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A MUST READ: E. R. A. a short primer for the monstrously long process of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Dear Reader, 

The introduction I’ve added to this text explains some of the analogies I see between Victor Frankenstein’s creature and the legal corpus of laws that apply to women in the United States.  Those analogies occurred to me in this 200th year following the initial publication of Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein.

Thank you, SheVille, for the very strong July 20, 2018, article on the reasons we need the Equal Rights Amendment.  I’ve sent the link for the article to several people I know, and I added the reference to the article to this latest draft of my handmade book on the process of ratifying the E.R.A.  I finished making the book before I saw the article, so I didn’t include your article in the resources I used for the book project. 

Happy reading,

Virginia McKinley,  Asheville, N.C.   

Introduction

What follows is the text of a handmade book submitted for “It’s Alive!”, an exhibit of artists’ books and prints commemorating the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, at Asheville Bookworks in West Asheville, N.C., from August 9 through October 26, 2018.  For more information on “It’s Alive!”, see the Asheville Bookworks website, https://ashevillebookworks.com/happenings.

 

Why Frankenstein?

I happened to begin reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein shortly after I learned that the supposed 1982 deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment may not have been a firm deadline after all, that two additional states (Nevada and Illinois) had recently ratified the amendment, and that only one more state was needed to bring the total to 38 — the required 3/4 of states in the United States. 

The introduction to the 1818 edition of Frankenstein that I read summarized very well the parallels between Mary Shelley’s own difficulties and sense of isolation as a young widow with children, and the isolation and loneliness of Victor Frankenstein’s creature.  Mary Shelley’s difficulties were not much different from those of many single mothers in our country in the twenty-first century.  I also felt a deep loneliness and sense of isolation as I recalled once more that women were not included and were not intended to be included in the 1789 Constitution of the United States of America; nor are women yet included as full citizens in the Constitution.  Colonial Women after 1789 retained exactly the same status as Mary Shelley had under British Common Law: that is, they had no individual legal status or identity separate from their fathers’ or husbands’. 

To the extent that the traditional legal barriers to American women have been removed since 1789, it has been through constant advocacy and struggle in the courts of law, case by case and state by state — leaving us with a somewhat monstrous and deformed corpus of laws as they apply to women.  The making of that legal corpus and its “life” through American history seems to me somewhat analogous to the piecing together and subsequent life of Victor Frankenstein’s creature.  Depending on the historic moment, the legal corpus is more or less complete, patched together, often missing limbs or digits or internal organs.  The legal corpus can also be used, and frequently has been used, not to right wrongs done to women, but to punish generations of litigants who object to its obvious defects: its impaired vision, weak and irregular heartbeat, and lack of spine. 

Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment is not sufficient in itself, but it would provide a strong spine along which to build a more just and proportionate body of laws, and more reliable systems of legal enforcement, to ensure equal legal status for women and men, equal protection under the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the United States of America.  — In this moment, it is definitely time to take advantage of Article V of the U.S. Constitution, which provides for amending the Constitution when the need arises.  In this case, it’s not necessary to start from scratch; the Equal Rights Amendment is still alive!   It’s now time to complete the ratification process.

 

THE FULL TEXT OF THE EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT

TO THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES

OF AMERICA

Section 1.  Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Section 2.  The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3.  This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

 

SOME HISTORY

Even before the United States of America became an independent nation — and long before the organized abolitionist and suffrage movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that many of us are familiar with today — some women sought greater equality with men than was traditionally granted, or ever widely considered. One of those women lived in  colonial Massachusetts, and she sought to influence her husband on just that point.

Abigail Adams (1744-1816), the wife of eventual U.S. President John Adams and mother of President John Quincy Adams, was John Adams’ nearest and most trusted advisor.  She had no formal education but read widely in her family’s libraries.  She became an advocate for public education for girls equal to the education offered to boys, and she argued strongly for the emancipation of American slaves.  When John Adams became a delegate from the colony of Massachusetts to the First and then the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, she remained at home in Massachusetts to take care of their children, their home, and the family property.  In his absence, she and her husband had a long and regular correspondence; and as the members of the Second Continental Congress debated the Declaration of Independence, Abigail tried to persuade John to help create a truly new kind of government that recognized the equal legal status of men and women.  She famously wrote, “In the new code of laws, remember the ladies and do not put unlimited power into the hands of the husbands.”  Her efforts failed, and her own husband replied, “I cannot but laugh.  Depend on it, we know better than to repeal our masculine systems.”  In the end, women were not even mentioned either in the Declaration of Independence or in the Constitution of the United States of America.

