Pumping Life Into the Equal Rights Amendment

Pumping Life Into the Equal Rights Amendment
Mar 25 2017

The progress of women’s equality has not exactly been swift in American history. The endorsement of the Equal Rights Amendment on Wednesday by the Nevada Legislature — 35 years after the congressional deadline for passage — is being read by supporters as an encouraging sign, however slow-paced.

The E.R.A., which would enshrine in the Constitution the guarantee that a woman’s rights are equal to a man’s and “shall not be denied or abridged,” at first moved quickly toward passage in the 1970s. But it fell three states short of the 38 needed for final approval by 1982, the deadline set by Congress. Opponents in Southern and Western states had dug in with richly fantasized warnings of the legal and cultural chaos that would ensue from a broad mandate of gender equality.

Echoes of the same misogyny were heard from Republicans in debate before Nevada’s Democrat-controlled Legislature approved the amendment after decades of earlier failures. Proponents insisted the victory was more than hypothetical — pointing to Congress’s extension of an earlier E.R.A. deadline as evidence that Congress could do so again if two more states approved the measure. The National Organization for Women is already taking aim at Virginia and Illinois, where the amendment has had considerable support but has been defeated in recent years.

Even some liberals snickered at the news from Nevada about the revival of the amendment. But the equality movement pointed to a new galvanizing force: the outrage of women and men at President Trump’s sexism and vulgarity that resulted in millions of Americans marching in protest after his inauguration.

The legislative losers in Nevada tended to be Republican men complaining rather antiquely that the E.R.A. would harm family life, advance abortions and force women into military combat roles. Their other argument was that women, having achieved equality in many spheres since the 1970s, no longer need the amendment for protection. They’re wrong on that score.

“This bill is about equality, period,” said State Senator Pat Spearman, pointing to a raft of well-documented studies of continuing inequality. For example, the gap in earnings between women and men will not close until the year 2058, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The percentage of impoverished women has increased in recent years, while only 5.8 percent of chief executives on the list of the Fortune 500 companies are women. Women account for just 19.4 percent of congressional seats now; it might take another century to raise that to 50 percent. The United States is ranked 45th in the 2016 Global Gender Gap of nations, below European nations, Belarus and Namibia, among others.



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