and demonstrates how in the United States women are not treated fairly or equally to men therein. The focus areas range from wage discrimination to sexual violence, from reproductive healthcare to incarceration. Come, watch, discuss, think. You may not accept all of their arguments, but you will gain new perspectives. You may be moved to new action. Don’t you want to know as much as you can about things that affect you so closely? Come-and bring a young woman with you. It is her future that is at stake.

Another saying is that women’s rights are human rights. It is not uppity to seek dignity, respect, and fair treatment. Will there be new arguments against the ERA this time around? Probably. Only time will tell. My first fear is that in these tumultuous times, it will get lost in the multitude of issues, arguments and disruptions. Will this current push for the ERA be the last one needed? We can hope so, and work to make it so.