On March 4, 1789, the U.S. Constitution first came into force, but women’s status remained what it had been under British common law.  Centuries-old British custom continued to govern the lives of women, who had no individual legal identity separate from their fathers’ or husbands’.  Women were not allowed to

                                                — vote

                                                — own property

                                                — keep their own wages

                                                — have custody of their own children

 

In keeping with their historical moment, the delegates to the Continental Congress seem to have made no distinction between the legal status of enslaved Africans and the legal status of all women — including their own wives and daughters.  It would take a vigorous abolitionist movement and a civil war to gain the emancipation of enslaved individuals; and it continues to take public activism and endless legal battles to assure the civil rights of their descendants.  To the extent that any of the traditional legal barriers to women have been removed since 1789, it has been through constant advocacy and struggle in the courts of law, case by case and state by state.  Like the laws against other kinds of discrimination, the laws introducing or protecting civil rights for women are not necessarily enforced, or are not consistently enforced.  Moreover, in the absence of an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the legal rights gained by women may be limited or reversed at any time.  Until the Equal Rights Amendment becomes part of the Constitution of the United States of America, there is no “repeal of our masculine systems.”  Needless to say, until women and men have equal rights under the law, children and families will not be legally protected, either.

Since long before the nineteenth century, African-American women have consistently been active in the struggle for civil rights, first as they resisted and periodically escaped their own enslavement and, after their own escapes,  continued to fight for the total abolition of slavery.  They later organized and worked through women’s clubs, churches, political movements, labor initiatives, and groups advocating for universal public education.  They became important community leaders.  They often formed the majority of African-Americans in their communities who participated in actions to further the cause of equal rights for all U.S. citizens, including women.  Historians now recognize that the twentieth-century civil rights movements grew out of earlier abolitionist and suffrage movements.  Those movements were often energized by women who felt left out and unrecognized for their efforts to advance the rights of all.  We know the name of activist Rosa Parks, and we know about her important role in the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott in 1955; but she was just one of many thousands of women whose names we do not know, and who created the circumstances for success of many well-known male leaders (including Martin Luther King, Jr.) of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), whose given name was Isabella Baumfree, was born into slavery in New York State, where slavery was not abolished until 1828.  She ran away in 1827 and sought help from an abolitionist family who soon paid for her freedom.  She moved to New York City in 1828 and worked for a minister there.  At about that time, she chose the name Sojourner Truth and formed the intention to preach the truth of the Holy Spirit.She eventually worked with William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass in their efforts to abolish human slavery, and she spoke and preached widely about abolition.  She also advocated with other activists for women’s equal rights under the law.  In the 1850s, she helped to liberate enslaved people and also helped to recruit black men as soldiers for the Union Army. She worked as well to provide the supplies those soldiers needed.  Yet Sojourner Truth ultimately disagreed with Frederick Douglass on the matter of suffrage. Douglass advocated that suffrage was first due to black men freed from slavery; he gave no priority to the suffrage of women.  Sojourner Truth, however, insisted that voting rights should be granted simultaneously to black men and to all women.  At the 1851 Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, Sojourner Truth, among others, spoke as an abolitionist and as an advocate for civil rights for women. 

She famously declared, “I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me!  And ain’t I a woman?  I could work as much and eat as much as a man — when I could get it — and bear the lash as well!  And ain’t I a woman?  I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me!  And ain’t I a woman?”

Harriet Tubman (1822-1913) was born into slavery in Maryland and had siblings who were sold into the Deep South.  Although she was not sold away, she was taken from her mother when she was about six years old and was hired out by her master to work for several other masters.  In 1849, she escaped alone to freedom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and subsequently returned to Maryland 13 times to lead a total of 70 family members and friends back North to freedom.  She worked as a Union spy in South Carolina during the Civil War and helped to recruit black soldiers to the Union Army.  She was the first woman in U.S. military history to plan and lead a military raid, and in the process, she and the Second Carolina Colored Infantry destroyed property, interrupted supply lines to Confederate troops, and set at least 750 enslaved people free.  After the Civil War, she bought a house for her family in Auburn, New York, and she helped found the National Association for Colored Women, with the purpose of gaining equality under the law and voting rights for African-American women.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) benefited from an excellent formal education, and from informal schooling in the law through conversations with her father (a lawyer who also became a New York state assemblyman) and with his fellow lawyers and political leaders.  She was an active and outspoken abolitionist.  Through her abolitionist activities, Elizabeth Cady Stanton met Lucretia Mott, and together they called the first women’s convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton worked for property rights for married women and increasingly for women’s suffrage.  She wrote a three-volume History of Woman Suffrage in the years 1881-1885, followed by a Woman’s Bible that appeared in 1895.  She also wrote many of the speeches that Susan B. Anthony delivered in her travels to several states.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton became known as possibly the most important and most influential thinker in the women’s suffrage movement of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  In her articles and books, she addressed most of the key social, political, legal, and eventually even theological issues of her time.  She was an advocate for the thirteenth amendment to end slavery, and with Susan B. Anthony, she co-founded the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869.

