By Beverly George
“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
I went to see the documentary film, “Equal Means Equal,” last Wednesday night, presented by the League of Women Voters (LWV), Naperville and Will County chapters, at the Naperville Municipal Center.
This film is about the yet-to-be-ratified-and-only-two-states-away Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and why passing it now should be foremost in the collective minds of American women and men.
Bonnie Grabenhofer from the National Organization for Women (NOW) and Michelle Fadeley of Illinois-NOW spoke before the film and offered a history of the amendment and its current status in the Illinois House and Senate. Nevada was the thirty-sixth state to ratify the ERA last March, and Illinois is one of the two states needed that hasn’t passed it yet, but remains one of the best chances for ratification. If Illinois passes it, there is a strong hope and belief that either Virginia, North Carolina, or Florida would be the thirty-eighth, and last required ratifying state.
What can we do right now to facilitate ratification in Illinois?
Write or call your state senator and representative and urge them to ratify the ERA when it comes up for a vote in the next two weeks or in March after the primary.
The film covered more than the history of the ERA. It built a strong argument for it based on the unequal treatment of women in America that hasn’t stopped since Thomas Jefferson took pen in hand to write the familiar words of “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights . . .”
In 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment handily passed both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, Richard Nixon quickly signed it, and on March 22, 1972, the amendment was sent to the states for ratification. Deadlines to get thirty-eight states to ratify were extended several times to 1982. See the national map here. Although taking several decades to be passed, the ERA should not have to start the ratification process over again, based on the historic precedent of the Madison amendment, which took 202 years to be ratified. It was submitted in 1789 and ratified in 1992.
Back in 1982, when it failed to get the required thirty-eight (it hit a wall at 35), new arguments had been raised and drowned it out, namely that women would be better off with individual laws passed to protect specific rights. But we know from recent laws, such as the Affordable Care Act and laws regulating power plant emissions, they are subject to subsequent administrations being on board with, or the Supreme Court interpreting said laws to function as they were intended.
In these political times, that’s not likely to happen. It is mandatory the ERA be a ratified constitutional amendment if we want to secure for women their equal rights under the law.
Women were chattel then, and in many ways, we still are.
Health care plans for women typically come with premiums higher by 13%.
Women who defend themselves from sexual or physical abuse from their husbands very often go to prison. The argument of self-defense is weaker than the argument that a husband has a “right” to sexual relations. These women are often beaten into submission.
Sexual abuse and harassment is about power, whether in the home or in the workplace. Consider the taped bragging of President Donald Trump when he yammered on with Billy Bush on “Access Hollywood.” His wealth gave him power to grope women for his amusement, pleasure, and affirmation of power. A more recent example is Harvey Weinstein. He was exercising his power over women’s acting careers for his amusement, pleasure, and affirmation of power. Let the recent fortissimo #MeToo refrain play on.
Child sex trafficking in the United States affects young girls far more often than young boys. A case highlighted in the film centered on a 12-year-old girl who ran away from home and within three days, fell into the hands of a pimp who put her on the streets as a prostitute. When a 47-year-old male was apprehended with her, and because money had changed hands for sexual favors, the legal principle against an adult sexually assaulting a minor went out the window, and girl was charged with the act of prostitution and ultimately sentenced to jail for several years, while the 47-year-old male paid a nominal fine. If the circumstances of the crime and arrest had featured the 47-year-old male with a 12-year-old boy, would the outcome have been the same?
The documentary also covers the need for equal pay for equal work, known as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The difficulty with lawsuits that claim discrimination in the workplace based on sex is the need to establish or prove intent to discriminate. These cases are not judged on a preponderance of evidence, which is easier to prove.
If you haven’t seen the documentary, I encourage you to see it ASAP. It’s showing at several LWV meetings around the suburbs. Check screening dates and times at http://equalmeansequal.com, and take your family, friends, and neighbors, male and female. Be aware that it is adult viewing.
One last word. All of us, women and men, need the Equal Rights Amendment in the Constitution. When General John Kelly held his press conference on October 19 defending Mr. Trump’s remarks to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, he went on to lament that when he was growing up, “Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor.”
My hope is that we not be held sacred nor put on a pedestal of honor. Just give us our equal rights under the Constitution, and we’ll take it from there.
ACE Leader Beverly George also is a member of Indivisible, the Naperville League of Women Voters, and the Citizens Climate Lobby. She also volunteers with her parish PADS group. A former chemist, George worked in clinical chemistry and hematology research at the Centers for Disease Control for six years and taught chemistry and freshman science at Naperville North High School for 20 years.