The Equal Rights Amendment sought to create a constitutional protection against sexual discrimination under the law. From Alice Paul’s first draft in 1923 to the bold efforts in the 1970s and early ’80s, it met an untimely grave in 1982, falling three states short of ratification.
30 years later, it’s time to bring the ERA back to life.
Gender discrimination is still an issue. Women, on the aggregate, still only make 77 cents for each white male dollar. The number is even lower for women of color—about 70 cents for black women, and about 60 cents for Latina women.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) ceased to exist because of Republican opposition to its inclusivity of undocumented, Native American and LGBT women; it still has yet to be reauthorized.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s edict demanding equal combat opportunity in the military was met with sexist screeds from officers and lower-ranked soldiers.
This is not okay.
It’s not okay that women have lower workplace opportunities than men; it’s even less okay that those opportunities are further restricted for women of color.
It’s not okay that the most significant method of legal recourse victims of gender-based crimes disappeared at the turn of the year.
It’s not okay that it’s taken so long to lift the combat ban, and that it’s still meeting resistance.
The ERA would not cure these problems, but it would assuage them. It would make things like biological essentialism in policy, wage discrimination and letting important legislation like VAWA fall out of the law illegitimate.
Some argue gender separation is good—men and women are biologically different, so why not treat them differently? Some express concern that a legal protection against sexual discrimination would mean the abolition of separate bathrooms, since the Supreme Court has declared public facilities cannot be “separate, but equal.”
The High Court has indeed ruled that sexual discrimination is not as insidious as racial discrimination because of the biological differences between men and women; so sexists have a lower standard of legal scrutiny to meet than racists. But to me, that is not okay, either.
This doctrine’s foundation is the denial of the fact that gender is socially constructed, just like race is. The Jim Crow era’s bigoted arguments were based on a similar denial—racists felt people of color were inherently inferior, so they wrongly treated them as such.
But they were wrong. It’s common knowledge that these attitudes are incredibly racist and violative to people of color. In the same way, biological essentialism is sexist and violative to women, as well as people who don’t identify within the gender binary.
This is not to compare the struggles for racial and gender equality, nor to excuse the feminist movement’s abhorrent racism. To make such a comparison or excuse would be offensive to the immense number of people still oppressed by the racist society in which we live.
The ERA would simply give legal protections against sexual discrimination that exist for racial discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment. Explicit constitutional prohibitions on both racism and sexism would lay a foundation for an intersectional system of law that acknowledges and addresses the ills of racial and sexual oppression together rather than treating them as mutually exclusive.
A petition on We The People, the White House’s official medium for public exercise of the First Amendment, is gaining momentum in putting the ERA back onto the national radar. It has 20,609 signatures of the 25,000 necessary for an official executive response.
Sign this petition. It’s accessible through a quick Google search. Add your name and share it with your friends.
By getting the ERA out from its shallow grave, we will make a large step toward the just society that we’ve been trying so desperately to achieve since our nation’s foundation.