"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A rose by any other name: U.S.Congress revisits the ERA

Yet another reason to be glad we elected a liberal Congress. I learned today from the blog Biting Giants that the House and Senate reintroduced the Equal Rights Amendment this week, albeit under a different name: The Women's Equality Amendment. (Read the story from the Washington Post.)

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(Women fight for the ERA, 1982)

So, yeah. After much debate and waiting, it failed in 1982. But it's important to note that in 1982, we were no longer at the climax of the second wave of feminism, and we were experiencing in full swing the Backlash that Susan Faludi defined and described for us ten years later. Newly elected Ronald Reagan was in the White House, and conservatism and a return to "traditional values" were all the rage. And then there was good old Phyllis convincing women not to fight for their rights by making them irrationally fear being drafted into the military and having to share public restrooms with men.

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(Phyllis Schlafly leads a protest against the ERA, 1982)

So are we better prepared today, in 2007, to ratify an amendment guaranteeing equal rights for women? George W. is still in office, and the Christian Right has more political influence than ever. Phyllis Schlafly is alive and well, still rallying conservative support against the ERA. Only this time around, one of her main weapons is to insist that the passage of an amendment that allows no discrimination on the basis of sex will lead to the legalization of gay marriage. And then there's the common attitude that an Equal Rights Amendment is simply unnecessary, since, technically speaking, women are not exactly excluded by the current language in the Constitution. The latter sentiment is the one that was directly taught in my twelfth grade American Government class by my stridently Republican teacher.

Then again, our new democratic Congress seems enthusiastic. A handful of states have enacted their own equal rights amendments since the defeat of the national one. And the Washington Post article points out that great strides toward an attitude of gender equality have been made in the last thirty years, especially in the southern states where the amendment did not have favor the first time around. Also, although we may not be living in a time in which feminism gets overt media coverage, perhaps it is a benefit to our cause that so many of the gains of women's movements are now so deeply ingrained in our society. As Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards wrote in Manifesta:

"For our generation, feminism is like fluoride. We scarcely notice that we have it - it's simply in the water." (p.20)

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