In 2012, I had the pleasure of speaking at the first We Are Woman rally on the west lawn of the Capitol Building in Washington DC.
I was new to activism and had much to learn. A documentary filmmaker, Kamala Lopez, approached me and asked if I believed American women were equal in the eyes of the law. I assumed the answer to that question was yes.
I assumed wrong.
You see, I was a young child in the seventies and I remember the women’s liberation movement. Commercials told me women were equal – they were bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan. My single mother worked and supported the both of us.
The eighties brought us images of strong, independent working women wearing running shoes with business suits after putting in long days at the office. Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman to be selected as a vice presidential running mate. There was no doubt that women had gained and were gaining power in record time.
I mistakenly believed constitutional equality had already been achieved.
When Kamala informed me the Equal Rights Amendment was never enshrined into the United States Constitution, I was stunned – stunned that as a woman, I was not guaranteed the same protections men enjoy, and I was stunned that I didn’t even know about any of this. Kamala then informed me that I wasn’t alone – that the majority of Americans have no idea the ERA was never fully ratified. We fell three states short before the congressionally imposed deadline expired.
It’s interesting to note that the 27th Amendment dealing with congressional compensation was originally proposed in 1789 – and it was ratified in 1992. That’s 203 years. No deadline was attached to that amendment.
The amendment that would guarantee Constitutional equality for women EXPIRED.
So that’s it? Too bad for us? Should we just shrug our collective shoulders and forget it? Or should we demand equality?
It was at that moment I decided to become an ERA activist and since that fateful day, I’ve made an effort to learn as much as I can about the subject so that I could join Kamala in her efforts to educate the people – people just like me – who had no idea we still had work to do.
The gender inclusive text of the ERA: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
There are a lot of folks out there who want to dismiss the need for the ERA. Every single one of their arguments falls apart when you break them down. One very popular argument is that the 14th Amendment is enough and protects all of us.
Nope. It doesn’t. It was written to grant equality to freed black slaves – specifically male slaves. The word male was mentioned three times in the 14th Amendment. The word female is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. The argument is that the word “persons” is enough protection for all of us. If that were the case, women would have automatically been granted the right to vote. They weren’t. The 15th amendment gave black men the right to vote, but it wasn’t until 52 years later that the 19th Amendment was ratified and women were permitted to vote.
Women were permitted to vote. Does that PISS YOU OFF?
Men gave us that permission for one reason: because women demanded it.
It’s time once again to demand equality. The ERA isn’t a partisan issue. No one party benefits over another. America will benefit because it’s not only about equality in the eyes of the law; it’s also about a guarantee of equal pay for equal work, no matter your gender, that can’t be overturned when a new Congress comes in.
Many don’t realize there’s a loophole in the Equal Pay Act which allows employers to discriminate based on gender. Employers can claim they’re basing pay on past earnings. This means if a woman was paid less in prior positions, the discrimination cycle can legally continue. This example and a wealth other examples of how our current legal system fails women, men and families is detailed in the book Equal Means Equal by Jessica Neuwirth. A scholar, Neuwirth cites a variety of court cases that prove a constitutional amendment is needed to achieve full equality.
I talk about the many benefits and the need for the ERA in American Woman: The Poll Dance. My book is less formal than Jessica’s, and I include many personal stories illustrating the need for equality and the importance of voting.
In 2014, I gave a speech about the ERA at the second We Are Woman rally and you can watch it HERE.
Please watch this video by Kamala Lopez. She explains why the 14th Amendment isn’t enough protection in a trailer for her upcoming documentary film, Equal Means Equal.