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The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) arose from the women's suffrage struggle, and for many, it represented the next natural step in achieving women's rights. The fight for these rights, particularly the right to vote, began in the 1840s, but it didn't take effect until 1920, when the 19th amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote was ratified. As a result, women have gained some political power. This was insufficient because their rights in other areas of their lives, including as healthcare and employment, remained restricted. There was a need to address many violations of the rights of women. The proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has become a cultural and political inkblot through which people would project their deepest fears regarding the rights and the changing status of women. The ERA was first brought in Congress in 1923, and since then, the Amendment has been an object of scorn and enthusiastic support at the same time. This battle for the ERA was more than a disagreement regarding what women wanted. Underneath, it was an embodiment of differences over the meaning of equality. This study examines the Equal Rights Amendment as a policy strategy for the achievement of women’s rights. It discusses how this policy was formed, the reasons for its formation, and the resulting decisions. It also analyzes the effectiveness of this ERA policy in the light of various political and social perceptions.
Social Revolution and Equal Rights Amendment.
Alice Paul, one of the key proponents of the (NWP) National Woman's Party (an agency which acted as the Suffrage Movement’s militant wing), used this wing together with her supporters to vehemently fight for the rights of women. Now, after fighting for Suffrage, one thing remained, and according to these advocates, was to lobby for the removal of all legal discrimination against women. The only effective way against legal discrimination women could be abolished was through another federal amendment. It should be noted that before the 19th Amendment, women were not granted the right to vote (Craig v. Boren, and Michael M. v 429 U.S. 190). It was this 19th amendment which affirmed the right of women to vote, ratified in 1920. This amendment gave the suffragist leader Alice Paul an added impetus through which she introduced the ERA in 1923. According to the advocates, ERA, originally referred to as the Lucretia Mott Amendment, there would be the next big thing in creating "equal justice under law" for all citizens.
The proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) affirms that the rights guaranteed by the Constitution must apply equally to all citizens regardless of their sex. It targeted the plethora of state laws which impeded women's jury service, women’s rights to control their own property, sue, to contract and to keep their own domicile and name if married; as well as the laws which granted them inferior guardianship rights over kids; and generally pilloried them as lesser citizens.
The Amendment, as stated by Freeman (1988), gathered lots of attention not because it was an unsuccessful attempt, to amend the Constitution, rather, it was an embodiment of the revolution between the sexes which has prevailed in public spectrum for more than 20 years.
What Necessitated the Emergence of ERA (The Background Problem).
It is well established that women, as a matter of social class, are more susceptible to work exploitation from unscrupulous employers than their men counterparts. This is the reason the society has stigmatized them as weak and essentially, they are not the primary breadwinners of the family. For this reason, women tend to work under very low wages as compared to men just to supplement the family income. The fact that they are low wages earners has predisposed them to lots of discrimination since the little they earn cannot potentially make them form strong unions to lobby for their rights. No wonder this kind of treatment and perception had characterized the whole American society for long.
Prior to the Equal Rights Movement, women were denied equal rights to employment opportunities, and earned a very low status socially, economically, and politically. For instance, it was not until November 8, 1967, when the law was passed that would see women constituting more than two percent of the total military workforce in the armed forces (Roberta W. Francis, 2016). This statutory bar, however, has not been effective since women are not yet an integral component of the armed services, constituting only 1.9% of the total workforce.
This low level of participation is undoubtedly reflected in most of the economic and employment sectors of the country, thus, indicating a persistent belief that male are breadwinners of the family and that most of the occupation are essentially male activity. Accruing from such circumstances, the American society had been split under sex distinctions, and women have been the most vulnerable to the sexual inequalities that persist.
There was, therefore, the need for an appropriate legislation that would curb exploitation of women workers. The failure of an appropriate legislation implied that most women workers would be subjected to industrial discrimination, and they would, as a result, not be able to fulfill the functions of womanhood. Women did before the proposal of these significant laws and will do so again if these laws are stricken down.
As a result of the perceived consequences of women discrimination, different groups, (social workers, politicians, and court) were heavily involved in drafting the amendment that would guarantee the rights of women. The prevailing social differences were based on sex, and the women activists (engineered by Alice Paul), rose up to fight against this discrimination through various lobbies. The only way women rights would be guaranteed was through the legislation. Bearing to such pressure, they formed the Equal Rights Amendment Act, an agency they suggested would be an impetus in driving equal rights of women across the platform of American society.
The activists believed that, through the support from various policy makers, the amendment would become law and impede the gross violation of women’s rights. The aim was to graft the policy into the constitution to become law. However, it was not easy to begin struggle, the ERA was fought in a matter of phases. It is true that the feminists had designed a platform that would stop disparaging treatment of women, but this was not the end. It was a means to the end. The following excerpts downplay how the ERA developed, the resistance it made, and possible strategies framed by activists.
