Equal Doesn’t Mean Equal Yet: Women’s Equality Day, ERA & The Story of My Life

My friend Carol Jenkins, a board member of the Equal Rights Amendment Coalition was updating me over lunch about the current attempt to get the ERA into the U.S. Constitution.

“This is where I came in,” I said.

ERA-march-300x222The renewed effort, founded in 2014, comes almost a century after suffragist leader Alice Paul drafted the ERA in 1923.  The language is simple : “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.”

Paul, a founder of the National Woman’s Party, was one of the few suffragist leaders who recognized that getting the right to vote in 1920–the reason we celebrate women’s equality day each August 26 – – was not the end of the fight, but merely one necessary, albeit major, victory on the path to full legal and social equality.

Many suffrage leaders declared victory after the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution. They went on to other causes, but Paul realized that in a democracy, no political victory is secure without a vibrant movement to keep fighting forward. “It is incredible to me,” she said, “that any woman should consider the fight for full equality won. It has just begun. There is hardly a field, economic or political, in which the natural and accustomed policy is not to ignore women.”

Continue reading “Equal Doesn’t Mean Equal Yet: Women’s Equality Day, ERA & The Story of My Life”

Afghanistan to Alaska–Who Respects Women Less?

The Twitterati loudly retweeted their rightful shock this past week as women around the internet e-mailed one another to organize protests against Afghan president Karzai’s signing a law a that allows fundamentalist Muslims to enforce Sharia, including requirements that women must submit to sex with their husbands at least every four days, thus effectively legalizing marital rape.

Meanwhile, 300 courageous Afghan women exercised their right to protest this barbaric law by staging a public march to their capital. They were met with over 1,000 counter-protesters, some of whom threw stones, spat, and called them whores, which tells you exactly where their stupidly misogynist heads are.

For those who want a way to voice their opposition immediately, here’s an action you can take to persuade President Obama to act on his statement that this law is intolerable. And here’s how to deliver the same message via text to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But lest we in the U.S. become too self-righteous, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s nomination of far-right attorney and her longtime Hummer (what else?)-driving political ally Wayne Anthony Ross for attorney general is clear evidence that the same misogynistic strains are yet to be rooted out here. Fortunately:

Palin’s hopes for a swift confirmation process were dashed April 10 when Leah Burton, a veteran lobbyist on children’s issues and domestic violence, submitted a letter to the Alaska State Judiciary Committee claiming that Ross publicly defended spousal rape. According to Burton, who detailed the allegations for me, Ross allegedly declared during a speech before a 1991 gathering of the “father’s rights” group Dads Against Discrimination, “If a guy can’t rape his wife, who’s he gonna rape?” (In a subsequent letter, Ross denied the remark and claimed, “I don’t talk like that!”)

Burton said Ross’s statement was consistent with his overarching attitude toward women’s issues. She claimed that he once said during a debate on the Equal Rights Amendment, “If a woman would keep her mouth shut, there wouldn’t be an issue with domestic violence.” Burton also maintained she has been in touch with “a number” of domestic-violence victims who witnessed Ross make “horrible” statements, but are too intimidated to speak out.

Alex Koppelman notes in Salon that “26 Democrats joined nine Republicans in voting against Ross on Thursday, while 23 lawmakers (it was a joint session of the state House and Senate) voted to confirm him. It was the first time in Alaska history that the legislature has rejected a governor’s appointment for an agency head, according to the New York Times.”

Still, I must wonder what those who defended Palin here at Heartfeldt last fall are thinking about this. What do you think? Was she oblivious, obtuse, indifferent, or in agreement?

Courageous Leadership and the Equal Rights Amendment

Today, March 22, is the anniversary of the U.S. Senate’s passage in 1972 of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a constitutional amendment that would–IF it had been ratified by 3/4 of the states by its ten-year deadline in 1982– have ensured equal rights could not be denied on the basis of gender.

Let me tell you a story about leadership, persistence, and courage.

The original ERA, first introduced in Congress in 1923, was written by Alice Paul, a women’s rights activist Alice Paul toasting the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution giving women the right to votewho was instrumental in the 1920 ratification of the 19th amendment, which guaranteed women’s right to vote. Paul also started the National Women’s Party, believing that otherwise women’s concerns would never be taken seriously by politicians.

The ERA has been re-introduced in nearly every session of Congress since then. Bet you didn’t know that, did you? We don’t hear too much about it, bu it’s still very much alive and with the election of Barack Obama there’s a resurging movement to restart the ratification process and get the three additional states needed to give women equal rights in the Constitution that didn’t even consider them citizens when it was written.

