A new ERA
an Equal Rights Amendment is long overdue
By Ellen Snortland 09/02/2010
Women’s dearest possession is life,
And since it is given to her but once
She must live as to feel no torturing regret
For years without purpose,
So live as not to be scarred with the shame of
A cowardly and trivial past
So live that dying she can say:
All my life and all my strength
Was given to the finest cause in the world
The liberation of womankind.
— Alice Paul, 1885-1977
American suffrage leader and author of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923
Alice Paul, one of the true heroes of civil rights in the United States, was the original author of the Equal Rights Amendment. She was also key in winning the decades-long battle for the vote for half our population — women. If I were Gutzon Borglum and sculpting a female version of Mt. Rushmore, she’d be one of the granite faces on my monument. Paul’s actions, sheer will, courage and fortitude should have had her be a shining star in children’s and American history books. But, alas, she’s one of those unsung heroes whose song is now ready for an encore.
The ERA has been re-re-re-re-introduced yet again in the House of Representatives, this time on July 21, 2009, as H.J. Res. 61, its lead sponsors Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney of New York and Judy Biggert of Illinois (equalrightsamendment.org). Maloney and Biggert need all of our support. The National Women’s Political Caucus (nwpc.org) is putting the ERA on a fast-track campaign. Now with the Internet, we have a shot at going viral with social media.
The actual text of the ERA is simple and elegant:
Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
So why has it taken so darn long, and why hasn’t it passed yet? Paul first wrote the ERA in 1923 because she knew that winning the vote in 1920 was only the first step toward women’s equality.
So many Americans — women and men — are lulled into the notion that women and girls have already gained equality. Really? If you look at the statistics of any profession, industry or government body, we’re so under-represented in everything in the domains of decision- and policymaking that it makes me want to scream. As in Congress, our numbers are pretty much stuck between 15 and 25 percent. Then, of course, the numbers are much lower when it comes to Fortune 500 corporate management and that of media giants. Factoring in ageism and racism, we are a country that is still pretty much white, male and elitist.
Don’t get me wrong — I know plenty of white males who are not elitist and are fighting the good fight alongside their sisters, mothers and now daughters. Funny how men can become born-again feminists when they have daughters. All of a sudden they see the inequities when their offspring are involved.
Case in point: “A Father Remembers: Sisters in Arms,” by John Witmer, is a heart-rending account of a father — indeed a whole family — who experienced the classic tragedy of losing an offspring who was also a soldier, but with a modern twist … the Witmers lost their daughter in Iraq.
The status of women in the military provides a perfect example for why we need the ERA in all pursuits. Women routinely risk their lives every day yet do not have the opportunities to rise in rank or receive the promotions men do because they are supposedly only in “support” roles. Mr. Witmer begs to differ. With three daughters in the military, he argues that war is not what it used to be and is no longer defined by the paradigm of combatants and clearly defined “fronts.” Everywhere our troops are deployed is now a combat zone.
His daughters were at risk as much as any other soldier. After his daughter Rachel was killed, he was desperate to get his other daughters out of Iraq, but finally realized that he was interfering in what were rightly their decisions to serve in the military.
I’m hotly against war and think it stinks to have men or women die in them. However, is it OK to discriminate on account of gender? A dead daughter is just as dead as a dead son … but paid less, with less rank. Even the death benefits are smaller.
I remember the ERA fight of the 1980s. Phyllis Schlafly and her minions struck the fear of God into people when she threatened that we’d have — wait for it — unisex bathrooms! Horrors. Of course, we’ve now had unisex bathrooms for years, which are called “family bathrooms” in some buildings, so that traveling fathers can change their kids’ diapers. And the heavens have not come tumbling down.
Here’s the deal: I started off by saying we’d be revisiting Alice Paul’s ERA as a chorus. We are going to have to have the tenors, basses and baritones join us in order to finally pass a common sense amendment that constitutionally guarantees one half of our population their due opportunities. Sing out!
Ellen Snortland teaches writing in Altadena. Contact her at snortland.com.