I’ve always been a feminist – then and now. And when Congress authorized an Equal Rights Amendment for state approval back in 1973, I was delighted and became part of an intense heated national debate supporting the E.R.A., which required ratification in 38 states by 1979; the deadline was later extended to 1982. By even then, only 35 states had done so.
The E.R.A. promised equal rights to women, and was aimed at improving pay equity for them, strengthening domestic violence and sexual harassment protections, and blocking discrimination against pregnant women. The amendment reads, in part: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
It sounded like such a basic right for Americans that, naively, I thought it would be easily adopted. I certainly was wrong. Seems like some men in our country wanted to keep women barefoot and pregnant, as the saying goes, while the women said they don’t need such an amendment – they were happy with taking care of their home.
Can you imagine that last week Virginia finally was the 38th state to approve the Equal Rights Amendment? But suddenly, some men (mostly Republican ones) are arguing that Virginia’s approval doesn’t make the ERA a constitutional amendment, because the deadline was 38 (!) years ago. Those famous Virginia Slims ads of the 1970s – “You’ve come a long way, Baby,” were just plain wrong.
But why am I surprised? There have been overt and covert objections to women having equal rights with men for years – in fact, all my life. I will agree that for some men, I think this attitude is unintentional – perhaps simply habitual.
The equality debate is now an explosive issue in the presidential election. Can a woman win? As the NYT aptly commented in its Jan. 16 editorial, “countless hours have been devoted to examining the often unconscious gender bias that female candidates still contend with. Among other troubling disparities: Women who deviate from traditional gender roles face a risk of backlash from men (and women) who value those roles; women in positions of power tend to be considered less legitimate than their male counterparts, and ambitious women are viewed more negatively by men and women alike, than ambitious men.”
The Catholic Church’s record on equality for women is abysmal. There is none. Women have always, and still are, second-class citizens with only men having the power to make decisions – including decisions regarding the status and role of women, Yet so many church members are conditioned to this that there are few complaints. There absolutely needs to be objections to this secondary status from both men and women in the church.
But let me get more personal and provide a few anecdotal experiences.
When I was looking for work just after I had married, I was asked at each interview, “When are you planning to have children? “I don’t know,” I responded. “Do you plan to have children?” “Yes I do,” I said. I didn’t receive job offers until one executive woman hired me. In my middle adult years, I knew my pay was less than my male colleagues in the same position. When I asked why, I was told, “They have to support a family.” I was a single mother at the time.
When I was working for a high tech company in Palo Alto, I can remember sitting at meetings with department heads (all male), as we collectively searched for what we needed to do next. I would make a suggestion, and everyone politely nodded. Five minutes later, a man would make the same suggestion and the reaction from other men: “That’s a great idea, Tom!”
When I was working for a newspaper and was managing editor, the executive editor called me and asked, “That new man you hired six months ago. Do you think he is management material?” I told him that others on my staff (females) have considerably more experience and leadership qualities than he does.” Nevertheless, he was promoted.
Things are better now – certainly among the millennials and Gen Zers. But we still have a long way to go.
So will the Equal Rights Amendment ever be adopted in this country? I’m guessing no. Not okay, and certainly a shame.
What are men so afraid of?