Moving Towards Implementation of ERA Policy.
As stated above, the ERA had not achieved its targeted objectives until ratified and implemented in the constitution. This depended upon different parties, for example, the political influence, the social influence, and the support of the judicial system. Let’s examine the different phases taken.
ERA had an original support from most of the women's organizations, conversely, most of the labor movement together with women within such movement opposed it (Steffens, 1970). Some of the women’s movements which sought for progress and implementation of ERA included The Professional Women's Clubs, The National Organization for Women, The National Women's Party, and The National Federation of Business. They sought to implement ERA into the constitution so as to establish a constitutional standard of a straight-out equality of both sexes.
World War II and Impact on ERA
The emergence of WWII was an impetus in the policy implementation of ERA. There was a renewed interest in both the amendment and the working women. Many of the organizations during this time shifted their negative perspective of ERA and many favored the working of this amendment, particularly after the influence of the (BPW) Federation of Business and Professional Women in 1937. Some of the organizations that opposed ERA stopped being active. During this time, both political parties recommended the ERA in 1944, and for the first time, ERA was voted for by the Senate in 1946 (Kerber, Sheilah Mann, and John Morgan,).
Social Groups that Opposed the Amendment.
Other organizations like the AFL-CIO together with all of the major trade unions, women in labor movements, as well as many left wing groups which traditionally fought for women's rights stood up against this amendment (Steffens, 1970). According to these advocates, ERA would strip out all of the gains the labor movement had tirelessly fought for and won, restricting the conditions and hours of work for women. They framed their arguments in a twofold perspective: Firstly, prevailing protective laws should not be abolished before being expanded to incorporate both sexes; and secondly, the multiple roles that women perform in the society call for the need of their problems to be approached through setting up special provisions particularly for them (The Equal Rights Amendment, 1945).
For instance, Philip Murray, the president of the C.I.O., in his attempts to expose the fraudulent claims the Equal Rights Amendment implicates, claimed that the proposal in real sense concealed the mechanism of robbing women in various states their rights and protection which had been long won for them.
This amendment, as put by President Murray (The Equal Rights Amendment, 1945), would not guarantee equality of treatment for women, except that it abandoned the great body of legislation which safeguards women workers from exploitation. Legislation limiting the hours’ women are required to work, regulating their health and other work conditions, guaranteeing their minimum wage rates in the traditionally low-paid industries, would no longer be effective, should this ERA become part of the Constitution. Additionally, laws and other beneficial provisions like aid for dependent children, widows' pensions, maternity aid, inclusive of other social security protective provisions which apply unequally" to women would as well be nullified (Steinem, 1969 ).
Political Influence on the Amendment
Politics was central in the implementation process of ERA, especially after the 1972 incident when the congress passed the ERA and sent it to the states for approval (Network, 2012). The role that politics played is reflected in the following political groups.
The Role of Democrats
Behind this battle there is a fundamental difference over the meaning of equality. The democrats fought for an absolute equality of opportunity for sexes. Women would never attain economic independence as long as the laws treated them just like children who needed protection. The democrats accepted fundamental differences in family roles and in physiology as incontrovertible. As stated by the NWP, the female labor force was mostly young and unmarried. For instance, transitional Labor unions refused to organize women since they didn’t earn sufficiently to pay the dues, and they were not permanent employees. It is for such reasons that collective bargaining failed to grant an equal protection for women employees which it potentially did for men. Hence, it is only through the ERA legislation that women could be saved from high exploitation by the industrial capitalism. It’s from such platform that democratic enthusiasts like Martha Griffiths launched enormous pro-ERA campaigns (Freeman, 1988).
The Role of Republicans
Most of the Republicans voted against the implementation of this law as indicated by the Equal Rights Amendment (1945). Even as the pressure had abated and most states rushed to ratify, a new opposition was developing. Contrary to 1920s when the opposition was led by women, this time round, the opposition was orchestrated from the right. For instance, Phyllis Schlafly, an active advocate in the right wing of the Republican Party with a large number of followers mobilized the STOP ERA campaign in January 1973. However, most of the urban and northern states which already had strong feminist movements immediately ratified the ERA. However, after 1975, three states fell short of the thirty-eight required, the ERA floundered (MacKay, 2017).
Democratic Quest and Implication of ERA Today:
Even after this deadline, women’s rights activists have continued to advocate for the E.R.A. by making several attempts to introduce it to every session of Congress beginning from 1983. Starting from 1994, proponents of ERA have been pursuing particularly two different routes for ratification:
Traditional approach delineated in the Article V of the Constitution (ratification by two-thirds majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, followed by three-quarters approval by the states), and
The inventive “three-state strategy” (approval in additional three of the 15 state legislatures which did not approve the ERA in 1972-82, basing on legal analysis that when additional three states vote yes, this courses could withstand the legal challenge and accomplish approval of the ERA).
