Saturday, 25 July 2020

Mrs America and the ERA

Mrs America’ is a great ride. It is produced by FX in the USA. The acting is engrossing and persuasive. The script is taut and witty. The politics detailed. And it more or less looks like the 1970s. It concerns the progress of the Equal Rights Amendment in the USA at the time of active names such as Gloria Steinem (for) and Phyllis Schlafly (against).

But, I asked my husband, note the irony, what makes some women fight against the rights of (all) women? What makes one happily married conservative woman tread all over the advancements other women are making for the betterment of all adult females? 

He wasn’t sure. But, when watching Mrs America, the twin set and pearls brigade have really got the bit between their teeth. Why don’t they want equal rights with men? 

One of the arguments is that they don’t agree with abortion. And some ERA ( Equal Rights Amendment) lobbyists wanted safe abortion and a woman’s right to choose to be part of the ERA package. 

Baptists and other religious groups wouldn’t agree to abortion and they saw ERA as a link with casual sex ie an immoral act in their view. Some antifeminists have argued that feminism has resulted in changes to society's previous norms relating to sexuality, which they see as detrimental to traditional values.

Others felt that the man should be head of the household. Equal rights for women didn’t seem like equality to them but a search for power over men. Others believed their daughters would be drafted into the armed forces if they were recognised as equal to men.

Some antifeminists believed the ERA showed a denial of the differences between men and women and this change in people went against their biology. 

Antifeminists also frequently argued that feminism ignores rights issues unique to men. 

I haven’t yet read, anywhere, that antifeminists actively believe men to be superior to women. But the above women felt lesbians, gays, trans and other groups we now call LGBT were perverts and openly used that derogatory term to define LGBT.

It seems that to be antifeminist you believe the ideal happy family unit of father as head of the household and mother keeping house with children in tow would be endangered if women had equal rights alongside men.

Hence the battle for the Equal Rights Amendment Act. 

My mother, born 1924, supported my father financially through his university years. Yes. She went to work so that he could study. She said to me, more than once, ‘be independent of marriage, if needs be.’ Mum wasn’t against marriage but believed women should be able to earn enough ‘to be independent of marriage’. If needs be. She was an early feminist. 

In 1977 in the USA the ERA was on its way to being ratified until conservative, wealthy mother of six, Phyllis Schlafly, (brilliantly played by Cate Blanchett in ‘Mrs America’ ) protested with her conservative women followers in opposition to the ERA. These women argued that the ERA would 

1 disadvantage housewives 

2 cause women to be drafted into the armed forces 


3 lose protections such as post-divorce financial settlements for the woman and eliminate the tendency for mothers to obtain custody over their children in divorce cases.

But the ERA sought to end the legal distinctions between men and women in matters of employment, property and divorce. 

In the late 1970s five state legislatures (Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee, and South Dakota) voted to revoke their ERA ratifications. Supporters of the ERA point to the lack of a specific guarantee in the Constitution for equal rights protections on the basis of sex. Amazingly the amendment has been reintroduced in every session of Congress since 1982.

As of January 2020, over 40 years since Schlafly argued against ERA, the bill had 224 co-sponsors.The House passed H.J. Res. 79 (Removing the deadline for the ratification of the equal rights amendment. 116th Congress [2019-2020] Committees: House - Judiciary) on February 13, 2020. So the ERA is still being fought.

On January 15, 2020, Virginia became the latest state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a proposed amendment to the Constitution that guarantees equal rights for women. The required 38 states have now agreed to the ERA. A technical question over whether the required number agreed within an acceptable time frame is holding up the progress of the ERA. Republicans in the Senate are in no rush to ratify the ERA, it seems. And since the five above-mentioned states acted to rescind their prior approval the ERA is enjoying a revival - along with the much newer ‘Times Up’ #me too movements - but it is still not LAW in the USA.

And it’s not all fun and games for women in the UK. The Equal Pay Act of 1970 should have led to parity for women here. Iceland is ranked as the nation closest to achieving gender parity, having closed 88% of its gender gap, followed by Norway (84.2%), Finland (83.2%) and Sweden (82%). 

The World Economic Forum (WEF) said Albania, Canada, Costa Rica, Latvia, Switzerland, South Africa and Spain had all overtaken the UK in closing the gender gap in politics, economics, health and education since the 2018 audit. The WEF said the UK performed poorly because women were sparsely represented in politics – and on average men were still paid more than women.

I quote from the WEF’s findings on the global gender gap (as reported in Rupert Neate’s piece in The Guardian at the end of 2019):

“At the slow speed experienced over the period 2006–2020, it will take 257 years to close this gap.”

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