Equal Rights Amendment, redux

Right-wing pundits remind us why women's equal rights have to be legislated.

Published March 29, 2007 7:19PM (EDT)

News (via the Washington Post) that the Democrats are reintroducing the Equal Rights Amendment had me scratching my head at first. Not that the amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing equal rights for women ain't a good thing -- it should have passed in 1982 and it should pass in 2007.

But in 1982, we didn't have the Promise Keepers or a men's rights movement. We didn't have a Christian political movement that turned oodles of stay-at-home moms and churchgoing dads into rabid blogivists. Yet even in those days, the proposed amendment still didn't pass (though it just barely failed, with only three states failing to enact it). Now, though, we have what feels like a gazillion conservative media sources playing 24/7 to huge, impassioned sectors of our population, and plenty of mainstream outlets happy to give righties equal airtime. So my first thought was: Isn't the reintroduction of the ERA -- renamed the Women's Equality Amendment -- a great opportunity for a splintered right wing to unite around an old liberal punching bag?

At first, that seemed to be the case -- in the 24 hours after the Washington Post story was published, many of the media outlets reporting on the news were of the unabashedly conservative type: LifeNews.com (subtitled: From a Christian Perspective), Dakota Voice, the Liberty Papers. And even USA Today -- about as mainstream as you can get -- saw fit to frame the discussion as an argument between the National Organization for Women and Rush Limbaugh (who supplied an inchoate rant involving women at airports who don't shave their legs and are accompanied by German shepherds). Conservative arguments included the typical laundry list of "fears": same-sex marriage, unisex bathrooms and abortions on demand at the local 7-Eleven.

But this morning's news that Phyllis Schlafly, the antifeminist activist who fought fiercely against the ERA the first time around, is now out stumping against equality for her sex again, changed the story. Wednesday, according to Think Progress, Schlafly told an audience at Bates College that women can't be raped by their husbands because "by getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don't think you can call it rape." (Obviously Schlafly has little idea that most marital rapes don't emerge from arguments about "honey, not tonight" but when women are raped by violent husbands they're estranged from.) She also contended that women's "inherent physical inferiority" should preclude them from working as firefighters, soldiers or construction workers, adding: "Women in combat are a hazard to other people around them." (Tell that to the 160,000 women who have served in Iraq, many in combat zones.)

Whatever Schlafly's bizarre reasoning, I've begun to think the time is right for the ERA, because we have women like Schlafly working so hard for us. Loathsome as she is, maybe she should get a retainer from NOW or at least a thank-you card. After all, she's the very embodiment of why we need an ERA, and she's doing a magnificent job of showing right-wing pundits to be exactly what they are: out of touch with reality.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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