Why do women still need the ERA? Won’t the placing of the word “sex” in the U.S. Constitution and providing for legal equality between the sexes just be used against us and provide no real benefit? Some, like our sisters in WoLF, think so. We think they are dead wrong on this one.
First we need to understand our past. The eagerness and utter blindness in which so many progressives have betrayed their principles and sold out the interests of women and girls in favor of a sex-denying gender identity ideology is not unprecedented in history. After the Civil War, the Abolitionist movement, the male comrades of the early suffragists and First Wave feminists betrayed their sisters by insisting that women, both Black and White, wait for our rights, and that only Black males should have their rights recognized. They ended up putting the word “male” in the Constitution for the first time, in the Fourteenth Amendment. Women were now explicitly non-citizens.
This split the movement, weakened both the feminist and anti-racist struggles, and led to some feminists incorporating racist ideology into their campaigns and for the first time opposing universal suffrage. This betrayal also delayed the victory for women’s suffrage until 1920. But, guess what, the word “male” is still in the Fourteenth Amendment, the Amendment that provides due process and equal protection of the laws. The Equal Rights Amendment is in part about a long overdue correction, to treat sex discrimination with the same seriousness and status as race discrimination under the highest law of the land, the U.S. Constitution.
Race and national origin discrimination claims benefit from what is called “strict scrutiny”–it is far easier under the Fourteenth Amendment to challenge discriminatory laws and practices based on race than on sex–and to do so everywhere in the country. And women still suffer from a ton of such practices. One of the biggest aspect of female oppression is we are poor and grossly underpaid. Poverty means that women often are forced to stay with abusive male partners or are vulnerable to being prostituted in order for them and their children to survive. We still have a largely sex-segregated workplace, with “men’s” jobs having higher status and pay. Women who entered the trades in the late 1970’s, were forced out a few years later largely as a result of sexual harassment. White women who work full-time earn 78 cents to every dollar a man earns. For women of color it is far less. Women are over 62% of minimum wage workers.
And even in female-dominated professions, men make more than women do, with women nurses paid 10% less than the males, and women lawyers earning 83 cents on the dollar compared to their male colleagues. While we have laws against discrimination in employment and wage discrimination they have loopholes or may not be enforced. And these laws could be weakened or repealed at any time. A Constitutional Amendment has much more staying power.
Or take pregnant women workers. Despite the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnant women, especially those in low paid physically demanding jobs, are routinely fired or forced off the job. They are treated far worse than employees covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act suffering from a variety of medical conditions. Putting sex in the U.S. Constitution would make it far easier for those women to make their case.
The Equal Rights Amendment would give women an additional hook to challenge male violence against women in the universities and in the military. And women being denied access to contraception could challenge the double standard that allows Hobby Lobby to refuse to cover contraception while covering Viagra. And can it not be argued that it is sex discrimination for vasectomies to be perfectly legal and funded while abortion is not funded and instead even treated as a crime as many states are trying to do?
But what of the downside, that women-only spaces and programs might be eliminated? First, this is already happening under Title IX and in other areas of civil rights law, and through regulation, without the ERA. Should we then repeal Title IX or Title VII because the sex discrimination provisions can be used to eliminate the separate spaces and programs that women need? No, we need to fight against the use of “gender identity” to remove sex-based rights and we need to do so with or without the ERA.
Strict scrutiny doesn’t mean no distinction is possible. There is extensive case law holding that distinctions meant to address past discrimination of a historically disadvantaged group are allowed, or where there is a compelling reason to treat the groups differently. Female-only spaces and programs, including women-only scholarships, colleges, shelters, clinics, and training programs have compelling reasons justifying them, based on privacy, male violence, addressing past discrimination and other grounds. Same goes for women’s sports programs. The fight to defend affirmative action, for example, has been going on for decades and this is an area where men of color and women’s interests as a sex coincide.
It is quite telling that President Biden is all-in for eroding sex-based rights through support for an un-amended Equality Act and issuing Executive Orders that would have gender identity override sex, but can’t manage to tell the Archivist to publish the ERA. Women must expect and demand more.
It has been nearly one hundred years since the first version of the ERA was introduced in Congress in 1923 as the Lucretia Mott Amendment. A century is too long to wait for equal rights based on sex under the Constitution. EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT NOW!