The ERA language is simple:

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.

Doesn’t sound very radical now, does it? And that’s precisely my point. Though Paul’s dream of an ERA didn’t pass in her lifetime–she died in 1977–and might not pass in mine, her courageous leadership to initiate this drive for full legal equality for women did foment many advances in employment, sports (Title IX), educational opportunities, political office, and so much more. Could Paul have envisioned Hilary Clinton’s race for president? Or that we have now had three female secretaries of state in a row?

In fact, many people these days will tell you that women’s equal rights are so much a part of the culture that passage of the ERA is moot. My bet is that the ERA will pass within the next decade not because it is still so needed, but because its principles have become so generally accepted by the American public.

The Courageous Leadership lesson is that no effort is without worth and result. As the song says, “You don’t always get what you want, but if you try real hard, you get what you need.”

Alice Paul’s life illustrates brilliantly that one person taking action can make an enormous difference. Her leadership legacy lives on, vibrant and bearing witness to the significance of her life. It should inspire others who struggle for social justice to risk taking the leadership for what they believe.

Alice Paul’s home in Washington D.C. has been the headquarters of the National Women’s Party for decades and also the Sewell-Belmont House and Museum, the only museum in the nation’s capitol that focuses on women’s struggle for full equality

“I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction. Most reforms, most problems are complicated. But to me there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.” Alice Paul

Women, Ambition, and Barrier Breaking

In my previous post suggesting an “Obama for Women” agenda, I suggested Barack Obama incorporate an initiative to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, which was first introduced in 1923 and still hasn’t been ratified into the Constitution. John has posted a couple of times to say that he sees giving equality to women under the law as imposing one morality on all. Further, he’s pointed out that women are 51% of the population, so we should act like the majority we are and know our own power.

Though his first point is ludicrous, the second raises some questions worth considering. I began to ask some of them in an article I wrote for Elle magazine’s upcoming September edition (time out for self-promotion: check newsstands the first week in August). In my research, I found that political doors are now open for women, but women aren’t walking through them, let alone racing through them toward parity in elected office as I’d like to see. So when my friend and WomenGirlsLadies panel colleague Deborah Siegel asked me to guest post on her Girl With Pen blog while she’s off getting married, I decided to ask some tough questions which I will cross post here on Heartfeldt. To wit, and I look forward to your thoughts as to the why and what’s to be done about it:

I am perplexed. I hope you can help me figure this out.

During the last 50 years, thanks to feminism and other civil rights movements, reliable birth control, and an economy that now requires more brain than brawn, women have broken many barriers that historically prevented them from partaking as equals at life’s table. But though we’ve smashed many corporate glass ceilings and marble barriers to political leadership, and now make up the

majority of college students and graduates

, women remain far from parity in any sphere of political or economic endeavor. For example,

women hold just 16% of seats in Congress and 25% of state legislative offices


3% of clout positions

in mainstream media corporations and

15% of corporate board positions

.  And despite gender equity laws and the separation of biology from reproductive destiny,

women still earn approximately 3/4ths of what men

do while shouldering the lion’s share of responsibility for childrearing. These factors are interrelated, though they have usually been thought of as discrete problems, and that is one reason they still exist.

Still, it seems to me—and I am a second wave feminist who has seen many barriers fall, but I’m well aware of the many structural challenges women still face—that by far the most intractable problem facing women today is not that doors aren’t open, at least wide enough to give us the sense of possibilities, but that women aren’t walking through the open doors with intention sufficient to transform the workplace, politics, or relationships.

I am trying to figure out why we don’t seem to use all the power we have to change the system so that it works better for us. I’d like to know what you think. Here are just a few of the theories that have been advance

Women have less ambition than men.

Women have less motivation than men.

Women are more adverse to competition than men.

Women see these problems as individual ones rather than problems that women have in common, and therefore don’t join together as a political force to solve them.

Women do not negotiate compensation as aggressively as men.

Women are more turned off by the rough and tumble attacks of political campaigns than men are.

Do you think I’m simply all wet in my statement that women aren’t walking through the doors with intention sufficient to transform the workplace, politics, or relationships?

I know that many GWP readers (and readers of Heartfeldt) are experts in various aspects of these questions, and even more important, have a stake in bringing about greater equity and equality for women. What are your thoughts? What do you think is to be done about it? I am eager to hear from you in your comments below.


