It’s Time For Another Women’s Movement, And Passing The ERA Can Kick It Off

When I was a little girl, my mother wore an ERA button. It sounds like we need to get them out of the drawer again.

ERA, in case you don’t know, stands for the Equal Rights Amendment. It was an amendment to the Constitution, passed by Congress in 1972, that said simply,

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

After Congressional approval, it needed the support of 38 state legislatures in order to be added to the Constitution. It only got 35 before a 1982 deadline, and the ERA became largely forgotten. (You can see a list of states and their votes here.)

But, its proponents argue that the 1982 deadline wasn’t set in stone, and there have been renewed efforts in recent years to pass the ERA. In March, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify it, which means it only needs two more states.

For your reference, the state legislatures of Arizona, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Utah, and Virginia, all have ERA bills that could be taken up.

Approval of the ERA might be a way to acknowledge the enormous anger of women across the United States, and across the many professions where sexual misconduct has been in the spotlight.

It could be a battle cry for what I feel is another women’s movement brewing in America — the second in recent memory, and the third in a century.

You can count the suffragette movement and the 19th amendment as the first. Granting women the right to vote in 1920 was the culmination of a vast effort by women internationally to gain recognition.

But it took another 50 years for the second women’s movement to really erupt.

The 1970s were a turbulent time, when feminism collided with an entrenched male hierarchy, and women began to make strides that changed the way they were viewed in society.

However, there’s been another gap of almost 50 years between the second American women’s movement and the third one we’ve seen emerge in 2017. Historians, I suggest, will date it from the Women’s March on Washington this past January, although there are plenty of signs it began before that.

The second women’s movement changed the workplace somewhat, and certainly made more opportunities available, but didn’t really change some deep-seeded attitudes that still make many women afraid to do their jobs.

To be truly effective, this third women’s movement needs to do two things. First, it needs to make the workplace safe for women, at all levels. And that sort of equality is absolutely crucial.

It does no good for educated or upscale women to feel like they have a fair chance to compete, if women in service positions and lower-paying jobs still fear the situations they encounter every day.

I’m especially concerned that the voices of women of color are being left out of the discussion, when they have multiple concerns that white women may not realize.

Second, the third women’s movement needs also to recognize that it needs support from men, which is a difficult realization for women who might steadfastly prefer to do this on our own.

I’ve always joked that it’s completely possible now to live in a world without men.

We can support ourselves, so we don’t need them financially. We can arrange to get pregnant on our own, so we don’t need them to procreate. We can learn home improvement skills, so we don’t need husbands to check off “Honey, do” lists. We can pretty much hire any help that a guy would grudgingly give us.

But, it’s unrealistic to think we can get along without them completely, not men are so firmly in charge of so many institutions.

Nor should they want to get along without us. Genders need to learn to co-exist, in a fair and equitable way, as hard as that is for all to acknowledge.

I’ve long thought that the second women’s movement stalled not for a lack of effort by women, but when men realized just what equality would mean.

It was fine when there was one woman editor, or one woman film producer, or one woman investment banker, or a couple of women senators, or a few women installing cable TV.

But when women started to show up in numbers, that’s when the push back began. For men, more women meant a loss of economic power and influence, and that sense was truly exacerbated by the Great Recession.

The ultimate power that some men believe they had left was to intimidate women. What they didn’t realize was that women, simply put, could make them richer.

Richer, in every sense, from financially, to culturally, to emotionally.

Here, then, can be the rallying cry for the third women’s movement, and the passage, after all this time, of the ERA, the amendment our mothers and aunts and grandmothers fought for.

It helps everyone succeed. Not just women, but men, too.

Follow Micheline Maynard on Twitter @mickimaynard