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) believed in the equality of women and men as part of her Quaker family background.  She traveled and spoke widely for abolition, temperance, labor rights (including equal pay for women and men doing the same or similar work), women’s suffrage, and women’s property rights.  On more than one occasion, and in more than one state, Susan B. Anthony voted illegally and was arrested and punished for it.  Like Sojourner Truth, she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton broke with those who supported voting rights for black men but not for women.

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) was born a slave in Mississippi during the Civil War.  With the death of her parents from yellow fever in 1878, she became responsible for supporting her siblings and began to work as a teacher.  Eventually she and her family moved farther north, to Memphis, Tennessee, where she continued to work for many years as a teacher and later became a journalist and publisher.  In 1892, her press was burned to the ground because she had written about and fought discrimination against blacks and women, and had written a scathing expose about lynching.  Fleeing Memphis, she moved to Chicago and subsequently founded the Alpha Suffrage Club, the first of its kind, as part of her national campaign against racial discrimination and sex discrimination.

Alice Paul (1885-1977), like Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott, came from a Quaker family who believed in the equality of women and men.  Her mother was a suffragist and often took Alice to meetings with her.  In 1907, after graduating from Swarthmore College and then earning a master’s degree in sociology from the future Columbia University, she traveled to England to study social work.  While there, she made the acquaintance of some of the most militant members of the Suffragette Movement.  She became a Suffragette herself, engaging in action for which she was arrested and jailed.  She brought the ideas and strategies of the Suffragettes with her when she returned to the United States in 1910.  She was persuaded that American women, too, must take a more radical approach to attaining their suffragist goals.  She soon joined the National Women’s Suffrage Association and, in order to gain national publicity for the suffragist cause, she helped organize and carry out the first women’s suffrage march up Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.  The occasion was the 1913 inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson, and the march did not end well.  Men watching the march attacked the suffragists, while the police did nothing to stop them; but the following day, the suffragists and their cause were in the headlines of newspapers across the country, generating new conversations about voting rights for women among both citizens and politicians.

Convinced that women must have a national voting rights amendment, Alice Paul and her followers picketed the White House of President Wilson, demanding voting rights for women.  Their picketing continued as the U.S. entered World War I, and they were eventually arrested for “obstructing traffic.”  When they declined to pay the imposed fines, they were taken to prison and brutally treated there.  As politicians and members of the press learned of the severe prison conditions, they and the public began to press for the release of the suffragists; and public opinion began to shift in favor of voting rights for women.  In 1917, following increasing criticism of the suffragists’ treatment at the hands of their opponents, President Wilson changed his own stance and declared his support for a constitutional amendment to assure women’s right to vote.  He declared passage of the amendment to be a “war measure,” and by 1920, the nineteenth amendment had been passed by Congress and ratified by 3/4 of the states. 

In 1923, Alice Paul wrote the initial version of the Equal Rights Amendment, and the E.R.A. was presented in every congressional session from then until 1972.  In that year, it was finally passed by Congress in a revised version that had been submitted in 1943.  The Equal Rights Amendment has not yet been ratified by 3/4 of the states, as is required by the U.S. Constitution, but it has been resubmitted to Congress in each of its sessions since the putative ratification deadline in 1982.

Pauli Murray (1910-1985) was a novelist, poet, memoirist, biographer, civil rights activist, lawyer, and the first African-American woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest.  In 1940, as a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, she worked to end segregation on public transportation.  In March of that year, in the state of Virginia, she refused to ride at the back of a bus, for which action she was arrested and imprisoned.  She set herself the goal of becoming a civil rights lawyer and graduated from both Howard University Law School and the University of California Boalt School of Law.  Among her legal writings was her 1951 book States’ Laws on Race and Color, praised by Thurgood Marshall, then head of the N.A.A.C.P., as equivalent to a “bible” of civil rights law.  She was active in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s, and  because of that activity, she became a target for McCarthyists and was let go from a position at Cornell University.  She nevertheless continued to do influential civil rights work in the 1960s and 1970s.  Like Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman before her, she saw common goals and parallels between the struggle for African-American civil rights and women’s civil rights.  And like Sojourner Truth, Pauli Murray grew, in her own words, “increasingly perturbed” at the minor role women were allowed to take in the Civil Rights Movement and in the development of national policy and strategies — despite “the major role which Negro women have played and are playing in the crucial grass-roots levels of our struggles.” 