In the first post on “Message to Obama: Change Your View to Obama for Women“, I made clear that I’ll vote for Obama, but the fervor with which I and many other women work for his election will be determined by his actions going forward. As one former Clinton activist said, “women aren’t marginal; we’re the key”.  John Kerry took women’s votes for granted, and won only 51% of women’s votes in 2004. That’s several points too low to create a gender gap capable of propelling any Democratic presidential candidate to victory.

Since I wrote that post, Obama’s tidy double digit lead over John McCain evaporated to a measly 3%, a statistical dead heat. This shift was brought about in no small part by Obama’s clumsy attempts to tack to the presumed center on core issues like wiretapping and abortion ostensibly to broaden his base, but instead turning off the passionately progressive grassroots groundswell that brought him to where he is. And remember–Republicans vote for their candidate come hell or high water while Democrats argue the issues, and that’s how we all too often lose elections.

And if this weren’t enough to give Obama heartburn, into the already toxic stew came the horrendously racist New Yorker cover masquerading as satire, in exactly the same way as so many horrendously sexist caricatures of Hillary Clinton have done. This should be Obama’s 3 am phone call: those so-called satires saturated the popular culture and contributed to her difficulties with many constituencies. Jill Zimon’s comparison of the two is a worthwhile read; meanwhile, these two magazine covers side by side speak volumes.

It ought to be obvious to Obama that he needs to confront the injustice by solidifying his base of support in common cause with women who have been so wronged.

If it was important a week ago that Obama change his campaign initiative’s vantage point from “Women for Obama” to “Obama for Women”, it’s now urgent. So let me be more speciic about what Obama must do to get women like me to get to work enthusiatically for his election.

What would “Obama for Women” look like? Let me speak directly to Senator Obama.

First here are a few things you would NOT do if you were Obama for Women:
1. Don’t say, “You’re welcome to join us”.  Say, “We need you,” because you do. Women are the majority of voters, especially Democratic and progressive voters. Over half of Clinton supporters have already said they’ll vote for you, but you’ll need them all, and you must remember that they trusted her—and expect you–to respect women as central to the political process.

2. Don’t lecture us about why we’d rather have Obama than McCain. Convince us that supporting you won’t mean half a loaf—asap: McCain already has former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina on the hustings doing this for him.

3. So don’t tell us what you feel. Show us what you’ll do, or better yet are doing. We know you stand for hope and you love your wife and daughters. How will Obama for Women put legs onto those fine words in policies?

Now here are three things Obama for Women would do immediately:
1. Name enough women to your closest inner circle to reach gender parity. According to Rolling Stone’s look at your 18 top advisors, only three are women. Commit to gender parity in your administration too.  You need diverse perspectives anyway to prevent the groupthink that has deep-sixed surer winners than yourself, largely by advising the kind of pandering to the imaginary center that got you in trouble last week.

2. Make the sexism speech. This might be the most important piece of advice of all. Make it with the same passion and personal engagement as your courageous racism speech. Call out the blatant sexism that looks so much like the racism you know so well; the two are always joined at the head. Affirm women’s equality, justice, and human rights. Deliver it August 26—serendipitously, that’s Women’s Equality Day, the anniversary of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote–at the Democratic National Convention in Colorado where there’s a ballot initiative to make the fetus a more important “person” than a woman. By making the sexism speech here, you’ll break the impasse of another debate that has divided America, rather than succumbing to the same old polarized abortion debates.

3. Publicly advance an agenda that’s bold and meaningful, not incremental.  The Equal Rights Amendment (finally), and the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which codifies the civil right to make childbearing choices, are a good start. You’re already cosponsoring  FOCA, so cease your gratuitous pandering about mental health exceptions and affirm that women’s rights, including reproductive rights, are human rights, period.  You’ll be cheered wildly. Talk about the Prevention First Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and universal health care that looks like Hillary’s; honoring her will bring honor (and Clinton supporters) to you.  Your website’s page on women mentions some of these and other initiatives. Obama for Women would articulate them in mixed company.

The primaries showed women aren’t a monolith or a single-issue bloc. But we do have interests, serious interests to which attention must be paid by any candidate who wants to earn both the votes and enthusiastic hard work of women who brought Hillary Clinton within a hairsbreadth of the Democratic nomination. That’s why, Senator Obama, you must quickly as possible demonstrate you won’t just have the obligatory “Women for” group that every campaign has, but rather you will be Obama for Women.

Now that would be change we could believe in.