New York Women Have Evolved Into a Higher Species
Men should welcome the new Times pick for editor.
Radical stuff. Endorsed by the Republican Party platform as late as 1976, got passed by Congress and then by a two-thirds vote in 35 of the 38 state legislatures needed for final ratification when the initial clock—and a somewhat shaky extension—ran out in 1982, stopped short mainly by a one-woman crusade on the part of Phyllis Schlafly. Now it's become conservative and GOP dogma that the ERA is Satan's No. 1 favorite new amendment.
You might say it's forgotten but not gone. You could make a case that the advancements in women's rights legislation on the federal and state level and consequential changes in the culture have secured the equality the amendment insures, rendering it no longer necessary. But the women whose discrimination case against Wal-Mart got kicked to the curb by the Supreme Court this week might disagree. Legislation can be rolled back far more easily than an amendment. Backlash in subtle forms is more easily combated with an amendment in place.
Since 1982, the ERA hasn't entirely disappeared. Every new Congress, some never-say-die stalwarts introduce a bill to implement the so-called "three state strategy"—which would allow the 35 previous ratifications to stand and give Congress the right to extend the ratification period once more—giving advocates a chance to sway three more states and get the thing ratified.
This year, the bill was co-sponsored by Democratic House leader Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, among others. (As President Obama supposedly said, "Don't mess with Debbie.") Why not contact her office and show your support for continuing the struggle, doomed as it may be in the present House? (By the way, Wasserman's website also indicates support for gay marriage and as I write this, the New York State Legislature is on the brink of passing what would be another victory for the civil rights struggles of the '70s, a moment I wish could be seen by the late Arthur Bell, the Village Voice's pioneering reporter on that movement.)
Whether it succeeded or not, a renewed campaign for the ERA could spotlight the places in business and government that have failed to live up to the spirit of the amendment. The odds are against it; it may be a hopeless cause. But so was the suffragette movement, the anti-slavery and civil rights movements, the gay rights movement. The entire women's liberation movement when it began. It could mean a lot if people took the ERA up once more as a serious cause. It would be a fitting commemoration for the women who made Jill Abramson's rise and triumph possible.
I think it would be great to see a Times editorial advocating it.
Ron Rosenbaum is the author of The Shakespeare Wars and Explaining Hitler. His latest book is How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III.
Photograph of Jill Abramson by Matthew Peyton/Getty Images.