One of the questions I’m frequently asked is, “What single action can we take as a society to improve the status of women in regards to reducing sexual assault, improving prosecution of offenders, and improving the overall status of women?”
I have an answer, though there are many paths to this goal. 1) Training law enforcement, including line officers, to understand basics of sexual trauma, 2) boosting research to decrease victim stigma, thereby increasing reporting, 3) continuing to pass laws preventing women’s sexual behavior from being on trial, 4) helping prosecution understand that explaining neuroscience to juries will support convictions, 5) educating middle and high school students on consent and trauma… the list goes on and on. I provide many of these in the forms of consultation, training, and public speaking.
What I can’t do alone is the one task that will immediately elevate women to the status of men in one important, legal swoop. The only way to achieve this is by having all women in the U.S. declared constitutionally equal to men in the form of the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Most people believe this happened already, many years ago.
They are wrong.
Women continue to be second-class citizens. Despite passage of other acts designed to address pieces of equality, such as equal pay, all women in the U.S. continue to be, legally, lesser than men.
You can help change this, and I’ll provide some information on how you can support ERA at the end of this post. I thought, though, that having a solid overview of the history of the ERA and where it currently stands in this month’s post would help to educate the public on this incredibly important issue facing American women today.
While the calendar reads 2018, it sometimes feels as though we’ve traveled backward in time in regard to women’s rights. In light of the onslaught of recent events that threaten any semblance of American gender equality, it’s more than relevant to discuss the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
In the early 1900s, women began to enter the American workforce. This newfound cultural shift created a movement; the American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman’s Party lobbied to pass the 19th Amendment, which would give women the right to vote. In 1920, the amendment passed by a single vote, fueling suffragists to work toward further constitutional equality.
In 1923, Alice Paul brought forth a nascent version of the ERA, which she dubbed the Lucretia Mott Amendment. Opponents feared it might be detrimental to women’s labor laws, so the amendment failed. In 1943, Alice Paul rewrote the amendment to simply state:
However, it still couldn’t garner the traction to pass.
Jump forward a generation. In the wake of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the ERA was reintroduced by women galvanized to make a change and solidify their rights as citizens. In 1972, both the US Senate and the House of Representatives passed the ERA. However, to become the 27th Amendment, 38 states needed to ratify it. Congress imposed a 7-year deadline, and the fight raged on.
While some states ratified the amendment quickly – Hawaii did so within 24 hours – others were more cautious. Many were spooked by right-wing fears that the amendment would disrupt child support claims, force women into the military draft, and uphold abortion rights. By 1979, only 35 states had ratified the ERA. However, due to pressure from the public, including a march on Washington organized by the National Organization for Women, Congress extended the amendment’s deadline.
The 1980s brought a more conservative political climate, and though the ERA was (and still is) introduced at every session of Congress, it could not meet the threshold of 38 states.
In 2017, with Donald Trump and the #MeToo movement fresh in the public’s collective mind, interest in the ERA was rekindled. Nevada, at last, ratified the amendment, followed by Illinois in 2018. Currently, the amendment is just one state away from being ratified, nearly 50 years after being passed by Congress.
While America has certainly progressed as a country since the early days of the ERA, gender equality remains our largest hurdle towards women’s standing as full citizens under the law. Many sexual assault and rape reforms will not legally have the force they need until the ERA has passed. The Equal Rights Amendment serves as a concrete barrier to sexual discrimination, a way to unequivocally declare that all men and women are created equal.
The ultimate fate of the Equal Rights Amendment now rests in the hands of the remaining states. The ERA has been reintroduced in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Utah, and Virginia. Perhaps, at long last, the time has come to give women their proper place in the United States Constitution.
You can lend your voice to this long overdue historic addition to our constitution by pushing for the ERA where you live and in the states still lagging in their support. Remember, one more state is all that’s needed for women to stand as full citizens alongside men!
I speak about the ERA in nearly every talk I give, even when it's not directly related to the presentation because I feel strongly that with equal representation, stronger sex crimes victim representation, prosecution, and support will follow.
For all men, the import of supporting women’s justice and equality should be clear. When all of us are fully represented, we can trust that each individual will be better represented.
The ERA website is a central repository to stay abreast of where the amendment stands and how you can help. Please visit http://www.equalrightsamendment.org.
Facebook and Twitter have @ERAusa for daily updates on the national movement.
Passage of the ERA will guarantee the rights of all American women, improve support for victims and survivors, and constitutionally enforce sex-based equality for sex crimes and their prosecution.