ERA Still Possible, Still Needed

Sign at ERA demonstration in the 1970s

ERA demonstrators in the 1970s
Spurred by anti-Trump sentiment, the Republican’s so-called “War on Women”, and the #MeToo Movement, women turned out in droves last year to vote in the mid-term elections. The result was an historic number of women winning local, state, and federal offices. Then, during Trump’s subsequent State of the Union address, the House chamber was replete with rows of Congresswomen adorned in all-white outfits to demonstrate solidarity. It was a significant moment for women. But the 2018 election was also significant for another reason. That year, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, leaving women just one state shy of the promised land. Unfortunately, no other states followed Illinois’ lead. ERA bills were introduced in Virginia, Florida, and Arizona, but failed to pass. The same thing had happened the year before, here in North Carolina.

The good news is that there is still a path for ratification. Back in 1972 when the ERA was proposed, Congress required that, in order for the Amendment to become law, 38 states would have to ratify within a specific deadline. However that deadline has long since expired. Even so, the ERA can still be revived if Congress votes to extend the deadline again. But is that likely? The answer is “Yes”, if women become the majority in Congress, or if enough enlightened men are elected to both chambers. In either case, a vote to extend the ratification deadline would be almost assured. That’s step one. The next step would be for one more state to ratify. This may seem strange to say, but of the thirteen states still opposed to the ERA, I think North Carolina is the most likely to change course, and do the right thing. For that to happen, we’ll need a few more progressive legislators to invade Raleigh, and they will need to present a compelling argument for giving ERA another look. Fortunately, there is no shortage of reasons for ratification.

First, there are the obvious disparities that have yet to be corrected, chief among them, the pay gap that exists between men and women. As I noted in a previous column, nationally, white women earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man earns for doing the same job. That statistic falls to 61 cents for black women, and 53 cents for Latinas. Here in North Carolina, women earn slightly better than the national average (about 84 cents for every dollar a man earns), but our pay gap isn’t expected to close until the year 2060.

Second, women have little say in how large corporations are run, or in who gets hired for upper management positions. According to a 2015 report from ThinkProgress.com, there are only 48 female CEOs heading up the top 1,000 companies in America. The trickle-down from those numbers translates to more male executives being hired, who then hire more male executives.

Third, men still write the laws that affect women. Yes, women made great progress during the 2018 mid terms elections, but while they are waiting to win more seats, or for more of their male colleagues to “get woke”, there are injustices occurring every day which could be stopped if the ERA became law.

For example, an increasing number of states are telling women that they cannot have an abortion, even in the case of rape or incest. Speaking of which, there’s even a new law in Alabama that allows a male rapist to pursue custody of the child who was born of his assault. And then there’s the woman in Orlando who, earlier this year had been severely beaten by her husband. While her macho spouse was serving six days in jail, she confiscated his cache of guns, and turned them over to local police for safe keeping, so that her jailbird husband wouldn’t shoot her upon his release. But guess what? The wife was arrested for taking her husband’s guns from the marital home without his permission.

We will never be able to fully eradicate misogyny and prejudice, but these kinds of injustices and disparities would not be tolerated under the ERA. That’s why North Carolina lawmakers need to step up to the plate next year and re-visit the Equal Rights Amendment. Let’s become the state that puts ERA over the top, and gives women what should have belonged to them in the first place.

 
 

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