Contrary to conservative claims, the ERA would help families — but it’s not enoughRoundup
tags: womens history, ERA
Alison Lefkovitz is an assistant professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology/Rutgers-Newark and the author of "Strange Bedfellows: Marriage in the Age of Women’s Liberation."
One of the more unexpected political developments of the Trump era is the revival of the Equal Rights Amendment.
The ERA, which would mandate equality between men and women by amending the Constitution, was first proposed in 1921 and finally passed by Congress in 1972 after decades of struggle. But 38 states had to ratify the amendment to make it law. By the 1979 deadline, however, only 35 had. Even after an extension until 1982, the ERA failed. In the face of the movement for traditional family values that gained steam in the late 1970s, advocates simply could not find three additional state legislatures willing to ratify the amendment.
After decades of dormancy, suddenly two state legislatures that had never previously ratified the ERA passed it: Nevada in March 2017 and Illinois in May 2018. At least on paper, advocates have moved tantalizingly close to passing the bill: Finally, after all this time, only one more state is needed to ratify the amendment. The process could be more complicated than that — some state legislatures that passed the measure in the 1970s later tried to rescind their actions, and whether those rescissions count remains unresolved. Additionally, there is the question of whether the deadline to ratify the amendment lapsing nullified earlier ratifications. Nonetheless, Virginia activists are hopeful the state will follow suit now that Democrats gained control of the state legislature.
Why has the ERA suddenly gained traction after nearly four decades of dormancy? There are many reasons, including new feminist organizing, but the biggest factor is that the most potent weapon against the ERA has fizzled. In the 1970s, anti-feminists such as Phyllis Schlafly compellingly argued the amendment would harm families by destroying the male breadwinner-female homemaker household dynamic. Even though the ERA was stopped, Schlafly’s fear has actually come to pass anyway for reasons that remind us both of the amendment’s necessity and its inadequacy to solve what truly threatens American families.
At the time of the ERA debate, opponents argued that the legislation would eliminate men’s obligations to care for women and children. They abhorred the idea of women working outside the home, seeing it as something that should happen only out of absolute necessity, and warned ominously that feminism, perhaps bolstered by the ERA, could make this practice more prevalent.
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