The pressure for ERA even mounted further from 2011 when two Democrats, New Jersey’s Senator, Robert Menendez and New York’s Representative Carolyn Maloney, reintroduced the E.R.A. in Congress in May 2011. This was in response to claims by the U.S Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who asserted that the 14th Amendment, which is a Reconstruction Amendment that granted citizenship, due process and equal protection to all people born or naturalized in the U.S cannot apply to gender discrimination. The Democrats declared it was now clear that recent comments have made it crystal clear that until equal protection for women was explicitly spelled out in the Constitution, the courts might not guarantee it just like Justice Scalia’s comments implied. At the same time, Wisconsin’s Representative, Tammy Baldwin, a democratic politician, introduced a law to abolish the E.R.A.’s approval deadline and incorporate into the Constitution when three more states approve it (Lisa Baldez, Lee Epstein, and Andrew D. Martin, 2006).
A Recap on the Role of Politics in Policy Implementation
Politics played a leading role in the ratification of this amendment. For instance, it was the role of women politicians and feminists who fought for the introduction of ERA in the US Constitution. Politicians used various channels to lobby for this amendment and get it grafted in the Constitution, for example, they mobilized women as well as the congressmen to support this policy. Lack enough, they managed to get the bill passed in the Congress. It can be suggested, however, that the failure of ERA’s ratification lies squarely on social groups as opposed to the political influence. It seems that though the lawmakers had the political will to implement the Amendment, the individual states under the influence of the social movement, was not ripe to accede to the demands set up by the ERA.
The American society, during the period of the early 1900s, was split into different social classes on the basis of sex. The prevailing discriminations of the time (such as employment discrimination and other forms of gender inequality), clearly illustrate that there was a need for a policy framework to address those surging needs. The quest for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), therefore, was a significant policy process since it depicted a major step (albeit a failed one) in the move towards the rights of women. The relevance of the ERA, in this case, highlights the prevailing social conflict of the time. Rather than just holding on to the perceived conflict, the ERA was critical in exposing the conflicts, and the rottenness behind the social-economic and political systems of the American nation. Through the ERA, new ideas were proposed (equality ideas) that needed much attention. It actually proposed a new way to grant women similar attention and equal status as the men. It is true that the policy failed to be ratified, but the proposals it demanded, were almost, if not all, given some consideration. Through the lobby of social groups, the court, and congress people, the issues that needed attention were made clear in the eyes of people and most of them became absorbed in the system although indirectly. Therefore, the role of this policy was to raise awareness of the social inequality that aimed at women.
Craig v. Boren, and Michael M. v 429 U.S. 190 (1976). "The Origins of the Intermediate Scrutiny Test for Sex Classifications." url: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/PROJECTS/FTRIALS/conlaw/era.htm (December 20, 1976).
Freeman, J. (1988). "Social Revolution and the Equal Rights Amendment." Sociological Forum, 3(winter, 1988):145–152.
Ginsburg, R. B. (1973). "The Need for the Equal Rights Amendment." American Bar Association Journal, 59(September): 1013–1019.
Kerber, Sheilah Mann, and John Morgan,. (n.d.). "The Equal Rights Amendment and the Ambivalent Legacy of World War II." UC Press, url:http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft367nb2ts&chunk.id=d0e349&toc.depth=1&brand=ucpress (March 24, 2017).
Lisa Baldez, Epstein Lee, and Andrew D. Martin. (2006). "Does the U.S. Constitution Need an Equal." Journal of Legal Studies, 35, doi: 0047-2530/2006/3501-0009$01.50.
MacKay, K. L. (n.d.). "Equal Rights Amendment." Utah History To Go, url: http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/utah_today/equalrightsamendment.html (March 24, 2017).
Network, T. L. (2012). "Equal Rights Amendment for Women Passed by Congress." New York Times, url: https://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/22/march-22-1972-equal-right-amendment-for-women-passed-by-congress/?rref=world&module=ArrowsNav&contentCollection=undefined&action=keypress®ion=FixedRight&pgtype=Blogs (March 24, 2017).
Roberta W. Francis. (2016). "Equal Rights Amendment." National Council of Women's Organization, 16.
Steffens, H. (1970). "Equal rights amendment." Off Our Backs, 1(May 16): 6.
Steinem, G. (1969 ). "After Black Power, Women's Liberation." New York Magazine., url: http://nymag.com/news/politics/46802/ (April 4, 1969).
The Equal Rights Amendment (1945). Social Service Review, 111-113.
An Annotated Bibliography
Craig v. Boren, and Michael M. v. (1976.). “The Origins of the Intermediate Scrutiny Test for Sex Classifications.” http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/PROJECTS/FTRIALS/conlaw/era.htm (December 20 1976).
