Sunday, March 21, 2010

The ERA and Those Who Opposed It

ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) vs Phyllis Schafley

Here is a lady you, my young daughters and granddaughters, nieces and grandnieces, friends and adversaries, may never have heard of but should come to know. Because her influence was so powerful within the Conservative and Republican circles and because her writings are still widely available in those groups her opinions bear looking at. In many ways she was the Sarah Palin of the 1960s and '70s.

The Equal Rights Amendment that actually made it the law of the land that women were not second class citizens was always strongly opposed by Republican/Conservative groups.

Phyllis Schafley was one of a handful of well-funded women traveling the country to speak out against the ERA. She organized a group that she called The Positive Woman. I remember some of the goals of The Positive Woman. Some of them were pretty laughable even then.

Ms. Schafley’s words on the subject are as follows:

(T)he Positive Woman finds somebody on whom she can lavish her maternal love so that it doesn't well up inside her and cause psychological frustrations. Surely no woman is so isolated by geography or insulated by spirit that she cannot find someone worthy of her maternal love. …women profit most of all (from enacting this philosophy) because it is part of their very nature....

To maintain this little fallacy and the policies that held them in place the conservative argument was that women were already covered by the Constitution. Not hardly.

In 1776, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John, "In the new code of laws, remember the ladies and do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands."1 John Adams replied, "I cannot but laugh. Depend upon it, we know better than to repeal our masculine systems."2 And he was serious!

The new Constitution’s promised rights were fully enjoyed only by certain white males. Women were treated according to social tradition and English common law and were denied most legal rights. In general they could not vote, own property, keep their own wages, or even have custody of their children

In my lifetime, with few exceptions, women could not rent an apartment, buy a home, a car or open a bank or credit card account without a male co-signer. Stop and think about that for a minute. No matter who the money was earned by, a male had to sign. If you were single either your father, brother, boss or even your 21-year-old son, had to co-sign. No matter how accomplished, educated, hard-working or responsible you were, the eyes of any interviewer slid right over your shoulder to see if there was a male standing behind you.

You who have managerial jobs, work in the financial industry, a health clinic, the educational administrative system and virtually all of the professions, owe your opportunity to the battle fought and won by others before you. In almost all instances in a bank or business or health clinic or school two people, a man and a woman, working side by side were paid a 2-1 differential. That is, the male invariably earned twice as much as his female co-worker for the exact same work. Remember please, it hasn’t really been that long ago.

It took not only Title VIIII of the Civil Rights Act under President Lyndon Johnson but additional effort by the National Organization of Women to get Johnson to complete an Executive order to make sure Title VIIII applied to women and girls. Title VIIII disallows any discrimination of benefits, funded by Federal dollars, to anyone for reasons of race, ethnic background, etc. but did not originally include “gender”. Women fought very hard to get Johnson to put into law the inclusion of women in this protection.

As a student, if you liked any sport other than cheer leading, you needed to do it on your own time and dime. Virtually all school sports budgets, Kindergarden through Graduate School, went toward maintaining popular male sports programs. The programs available for girls interested in hockey, soccer, tennis, running, softball, basketball, skiing were insignificant to non-existent and embarrassingly under-funded. But of course nobody was embarrassed. Title VIIII and the subsequent Executive order changed all that.

As is now the case against health care reform the Conservative talking points against the ERA were greatly slanted by disingenuous statements. They whipped up the religious right by 1: Painting all "Womens Libbers" as degenerate homosexuals and 2: arguing that women who wanted equal rights would also force co-ed bathrooms, public nudity, legal rights comparable to men, same-sex marriage and abortion on demand upon the "real Americans". Do these tactics sound familiar?

Their "fear and destroy" campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment was similar to what we hear today in opposition to any progressive effort to make changes that improve the lives of people other than themselves.

Those who fought for the Equal Rights Amendment and got it passed into law should be remembered.

However, the Phyllis Schafleys of the world should be remembered too, so that we can recognize them when we see and hear them.

As beneficiaries of the ERA you need to see what it was, and is, all about. Check out the site: You may have to cut and paste but it will be worth it.

1 comment:

  1. I stand on the shoulders of the women who fought the good fight, and I am grateful. Unfortunately sexism is still alive and well, so the battle isn't over.