Why We Need an Equal Rights Amendment

paige nehls

Feminist Paige Nehls, 17, attends Guilford College.

by Paige Nehls
“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex” reads Section One of the current proposed Equal Rights Amendment written by Carla Cunningham.

Why is this statement even necessary? Because while we have a president as the leader of our country, misogyny reigns as king.

Since Dr. Alice Paul first proposed the ERA in 1923 American women have been subjected to a maelstrom of sexist abuse for simply demanding to be treated as citizens with equal rights under the law.

While women aren’t being attacked in the streets or arrested for protesting for our rights, we are being paid less. We are not getting jobs because we may one day become pregnant. We are being thrown in prison for failing to protect our children from male batterers. This is all happening in America, the supposed most progressive nation in the world. (I added the last part just for the man who said to me “Where is this patriarchal culture you live in? Do you live in Yemen or Pakistan?” To answer your question, I live in  America–the country that accepts you attacking me for demanding to have rights to my body).

That is sexism. That is the reality of life for women in this country and around the globe.

It must be noted that most women will experience covert sexism as well as overt sexism in their lives, but will never know that they are being discriminated against because this type of sexism is so subtle and socially acceptable.

According to the Washington Post, “Men who put women on a pedestal may be the wolves in sheep clothing hindering gender equality.”

This benevolent sexism mostly goes unrecognized. Nobody in my AP United States History class ever protested my teacher’s comments that women are “all sweet and wonderful creatures.” When do you ever see men so shallowly categorized? You don’t.

It does not matter whether or not all men are sexist; all women experience sexism. In the same way that you don’t have to be racist to benefit from our racist society, you do not have to be sexist to benefit from our patriarchal society. Women have to work at least twice as hard as men to achieve the same amount of success. For example:

-Women have to take on masculine qualities to be taken seriously in the workplace, something men never have to experience in an opposite manner.

-Women face harsh double standards that unfairly penalize them for not conforming to traditional feminine traits, something men never have to experience.

-Women are told to choose between being wives and mothers or career women, something that is unthinkable to tell a man.

-Women are sexualized in our society to the point where we are seen as and treated as objects for male amusement and enjoyment. If this sexism were reversed it wouldn’t be tolerated for a minute.

This is why our country so desperately needs the ERA. While it will be a saving grace to women it will also be a boon to men.

With the end of ‘legal’ sex discrimination, women won’t face longer prison sentences for fighting back against abusive partners, they won’t face punitive action for not be able to protect their children from abusers, and they will not be denied reproductive health care access.

Moreover, men won’t automatically be dismissed as incompetent candidates for having custody of their children, and men will be able to have paid paternal leave to spend time with their children.

The most anticipated benefit of the implementation of the ERA is the end of the era of women getting paid less than men for doing the same work–an era that began almost around the same time as bartering was invented in the Neolithic Era.

“The ERA will mandate that federal, state, and local contracts must be designed to pay women and men equally,” said Roberta Madden, the Co-Director of RATIFY ERA- NC.

This will grant women the legal grounds to sue should they still be making less than men as well as establish a pervasive social norm that will hopefully spread.

According to RATIFY ERA-NC, “Sex discrimination cases brought before the Supreme Court have usually lost.”

This is unconscionable, but true. Women and their work simply aren’t valued in the same way that men are and never have been, unless it is for our reproductive abilities.

“If women were actually written into the Constitution then [they] would have a stronger case in instances of sex discrimination, but [they] weren’t,” said Audrey Muck, president of the triad chapter of the National Organization for Women. “Women are not protected by the law. The 14th Amendment has proven to be not enough to ensure [they] have access to [their] unalienable rights.”

The fact that the ERA hasn’t been passed yet, that today legislators are still voting against it the exact reason that we need it.  Women need not “speak softly and carry a lipstick” in the words of Bella Azbug. Women need to get angry and vote, protest, lobby, contact their representatives, and fight for our rights.

Women must refuse to be treated as second-class citizens in a country that they vote in, pay taxes for, and fight and die for. Men do not have more of a right to this country than women do. It’s time to reclaim our rights with the ERA.

For a complete text of the proposed ERA visit: www.era-nc.org.

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