African-American women were among those who lobbied most energetically for the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, intended to end discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin — and for the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, to end state and local efforts at preventing African-Americans from voting.  Yet in planning the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, the male leadership of the movement had refused all proposals to include women as event speakers.  In a shallow attempt at compromise, the organizing committee allowed Daisy Bates to present a short “Tribute to Negro Women” that did not in any way satisfy the women of the movement.  Women did not turn away from their active work for the Civil Rights Movement, on the contrary; but most of them determined never to be overlooked or excluded again.

Aileen Clarke Hernandez (1926-2017) was of Jamaican heritage and was born in Brooklyn, New York.  She graduated with honors from Howard University at a time when this country remained substantially segregated.  Adamant about women’s and workers’ rights, she served as a labor organizer for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, where her success drew the attention of many, including President Lyndon Johnson.  President Johnson named her the first woman member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  However, she served only two years before resigning from the Commission to protest its failure to act in cases of alleged sex discrimination.  Aileen Clarke Hernandez became a co-founder of the National Organization for Women (N.O.W.), and she assumed the presidency of that organization in 1970.  Shortly thereafter, she testified in support of the Equal Rights Amendment at a U.S. Senate subcommittee meeting, telling its members,

“Gentlemen, women are enraged. . . . we mean to become first-class citizens in this country.  We really do not feel that these hearings are necessary.  The Congress could and should vote immediately”.

At what was surely a significant loss for the entire National Organization for Women — and a legitimate reason for decreased support of N.O.W. — Aileen Clarke Hernandez served as N.O.W. president for only a year, stepping down because she witnessed racial inequality within the organization.  She later taught at several universities that served African-American women.  A powerful speaker, she continued to advocate and to march for racial equality, women’s rights, and reproductive rights, well into what others might have expected to be her retirement years.

Betty Friedan (1921-2006) wrote the extremely influential and best-selling 1963 book The Feminine Mystique.  She became, with Pauli Murray and Aileen Clarke Hernandez, a co-founder and the first president of the National Organization for Women.  Betty Friedan also worked energetically and outspokenly for abortion rights and women’s reproductive choice, through the organization now known as N.A.R.A.L. Pro-Choice America.  In addition, in 1971, she co-founded, with feminist activist Gloria Steinem and two congresswomen, Bella Abzug and Shirley Chisholm, the National Women’s Political Caucus.  The members of N.O.W. fought for equal employment opportunities for women and a much broader view of women’s roles in U.S. society.  The organization’s stated mission was “to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all of the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.”  In the late 1960s, N.O.W. revived interest in the Equal Rights Amendment.  N.O.W. leadership and members, along with E.R.America (a coalition of over 70 organizations considered “mainstream”) campaigned heavily for E.R.A. ratification.  In 1970,  a group of N.O.W. members disrupted a U.S. Senate committee meeting, because the committee would not send the Equal Rights Amendment to the floor of Congress for a vote.  In 1972, both houses of the U.S. Congress finally passed the Equal Rights Amendment and sent it to the states for ratification.  Twenty-two states ratified the amendment in 1972; in 1973, 8 states; in 1974, 3 states; in1975, only one.  In the Bicentennial year, 1976, no states ratified the E.R.A., and in 1977, only one state ratified it.

 

