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Connections: The E.R.A. Today

Wed, 01/08/2020 - 11:58

Given that what has been called fourth-wave feminism has swept the country, as manifested by the #MeToo movement, it comes as a surprise, at least to me, that the only right guaranteed women as well as men in the Constitution is the right to vote. Can we still be second-class citizens? Yes, men, all of whom were white, wrote the Constitution.

It’s been more than half a century since the Equal Pay Act of 1963, almost as long since Title IX of the Civil Rights Act was approved, and since President Nixon and the 92nd Congress sent the Equal Rights Amendment to the states. But it takes ratification by 38 of the 50 states to amend the Constitution and only 37 states had done so. Virginia continues to be a holdout, although the Democratic Party there controls the Legislature and leaders have expressed the intent to ratify.

Memories come tumbling out because the struggle for an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution is ongoing. Little did Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman imagine when they began their effort in 1923 to have equal rights for women codified through a constitutional amend­ment that the struggle would be ongoing in 2020. The Equal Rights Amendment would make legal distinctions between men and women in all matters unimaginable. Its text is simple: Equal rights will not be abridged due to sex.

I was a preoccupied young mother in the ’60s with a happy marriage and a secure job at The East Hampton Star when Betty Friedan’s “The Feminist Mystique” came out, but it nevertheless had a strong effect. Over the years, I got to know her well. She was a gatherer, of people who enjoyed each other as well as disputation, and I was pleased to be among her guests. However, she always had, or sought, a male companion, even one who was not socially enlightened, which I couldn’t help think contradicted everything she stood for. “The Feminist Mystique” was an intellectual treatise rather than one that came from the gut — although far be it for me to disparage its value and lasting effect.

The ’70s were big years for my generation. The Women Strike for Equality march on Washington took place in 1970. We, and our children, were there. Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote about the need for the E.R.A. in 1975. Even though Title IX and the Equal Pay Act meant progress, women still had to fight for equal rights. On Aug. 26, 1970, a full 50 years after the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, 50,000 feminists paraded down New York City’s Fifth Avenue with linked arms, blocking the major thoroughfare during rush hour. Now, 45 years later, the legacy of that day continues to reverberate.

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