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ERA Not Enacted? No Biggie, Considering

December 2, 2008

@twitterknitter asks: “Anybody else pissed that the Equal Rights Amendment isn’t really an amendment yet, and may never be?”

Wow…the ERA. Hadn’t thought about it in a good long while. Thinking about it now, I realize the answer is: No. I’m not really concerned. I used to think it important, but I’m not really all that unhappy that it hasn’t passed.

It’s not that I don’t agree with its basic premise: that equality of rights should not vary by sex. I’m fully on-board with that. While most young women these days do not call themselves feminists, nor associate with the cause, I would call myself a feminist. That’s not to say that I buy into the “sex = rape” polemics of Andrea Dworkin or the Gyn/Ecology theology of Mary Daly. I don’t. Maybe it’s just me being a man and all, but I don’t buy into the “men are evil scumbag overlords of the patriarchy established just to keep the nobility that is womanhood down.” Nor will I be using we’re-on-a-mission neologisms like “womyn” any time soon.

So my Feminist 1.0 friends–well, acquaintances, really; I’m pretty sure all my friends upgraded to at least version 1.5–might not recognize me as a True Supporter of the Sistern. But I’m a good deal more concerned about feminism than many women I know or meet, and much better read on the feminist canon to boot.

My position is very simple: I like women, and would like to see them get a fair deal. Whatever laws, practices, folkways, biases, expectations, or what-have-you that don’t treat women fairly are inherently Wrong, in the same way that racism is.

I’d be perfectly happy if the ERA were enacted. But if it’s not, that won’t bother me overmuch either. The ERA was an important fight for women’s rights and stature. But I’m not convinced it is now. The fight–and the issues and consciousness it raised–seems much more important than the fairly narrow legal protection embodied the ERA itself. Just as with racism in the last half-century, forcing people to confront, consider, and defend their practices, beliefs, and laws is the real change agent.

There’s no question that law is an important lever. The Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, for example, were instrumental in the fight against racism. But changing hearts and minds is the real deal when it comes to systematic change. When hearts and minds are changed, practices, laws, beliefs, folkways, and all else change as a consequence. It’s slow, taking years, but it’s inexorable and broad.

While gender equality remains a work in progress, I see many positive signs of just such systematic changes. Just a few:

  • Strong, independent, outspoken women everywhere
  • Success for women no longer exclusively tied to marriage and child-rearing
  • Many women in high places – national presidents and prime ministers, governors and mayors, legislators, judges, military offers, corporate presidents and vice presidents, business owners
  • Many women in low places – It’s no longer surprising to see female police officers, soldiers, pilots, construction workers, dock workers, postal workers, CPAs, university professors, doctors, and all manner of other professions in which women were scarce to non-existent thirty or forty years ago
  • Many women in technology, the world’s growth industry: as engineers, geeks, CTOs, analysts, executives, and entrepreneurs
  • Many women in a broad range of sports and leisure-time activities, including those once dominated by men
  • Many women comfortable with, and self-directing, their own sexuality
  • Young women growing up with an expectation that they can accomplish pretty much anything they’d like, at least as much as boys can
  • Many men reporting to female superiors, and working with female-coworkers
  • Many men accepting formerly female-exclusive or female-dominated roles: cooking, parenting, nursing, teaching, nurturing
  • A massive reduction in gender-defined attire (e.g. women in pants, men wearing makup), behavior, and social expectations

The list grows long, so I’ll stop there. But the length makes a point: Since Feminism came on the scene in the Sixties and Seventies, we’ve seen a large-scale change in social attitudes and approaches. My doctor, my company president, my friends, my U.S. Senator, my peers, my clients–I find women doing well in all parts of my life. While further formal structures such as the ERA supporting gender equality are nice, the broad-based changes occurring even in the absence of the ERA are so much more important, so much further-reaching. They are the march toward equality in action, and what I really care about.

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2 comments

  1. I’ve got to rant. What a load of drivel!
    Written like a real man. Of course you don’t have any idea about what it feels like for your country to categorically deny you legal equality, so anything you say is from a perspective which by definition doesn’t “get it”. Women have had to fight for every right they have, all of which you have as your birthright!
    If we were talking about race discrimination would you be so ambivilent? Yet race and sex discrimination are the same–it’s the prejudicial treatment of a person based on a physical attribute over which they have no control. How dare you call yourself a feminist!
    You’re of the “you’ve come along way baby” crowd. How comforting that must make you feel. If women had only arrived on this planet a couple of decades ago that phrase might mean something. Besides, any distance we’ve come is always a hard fought battle–why? Why in this so called democracy is granting the MAJORITY of the citizens legal equality a controversial subject? It’s absurd and people like you keep the absurdity alive.
    It’s also clear that you know little or nothing about the continuing impact of not having the ERA. Why don’t you educate yourself before writing about a subject. Try http://www.4ERA.org for starters


  2. I appreciate that you took on a very challenging, landmine-ridden subject.

    One point you missed is the lingering emotional importance of the ERA. Arguably born in a MUCH different time for our society and for women, and perhaps carrying the stigma of an era we seemed to grow past (and as you point out, so foreign to women born after it), equal rights is still not the law.

    And while I agree with you that women have come a very long way, I will also tell you that virtually all “successful” women have faced many obstacles due to their gender; often so subtle and so quiet that people don’t notice and don’t care.

    The ERA, in concept, reminds of us of the struggle, and therefore, maintains at symbolic and emotional importance.



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