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Politics

The ERA

In the past few months as I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into women’s rights issues, I’ve seen many calls for the ERA to finally be adopted. The Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution, would guarantee women the same rights as men. According to the official website, it was first proposed in 1923. It finally passed out of Congress in 1972, but since then it hasn’t been ratified by enough states to become law.

To be completely honest, my first reaction to this particular issue was to scoff. Why, I thought, should we need to specifically call ourselves out in the Constitution? That everyone has equal rights should be a matter of course. We shouldn’t need to codify it.

To everyone shaking your heads, let me explain something. I came of age in the 1990s, a time I look back on now as somewhat magical. Women’s rights were everywhere. People were having important discussions about equality on sitcoms. Popular music confronted social issues in thoughtful, powerful ways. And of course there was Lilith Fair. I went through high school and college feeling that women were powerful and could do anything, and those beliefs were bolstered by my surrounding culture. There were still problems, I knew, but they would be swept away in due course. I felt that humanity was on an inexorable upward climb.

It’s worth noting that at the time, I was a staunch Republican who got regular doses of Rush Limbaugh at home, and I was eager to point out to anyone who would listen that I was no “femi-Nazi”, but a “classical feminist”. It wasn’t embarrassing to be a feminist. It was normal. The issue wasn’t over whether or not to support women’s rights, but how to go about it.

With this background, you might see where I would get a little complacent. Perhaps that was the case for many feminists; I’m not sure. But something happened, because that golden age of feminism is no more.

After 9/11, the inclusiveness of the 1990s was shattered. We stopped being welcoming. We became suspicious of anything new, anyone who didn’t fit the “norm”. “Traditional values” became more and more important; they were comfortable, easy, a safety net. Never mind that these traditions are pretty new in terms of human history; they’re what we know and what our parents knew, so they must be for the best.

As progressiveness slowed, enmity grew between the traditional majority and minorities who had finally begun coming into their own.

I noticed the way fear had replaced openness in our society, but I thought it would pass. I didn’t think I really needed to do anything.

When a friend of mine in Mississippi started lobbying on Facebook against Initiative 26 last year, I didn’t think it was a big deal. Or at least, I didn’t think it would ever apply to me. I thought, here’s some lawmaker doing something silly in a different state. It’ll never pass. But as I watched, she continued to lobby, and it slowly grew apparent that it wasn’t going away. I think at some point I started reposting a few of her links, and I was gratified when ultimately the bill failed. I figured it was over.

Then Georgia put forth its “fetal pain” bill earlier this year.

Now it affected me. (I could empathize with those it would directly affect; I’m infertile. But more importantly, I could actually make a difference, as a resident of Georgia.) For the first time, I wrote about women’s rights on my blog. A couple days later, I wrote more. I posted links on Facebook. And I wrote the governor.

The bill passed.

After that I became more and more aware of similar bills being put forth across the country–the “personhood” movement. At a time when the recovering economy should have been everyone’s top priority, lawmakers were instead slowly chipping away at Roe vs. Wade. And then the attacks on contraception began–contraception, the most obvious way to avoid abortion entirely.

Whenever I would discuss my growing unease, someone would always tell me that these issues were a “distraction”.

Maybe they are a distraction, but if so, I’m not the one doing the distracting. The people actually making these laws are. And, worse, with people not allowing themselves to be “distracted”, these things are passing.

If this movement is indeed a “distraction”, my guess is that the people putting forth these laws are trying to distract us from the fact that they have no idea how to create jobs, or from the fact that the economy is recovering bit by bit. While they’re at it, they’re appealing to a radical base that longs for the “good old days”, and it’s working.

Whatever the reason, proponents of these laws are pushing thought out of government while pulling private matters of family and health into it. They’re forgetting that we know the cost of prohibition.

As a woman, I can’t sit back and view all of this as “politics as usual”. Not with the very culture changing around me. Not with more and more men and women speaking out against human rights. Not with the sudden rise of vitriol and suspicion toward rape victims. Not with the generally emerging sense that it’s okay for people who are not doctors to make medical decisions for other people, with no exceptions. Not with this apparent shift from making laws based on logic and science to making them based on unsupported beliefs.

We are no longer a country that doesn’t need an Equal Rights Amendment–if we ever truly were. Instead, we are on a road of hatred, marginalization, and silencing, on which people feel compelled to comment that when women are really raped, they can’t get pregnant, or that women should never have been given the right to vote.

The ERA would not solve the problems we’re currently facing, but it would be an important first step toward equality in the home, workplace, and political sphere. It would give us the ability to protect our rights in ways beyond protesting, lobbying, and writing letters. As the political tides shift, we need that protection. We need something as a buffer against anti-woman trends that could otherwise render us powerless.

One way to get the ERA passed is to find three more states to ratify it. Georgia is one possibility; there are fourteen others. Attempts are also continually made to get the ERA back through Congress. A survey from 2001 indicates that, at least at that time, the people were behind the idea of codifying equal rights.

To help immediately, you can sign this petition. As of now, there doesn’t seem to be a way to donate to the cause online. You can find various t-shirts and stickers here and there, but it’s unclear if the profits would help the cause.

In the long term, you can support legislators who support the ERA, through voting and campaign donations. You can call or write your lawmakers and ask them to support it. And you can talk about this issue with your friends and family.

The past year has proven to me that our rights are not inalienable. Not until we put them into the Constitution.