STATES THAT RATIFIED THE E.R.A., 1972-1977

March 22, 1972: Hawaii

March 23, 1972: Delaware

                           New Hampshire

March 24, 1972: Idaho

                           Iowa

March 28, 1972: Kansas

March 29, 1972: Nebraska

March 30, 1972: Texas

April 4, 1972: Tennessee

April 5, 1972: Alaska

April 14, 1972: Rhode Island

April 17, 1972: New Jersey

April 21, 1972: Colorado

April 22, 1972: West Virginia

April 26, 1972: Wisconsin

May 18, 1972: New York

May 22, 1972: Michigan

May 26, 1972: Maryland

June 21, 1972: Massachusetts

June 27, 1972: Kentucky

September 26, 1972: Pennsylvania

November 13, 1972: California

January 26, 1973: Wyoming

February 5, 1973: South Dakota

February 8, 1973: Oregon

                             Minnesota

February 28, 1973: New Mexico

March 1, 1973: Vermont

March 15, 1973: Connecticut

March 22, 1973: Washington

January 18, 1974: Maine

January 25, 1974: Montana

February 7, 1974: Ohio

February 3, 1975: North Dakota

January 24, 1977: Indiana

By the mid-1970s, the Supreme Court had ruled against many kinds of discrimination against women in the various states.  In 1973, the Supreme Court affirmed, in the case of Roe v. Wade, a woman’s constitutional right to abortion, up to the point of “fetal viability.”  That ruling generated a national debate that has never been resolved, and it came at an unfortunate time in the progress toward ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.  Betty Friedan and many other outspoken feminists considered the right to abortion to be a fundamental women’s right; but those opposed to abortion increasingly conflated the Roe v. Wade ruling with the Equal Rights Amendment and with women’s rights in general.  Phyllis Schlafly and the members of her Eagle Forum, along with evangelist Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority political group, were particularly well organized and well funded.  Their vociferous and strategic opposition to both Roe v. Wade and the Equal Rights Amendment drew support from followers in many states.  The opponents of the E.R.A. now protested that the amendment would lead to dangerous changes in U.S. society, threatening marriage and the family, resulting in forfeiture of a woman’s so-called “right” (nowhere affirmed in law) to be supported by her husband, leading as well to women’s eligibility for the draft and for active service in combat, to mixed-sex bathrooms and the loss of the right to privacy, to legalized abortion on demand, and to same-sex marriage.  In the face of such opposition and the fear it generated, the momentum toward ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment slowed and then stalled.  After 1977, no additional states ratified the E.R.A. for the next 40 years.

Betty Friedan and N.O.W. were eventually criticized for supposedly representing only educated, white, heterosexual, middle-class women.  They were criticized, too, for not being sufficiently organized on a state-by-state level to succeed with the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in enough states by 1982.  Betty Friedan was openly hostile to lesbian women, many of whom had worked energetically, often at risk to their own safety, toward E.R.A. ratification.  Nor did the members and leadership of N.O.W. necessarily engage, acknowledge, honor, and draw upon the strengths of African-American women, who had long experience in the civil rights movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Despite the backing of member organizations within E.R.America, N.O.W. members of the 1970s and 1980s seemed not always to pursue the broadest possible collaboration.  Nor were they generally aware of the importance of intersectionality (the concept and theory of which had not yet been developed), a perspective better understood by many activists at present.  Whatever the case, most backers of the Equal Rights Amendment believed that in 1982, the ratification process had reached a firm deadline.  The amendment had failed to be ratified, and its backers largely turned their attentions to other matters within their communities and states. 

Among those working more locally within the states is Delores Huerta (b. 1930), a California activist for voter registration, economic improvement, safer working conditions, and health care for Latino farmers and farm workers since the 1960s.  In 1963, she successfully lobbied and then participated in negotiations for Aid for Dependent Families and for farm worker disability insurance from the State of California.  Also in the early 1960s, she co-founded, with Cesar Chavez, the National Farm Workers Union.  Despite the fact that she faced both gender and ethnic bias herself, she organized successful farm worker strikes and consumer boycotts.  Those actions led to a landmark farm workers’ union contract in 1970, and to the 1975 California Agricultural Labor Relations Act.  Since the 1970s, Delores Huerta has promoted increased political representation and participation by Latinos, including Latina women, whom she has encouraged to run for elected office.  She spent two years traveling  across the United States, speaking on behalf of the Feminist Majority organization and its campaign, Feminization of Power: 50/50 by the Year 2000.  Among the many awards conferred on Delores Huerta are The Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award presented by President Clinton in 1998, and The Presidential Medal of Freedom presented by President Obama in 2012.  She is the founder and president of the Delores Huerta Foundation, dedicated to advocacy and action for social justice, particularly for women and children and for the working poor, many of whom are immigrants.  In 2018, she is a vocal advocate for the rights of immigrant families and children at the southern border of the United States.  She remains a champion of legal equality for women and men, and of women’s rights throughout U.S. society.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (b. 1933), a successful lawyer who fought and won numerous cases bearing on equal rights and equal employment opportunities for women, was an early participant in the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project.  As an A.C.L.U. attorney, she argued six successful cases before the Supreme Court.  In the process, she undertook the patient and thorough basic education of the all-male Supreme Court justices, to help them understand the pervasive discrimination against women in U.S. law and society.  In some of the cases she argued for the A.C.L.U. at the Supreme Court, she deliberately sought benefits and protections for men as well as for women, becoming known as an advocate for absolute gender equality.  She was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993, and she remains a firm supporter of equal rights for women and men.

