Equal Rights?

ERA“I’m a feminist. I’ve been a female for a long time now. It’d be stupid not to be on my own side.” – Maya Angelou

My daughters are feminists who probably never thought about it. My daughters were raised by a mother who worked obscene hours while trying to build a career. It was their step-father who cleaned, cooked, did the laundry and all the other things that entailed care of the home.  Not only was I grateful to the man for doing all the homecare, I was also grateful my daughters were raised seeing a man do all the stereotypical “women’s work.”

I did my best, despite my absenteeism, to raise them without limits on their expectations for themselves. I always told them that they could do or be anything if they were willing to work hard enough. I don’t think it ever occurred to any of them to limit their dreams because of their sex.

For all the things I think I did right, there were a lot of things I couldn’t prepare them for. Unfortunately, even with one of them being a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, they can still be physically overcome by a man who has more strength and muscle. They can still be discriminated against and receive less pay for equal work.

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution designed to guarantee equal rights for women…In 1923, it was introduced in the Congress for the first time. In 1972, it passed both houses of Congress and went to the state legislatures for ratification.

The resolution in Congress that proposed the amendment set a ratification deadline of March 22, 1979. Through 1977, the amendment received 35 of the necessary 38 state ratifications. Five states later rescinded their ratifications before the 1979 deadline… In 1978, a joint resolution of Congress extended the ratification deadline to June 30, 1982, but no further states ratified the amendment before the passing of the second deadline.

When my oldest was a baby, the Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, was being hotly contested in our country. It was never ratified and that has always confused me. To have equal pay for equal work defined by law seems like such a basic right.

Opponents of the ERA focused on traditional gender roles, such as men do the fighting in wartime. They pointed out that the amendment would eliminate the men-only draft requirement and guarantee the possibility that women would be subject to conscription and be required to have military combat roles in future wars if it were passed.

Even when my daughter was a babe in arms, it didn’t make sense to me that I would never have to worry about her being drafted into war, but the male baby in the arms of the mother standing next to me would always have that possibility. Actually, war doesn’t make sense to me at all, but if we’re going to fight them, why is it okay for young men to go to war but not okay for young women to?

Another reason given to oppose the ERA was fear of same sex marriage: Opposition to the amendment was particularly high among religious conservatives, who argued that the amendment would guarantee universal abortion rights and the right for homosexual couples to marry.

As of mid-November of 2014, the fear over the right for same-sex couples to marry is being overcome with new rulings almost daily. According to FreedomtoMarry.org:

In 33 states…plus Washington, D.C. and St. Louis, Missouri – same-sex couples have the freedom to marry. In an additional two states… federal appellate rulings have set a binding precedent in favor of the freedom to marry, meaning the path is cleared for the freedom to marry there. In an additional 9 states, judges have issued rulings in favor of the freedom to marry, with many of these rulings now stayed as they proceed to appellate courts

Despite all the fears in the era of the ERA, legalizing same-sex marriage has not yet caused the decline and fall of modern American society. Yet, with all of the important forward momentum on the same-sex marriage front, equal pay for equal work is still an issue.

I am amazed that as of this writing, January 2015, we still have no law that specifies equal rights for women. Does society think that has been achieved without the ERA? The gender pay gap is still an issue and unequal pay is still occurring.

AAUW’s research report The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap found that women are paid about 90 percent of what men are paid until age 35, when women’s median earnings typically drop to 75–80% of men’s. So, not only does the pay gap make us feel like we’ve traveled back in time, but it’s also only going to get worse over time — and women cannot ever truly recover. Salaries dictate how much women will have for retirement and function as the starting point for all future raises.- The Awful Truth About the Gender Pay Gap by Lisa M. Maatz, Forbes.com

In writing about this, I became so frustrated and angry I actually had to step away from the laptop and take some deep breaths before I could resume writing. I know I have routinely been paid 5-10K less each year than men doing equal work at the same company. I didn’t realize how universal that inequity still is. Or that Congress is still defeating acts that would mandate equal pay.

On April 9, 2014, in another straight party-line vote, the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 2199; 113th Congress) was again blocked by a Republican filibuster in the U.S. Senate…The Paycheck Fairness Act attempts to close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act, protect female employees, praise employers who lessen gender discrimination, and make it easier to seek redress and enforce the Equal Pay Act. 

I had hoped while raising three daughters that the days of not receiving the same salary as a man would seem like, at worst, ancient history for them. The fact that it is still an issue is appalling to me. Our world has a lot of strife right now with the racial issues and discussions that are in the news daily. That issue needs to be addressed, but it cannot keep gender inequality from being discussed also.

I raised three very feisty, outspoken daughters. I am proud of them and all that they have accomplished despite the sexism that still exists in the world. However, I have a granddaughter who is not quite three who already makes them seem tame and unassuming in comparison. For the sake of us all, I hope we achieve gender equality before Lily reaches adulthood. If not, I will not be responsible for what she may do about it.

Note: This post was originally written in early January of 2015. I am posting it two days after the Gender Pay Gap was addressed by President Barack Obama in his 2015 State of the Union address. Much to my utter amazement, and despite all the numbers and facts that document that a gap exists, there were still those who denied the pay gap exists when they rebutted the Presidents statement. I have no words left.

All ERA quotes courtesy of Wikipedia

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