Craig V. Boren and Michael reveal the US Supreme court cases which shed more light on Amendment. These cases reveal a changing perception in the issue of women rights, since, for more than one hundred years after the adoption of Equal Protection Clause, never had the Supreme Court used this clause to invalidate a gender-based classification. This had never happened until the ratification of 19th Amendment, which opened up a door to ERA cases.
Freeman, J. (1988). “Social Revolution and the Equal Rights Amendment. Sociological Forum,” Vol. 3, No. 1, (winter, 1988): 145-152.
Jo Freeman is a political scientist, writer, attorney, and an American feminist. According to Freeman, the Amendment gathered lots of attention just because it was a real-time replica of a revolution between sexes. ERA had persisted in the public domain for more than 20 years, and perhaps, this is what also caused it to capture a lot of attention.
Ginsburg, R. B. (1973). “The Need for the Equal Rights Amendment.” American Bar Association Journal, 59, No. 9, (September): 1013-1019.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court. According to Ginsburg, the amendment was an embodiment of equality. It aimed at a legal system where every individual will be judged on the basis of personal merit but not on the ground of unalterable birth trait.
Kerber, Sheilah Mann, and John Morgan,. (n.d.). “The Equal Rights Amendment and the Ambivalent Legacy of World War II.” UC Press, url:http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft367nb2ts&chunk.id=d0e349&toc.depth=1&brand=ucpress (March 24, 2017).
Linda Kerber is the May Brodbeck History Professor at the University of Iowa. Together with the co-authors, she examined how the Second World War placed women into a different status which demonstrated that they could virtually handle any job since they produced material necessary for World War II and handled the jobs they had never done before. It was the time when the nation had to appreciate the role women played in the society and change the perspective towards them.
Lisa Baldez, Lee Epstein, and Andrew D. Martin. (2006). “Does the U.S. Constitution Need an Equal.” Journal of Legal Studies, 35, doi: 0047-2530/2006/3501-0009$01.50.
Lisa Baldez is an Associate Professor of Government at Dartmouth College, while LEE EPSTEIN is the Edward Mallinckrodt's Distinguished Political Science University Professor as well as Washington University Professor of Law, and Andrew D. Martin the Washington University's Associate Professor of Political Science. In their journal, these authors questioned the essence of ERA in the US Constitution, during the time when women had become to pour into the workforce in record numbers, running political offices, and obtaining the jobs once closed to them.
MacKay, K. L. (n.d.). “Equal Rights Amendment.” Utah History To Go, url: http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/utah_today/equalrightsamendment.html (March 24, 2017).
Mackay is the Professor of History at Weber State University. In her journal, Mackay points out the facts that were a bit hidden. Mackay pinpoints how the equation of ERA with abortion, sexual permissiveness, homosexuality, and child care diverged a debate from the constitutional topic of equality towards the issues of values of a traditional family. She explains the danger that persists in the equality for the cultural/ideological concept of the father head/provider, the mother-manager and nurturer, and the children as the replicas for the next generation, and this equality would predispose women to more vulnerability.
Network, T. L. (2012). “Equal Rights Amendment for Women Passed by Congress.” New York Times, url: https://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/22/march-22-1972-equal-right-amendment-for-women-passed-by-congress/?rref=world&module=ArrowsNav&contentCollection=undefined&action=keypress®ion=FixedRight&pgtype=Blogs (March 24, 2017).
The learning Network is a New York Times-Based Program that played a critical role in expounding the implications of ERA. For example, on March 22, 1972, the journal highlighted some of the practices and laws the amendment hoped to invalidate, such as the laws that imposed great infringements on women in business, or laws that favored women in alimony and child custody cases.
Roberta W. Francis. (2016). “Equal Rights Amendment.” National Council of Women's Organization, 16.
Roberta Francis is the co-chair of the ERA Task Force for the National Council of Women's Organizations. She is a renowned writer and gender equity consultant. Roberta is one of the activists who, according to her writings, support the implementation of ERA for equal rights for women.
Steffens, H. (1970). “Equal rights amendment.” Off Our Backs, Vol. 1, No. 5, (May 16):6
Steffens Heidi was an American woman advocate, who wrote extensively on the radical journal "Off Our Backs". Her writings expose the role of women, labor organizations, and women organizations in the struggle for implementation of the ERA. Of course, labor organizations, and women therein played a controversial role to impede the implementation of ERA, as Steffens illustrates.
Steinem, G. (1969). “After Black Power, Women's Liberation.” New York Magazine., url:http://nymag.com/news/politics/46802/ (April 4, 1969).
Steinem is an American feminist political and social activist, and journalist who became nationally recognized as a spokeswoman and leader for feminist movement during the late 1960s and early 1970s. She was a columnist for New York Times magazine, and it was here that she published "After Black Power" which popularized her as a feminist leader.
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