In 2016, Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton (b. 1947) ran for President of the United States as the first woman nominated for the presidency by one of the main U.S. political parties.  A Yale-educated lawyer, former New York State Senator, and former Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton was widely considered to be a much better prepared candidate than her opponent.  On election day, she won a majority of the popular vote but fell short of the necessary electoral votes to secure her place in history as the first woman President of the United States.  Her defeat, and the election of Republican Donald Trump as President, stunned both the candidates and the voting public.  The election and inauguration of Mr. Trump launched, on January 21, 2017 — the day after the presidential inauguration — the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and in other large and small cities worldwide.  The Women’s March in the U.S.A. was far more inclusive than most of the actions of the mid-twentieth-century women’s movement.  Still, women with conservative political views questioned whether or not they were welcome to participate on January 21, and an important contingent of transgender women at the Washington, D.C., march was only belatedly recognized for its participation.

The participants in the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere in the United States advocated variously for human rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, worker rights, national healthcare, women’s reproductive freedom, racial equality, gender equality, environmental health and environmental protection, religious freedom, voters’ rights, and possibly other issues as well.  The wide array of issues brought to public attention at the Women’s March reflected dissent over much of what Mr. Trump had said during his presidential campaign, and the fear that his administration would carry out dangerous new policies in keeping with his campaign promises.  Some observers predicted that the apparent lack of focus of the Women’s March would make it a passing phenomenon with no significant consequences.  But participants in the Women’s March vowed to continue their advocacy and action, locally and in the states as well as nationally.  They were determined to launch and support the political campaigns of many more women in the mid-term elections of 2018 and beyond.  The result has been a dramatic increase in women candidates on ballots across the country in 2018.

Over the long centuries of rule and governance under what John Adams so proudly declared to be “our masculine systems,” women have suffered harassment, coercion, a wide range of other indignities, deprivation, and serious abuse (including sexual abuse) at the hands of men — often the men closest to them and on whom they have felt most dependent.  For most of that long history, women have been expected to remain silent about what they have suffered, for fear of reprisal, mockery, further humiliation and abuse; loss of home, family, friends, and love; loss of gainful employment; loss even of shelter, sanctuary, or basic physical and spiritual nourishment, and possibly loss of life.  Women’s testimony in courts of law, when it has been allowed, has often been disbelieved or ignored entirely.  For most of our history, none of the most heinous behaviors and attitudes toward women were necessarily considered wrong, and even the most serious offenses against women were very rarely found to be criminal. Male perpetrators were seldom publicly named, even more rarely publicly shamed. They have almost never been seriously penalized or in danger of losing their livelihoods. Often, male assailants in positions of power have simply been transferred to a similar position within the same industry; very often, too, they have entered the new position with a promotion and an increase in salary and benefits. Presidential candidate Donald Trump underscored the license that many men have traditionally permitted themselves, apparently with little fear of consequences.  On the campaign trail and elsewhere in the public media, candidate Trump boasted openly of having his way with women, of harassing and even sexually assaulting women, with no serious consequence to his candidacy.  In the end, he was elected President of the United States; his supporters included both women and men.

In the United States, the Women’s March, and courageous acts by individual women, have begun to change the societal landscape.  Even the legal landscape has seemed to change dramatically since January 2017.  Powerful men, in almost all areas of work and professional life, have been publicly accused of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and even rape, and the accusations have been harder to ignore than in the past.  In October 2017, Alyssa Milano launched what has since become known as the #MeToo Movement, when she sent from her Twitter account an invitation encouraging others to use #MeToo, and let the world know if they had ever been sexually assaulted or harassed.  Estimated participation within just 24 hours was as many as 500,000 individuals tweeting the hashtag; not all were women.  Men used the hashtag, too, and continued to do so for many months.  Most notably, in the first weeks of the #MeToo Movement, women made multiple allegations of harassment, coercion, and assault by highly-successful film producer Harvey Weinstein.  It was clear by then that his alleged behavior was neither unusual nor widely condemned. Yet not even a year after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein didn’t fare nearly as well as Mr. Trump had in 2016.  In October 2017, Mr.Weinstein was forced to resign from The Weinstein Company he had co-founded with his brother. He was also deprived of his place in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  By May 29, 2018, Harvey Weinstein was under indictment by a New York grand jury on charges of rape and criminal sexual assault. Though granted freedom on bail, as of June 2018, he remains under grave criminal charges and will face trial in a court of law.

