There is a popular misconception in the US today- that women maintain the same constitutional rights allotted to men. Given the advances in women’s rights since gaining the right to vote in 1920 it is expected that other constitutional rights would have be acquired. This is not the case. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which would provide women with the same Constitutional status as men was never ratified. Penned by Alice Paul, the ERA states “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the US and every place subject to its jurisdiction.” (Kerber) It was presented to Congress in 1923, 3 years after the 19th Amendment was ratified. Failing to pass at that time it was re-introduced to Congress, finally passing in the House and in Congress in 1972. However, even when an extension was granted, it failed to obtain the ratification by the required 38 states, missing it by 3. Since then, the ERA has continued to be presented to Congress but without success. (Francis)
While it only seems natural that an Amendment which grants equality to women would be passed without issue, the ERA has been met with opposition, many times with the hands of women themselves. Curious as this seems, there are perceived “benefits” some women are unwilling to surrender with the passing of the ERA. “Protective” laws, such as those obtained in Muller v Oregon would be challenged. Such laws indicate that women need to be protected as they are the “weaker” sex. This principle allows for discrimination and unequal treatment based solely upon their reproductive organs. Such laws also view the task of childbearing as foremost in a woman’s duties. Other duties come second and she needs to be protected so she may fulfill her primary duties of bearing and rearing children. Opponents of the ERA felt that this Amendment “threatened” the American family. These opponents also felt certain privileges should be enjoyed by women based merely on their sex and responsibilities placed upon men should not be imposed upon women. This privilege without responsibility was something the EPA directly opposed. By offering themselves up for such privileges, women are indicating they are in a different class than men. Once women are perceived as different, then it becomes acceptable that they may be treated in a dissimilar manner. This becomes a basis for justified unequal treatment.
Equal rights for women designates a combination of equal responsibilities as well as the same benefits enjoyed by men. These rights and responsibilities would occur in all arenas- legal, political, educational and vocational. Simply put, the adults of this country would participate in and enjoy all aspects of being a citizen. They would be expected to take part in all areas of citizenship from voting to serving in the military and no-one would be exempt based upon their sex alone. Women would face the same challenges and reap the same rewards as men based upon their unique abilities. Men’s and women’s aptitudes would determine their advancements in education, business and politics equally and fairly. These responsibilities can be intimidating for women. For example, the potential for being drafted is of great concern to many women. Yet, women have successfully served in the military and continue to do so today. Further, WWII, women had been drafted in 1945. This was not based upon the ERA but due to a need for nurses. Therefore, the arguments made in opposition to equal rights are ineffectual. (Connor)
To say there is no difference between men and women would be unreasonable. The primary and most obvious difference is that women can bear children. This difference has been linked to inequalities forced upon women in the past and even still today. For example, it is felt that some jobs are “too dangerous” for women or pose a risk to their ability to bear children now/ in the future. Likewise, it is felt that women are allowed “special privileges” for taking maternity leave. These standards are based on a norm developed by men. Such norms do not consider time off work for male oriented issues (such as prostrate or testicular issues) as a privilege. This is because the norm is based upon being male. Should the norm be based on being female, maternity leave would not be considered a privilege as it would fall within the norm of womanhood.
The difference between men and women does pose a challenge as it needs to be recognized without reinforcing stereotypes or compromising equality. These differences are based upon biology and not social concepts. When they are viewed outside of a biological construct they can exaggerated to encompass many levels of inequality- at work, in the courts and in the domestic arena, to name a few. These can lead to gaps in wages, insurance and even social security. On an average, women currently make 80% of what men make in the US. The difference of wages between the sexes increases as a woman ages. This bleeds into other areas of her life, from being able to pay off student loans to obtaining the same amount of social security upon retirement. Even when higher education is obtained, this disproportion remains the same. (Miller)
In weighing the benefits with the costs, women would gain far more with the achievement of equal rights. They would profit in several spheres of society with judicial standards better defined for sex discrimination cases. With equal rights under the constitution, it would become more difficult to create laws that would replace existing laws supporting women’s equality. The passing of an Amendment is a big step in gaining equality. However, this change also relies on the transformation many individual, community and cultural beliefs. Until equality is resolved in the minds of our nation’s citizens, women will never be viewed as truly equal.
Conner, Joseph. “Drafting Women?” HistoryNet. World War II Magazine, 19 Oct. 2016. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
Francis, Roberta. “History.” ERA: History. Alice Paul Institute, n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
Kerber, Linda K.., De Hart Jane Sherron, Cornelia Hughes. Dayton, and Judy Tzu-Chun. Wu. “Gendering the Nation-State.” Women’s America: Refocusing the past. New York (N.Y.): Oxford UP, 2016. 506. Print.
Miller, Kevin. “The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap (Spring 2017).” AAUW: Empowering Women Since 1881. AAUW, Spring 2017. Web. 16 Mar. 2017