The ERA, DOA 30 years ago | Bleader

Monday, February 20, 2012

The ERA, DOA 30 years ago

Posted By on 02.20.12 at 08:00 AM

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I grew up in the era of Ms. magazine and Our Bodies Ourselves. In high school I subscribed to Off Our Backs after reading about it in Glamour. So it's all the more disconcerting to me to be living in a time when LOLGOP can rightfully tweet "#nextGOPhearing: Should pregnant women be allowed to wear shoes in the kitchen?" Things might be different if we'd ever managed to pass the Equal Rights Amendment: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."

First written by Alice Paul in 1923, it finally passed both houses of Congress in 1972 and went to the state legislatures, with ratification from 38 states required for it to become a constitutional amendment. Thirty states had ratified it by the next year, but when the original 1979 deadline rolled around, it was just at 35. Congress had passed a resolution extending the deadline to June 30, 1982. That summer, fresh out of Moline High School, I rode a bus to a rally in support of its passage down in Springfield.

I had a lead role in a ridiculous melodrama at a community theater at the time, and since an older woman in the cast, an attorney, was going and could serve as my chaperone, my parents allowed me to join her. (I'm over it now, but when my younger brother was in his teens, they bought him a car.) We'd been asked to wear purple, white, and green, the traditional suffragette colors, which I found silly. And there were women on hunger strikes and others who'd chained themselves to the statehouse, which I found extreme. To tell you the truth, what I remember most vividly is being jeered at—there were "antis" out in force. A fat little kid yelled that we were "bra burners." At a McDonald's stop on the way back a local spat "Go home, libbers." May I repeat we're talking 1982?

Illinois never succeeded in ratifying the proposed amendment, and all these years later, the ERA seems to have dropped out of public view—I was surprised to find that it's still a live (or at least undead) issue. According to Wikipedia, it's been reintroduced in every session of Congress since 1982, though the last time it reached the floor was in 1983. Some supporters—like the Alice Paul Institute—have embraced what's known as the three-state strategy, arguing that the 35 state ratifications from the 70s remain valid, so that still only three more state ratifications are needed. Last March, Wisconsin representative Tammy Baldwin introduced legislation that would rescind the 1982 deadline; Illinois' own Luis Gutierrez is one of the bill's cosponsors.

There's been a lot of talk about the wingnuttery of the Republican party lately, and rightly so—to cite another LOLGOP Twitter post, "Foster Friess is now #4 on my 'Can't Believe He's Not a Simpsons Character' list." The history of the ERA shows the GOP's rightward shift quite starkly: support of the ERA was part of the party's platform from 1940 to 1980, Eisenhower asked Congress to pass it in 1958, and after its 1972 congressional passage, Nixon endorsed it. Now we have Santorum.

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