Even before the #MeToo Movement, the political atmosphere in the United States had been highly charged.  That was apparent throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and remained so under the new Trump administration.  The solidarity formed through the Women’s March was in stark contrast to alarming new legislative and policy initiatives that threatened civil rights progress, as well as social services to women and families, gained over the previous 50 years or more.  In that political context, interest in the Equal Rights Amendment was revived and was supported by legislative action in important states.

On March 22, 2017, 45 years from the very date that the U.S. Congress passed the E.R.A., Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. 

On May 30, 2018, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify. 

As of June 2018, the Equal Rights Amendment is again very much alive, lacking approval by only one additional state to complete ratification.

 

WHAT NOW?

Thirteen states have not yet ratified the Equal Rights Amendment; they are 

Alabama                      Louisiana                          Oklahoma

Arizona                       Mississippi                        South Carolina

Arkansas                     Missouri                           Utah          

Florida                         North Carolina                 Virginia

Georgia          

 

If you live and vote in one of those states, let your state legislators know you want them to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in their very next legislative session.

Become informed about the history of women in the United States, including the social, work, and legal history of women, and the opportunities and barriers women have enjoyed and struggled against in U.S. society.  Become as well informed as possible about the Equal Rights Amendment and how it can benefit both women and men of all ages and in all regions of the United States.  Learn especially how it could help men and women better care for their own needs, their children’s needs, and the needs of their communities.  — To begin, you might consult the resources used for this E.R.A. project, read them, and follow pertinent references, notes, and links they offer.

Follow updates and news of the Equal Rights Amendment at www.sheville.org and at other websites listed among the resources used for this project  —  See, too, the very recent, very strong article posted at the Sheville site: “Women Are Not Protected in the U.S. Constitution — Here are the Ramifications,” in the July 20, 2018, issue of Sheville, http://sheville.org/1ramifications-of-women-not-being-included-in-the-u-s-constitution/

Speak with anyone you know, and as many as possible of those you don’t know, about why the Equal Rights Amendment matters to you; and find out if it seems to matter to them, too.  If so, figure out how you might work with them and others to promote E.R.A. ratification in your state.  If the E.R.A. doesn’t matter to them, is it because they are unfamiliar with the proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution, or do they know what it is but feel indifferent to its ratification?  If they are interested in more information, suggest resources that might be helpful to them.  — Do you know people who may feel hostile to E.R.A. ratification?  Ask questions and listen, to understand a point of view different from your own, and to learn others’ concerns about the Equal Rights Amendment.  In conversation, try to find ways to address those concerns together, and possibly to allay them. 

Encourage the people you know to vote for local, state, and national legislators and members of government who will support women’s rights in general, and who will support ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in your own state, if your state legislature has not yet ratified the amendment.  Research the positions of all candidates on the range of issues that most matter to you, and vote in the 2018 mid-term elections, both the primaries and the general elections in your locality and in your state.  Consider helping others register to vote, and if you are able, offer transportation to the polls on election day.  Continue to prepare seriously for your own informed voting in every election from now on.

Write regularly to all of your own local, state, and national legislators about matters that you care about, and inform your representatives of your views as a voter.  If you live in one of the unratified states, give your representatives good reasons to support and vote for ratification.

Work with others who support the Equal Rights Amendment on group initiatives and various forms of action that you believe will be effective in encouraging E.R.A. ratification in the remaining states.

Be aware that there may be some legal challenges, even when at least 3/4 (38) states have finally ratified the E.R.A.  One matter is the supposed 1982 deadline for ratification.  It was not in the body of the amendment passed by Congress in 1972, and not even attached to the text of the amendment at the time that the first many states ratified the amendment.  Nor is there any mention of ratification deadlines in Article V of the U.S. Constitution, which provides for amending the Constitution.

A second concern is that the legislators of five states where the E.R.A. had been ratified before 1982, voted to rescind those states’ ratification when the 1982 deadline eventually arrived.  In those states, it was argued that the initial ratification had been contingent on a total of 38 states’ ratification by 1982.  Again, though, there is no mention in Article V of the U.S. Constitution providing for the recision of previous ratification of an amendment.

Assuming the E.R.A. is ratified by at least 38 states and ultimately becomes a part of the U.S. Constitution, it will be necessary for citizens to insist on legislation that upholds the rights of women and all citizens of the United States, in order to implement the principle of equality under the law that is supposedly guaranteed by the E.R.A.  Such legislative efforts, and legal challenges to discrimination of all kinds, will undoubtedly be necessary indefinitely; they are the ongoing responsibilities of citizens who believe in implementing justice for all.

If on occasion you grow weary of exercising the responsibilities of citizenship, recall and be heartened by the basic approach of Delores Huerta as outlined on the website of the Delores Huerta Foundation:

[Delores Huerta] often speaks to students and organizations about issues of social justice and public policy. . . .  [She] teaches these individuals that they have personal power that needs to be coupled with responsibility and cooperation to create the changes needed to improve their lives.  [This approach] is rarely practiced today because it is tedious and time consuming.  However, the results are long lasting, and while people are in the process of building organization, they are learning lessons they will never forget and the transformative roots are planted.  The fruit is the leadership that is developed and the permanent changes in the community.  In other words, this is how grass roots democracy works.

In 2018, Delores Huerta is 88 years old and continues to work for social justice and equal rights, most recently with immigrants at the United States-Mexico border.

 

RESOURCES CONSULTED FOR THIS PROJECT

Maier, Pauline (introduction and notes, followed by the complete texts), The Declaration of Independence & The Constitution of the United States, New York, New York: Bantam Dell, 1998.

Shelley, Mary, Frankenstein: The 1818 Text (introduction by Charlotte Gordon, “How to Read Frankenstein” and chronology by Charles E. Robinson), New York, New York: Penguin Books, 2018.

 

for historical (including contemporary) and biographical information:

Alice Paul Institute website, www.alicepaul.org
The Atlantic Magazine website, www.theatlantic.com, issue of May 30, 2018
Britannica website, www.britannica.com
Delores Huerta Foundation website, www.deloreshuerta.org
Hillary Rodham Clinton, official website, hillaryclinton.com
National Park Service website, www.nps.govhttp://www.nps.gov
National Organization for Women website, www.now.org
National Women's History Museum website, www.womenshistory.org
The New York Times, daily and Sunday editions (in hard copy), 2017 and 2018

additional websites:

www.equalrightsamendment.org — Information about which states had (and had not) ratified the Equal Rights Amendment through 2012 came from this website.  That information was researched by David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States.

www.era-nc.org, Equal Rights Amendment, North Carolina Alliance

www.sheville.org, online publication that originates in Asheville, North Carolina

www.womenadvancenc.org, Women AdvaNCe, issues that matter to North Carolina women

films:

Equal Means Equal, billed as “the definitive documentary film on the status of women in America” right now (2016), written, directed, and produced by Kamala Lopez, Heroica Films, available for purchase on DVD at http://equalmeansequal.com

Synopsis from the Equal Means Equal website:  “Equal Means Equal offers an unflinching look at how women are treated in the United States today.  Examining both real-life stories and precedent-setting legal cases, director Kamala Lopez uncovers how outdated and discriminatory attitudes inform and influence seemingly disparate issues, from workplace harassment to domestic violence, rape and sexual assault to the foster care system, and the healthcare conglomerate to the judicial system.  Along the way, she reveals the inadequacy of present laws that claim to protect women, ultimately presenting a compelling and persuasive argument for the urgency of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.”

RBG, an excellent 2018 documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life and career, extremely informative and surprisingly entertaining — by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, co-produced by Storyville Films and CNN Films 

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SheVille Team

We are a one-of-a-kind magazine that provides local, regional, national and international information about women’s lives and education, performing and visual arts and writing, the environment, green living and sustainability and regional Western North Carolina business, people and events. “Villages preserve culture: dress, food and dance are a few examples. As villages grow in population and turn into towns, local cafes make way for large American chains. Handmade leather sandals are discarded for a pair of Western sneakers. Due to its small size, a village fosters a tight-knit sense of community. Justpeace.org explains the meaning of the African proverb, “It takes a village,” by stating that a sense of community is critical to maintaining a healthy society. Village members hold a wealth of information regarding their heritage: they know about the ancient traditions, methods of production and the resources of the land. When villages become dispersed or exterminated in times of war, this anthropological knowledge disappears. Large cities are not as conducive to growing and producing foods such as fruits and vegetables. Villages, on the other hand, usually have ample amounts of land and other resources necessary for growing conditions.” The Importance of Villages by Catherine Capozzi Our Mission SheVille.org provides readers with information important to women’s lives and well-being. We focus primarily on the areas of education & health, business & finance, the arts & the environment. We are particularly interested in local & regional resources, organizations & events.
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