Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I Am a Citizen of this Country: Reflections on the ERA in 2013

The White House released a statement on Monday regarding a recent petition on their “We the People” online petition program. The petition asked for the administration to “Vigorously support women's rights by fully engaging in efforts to ratify the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).” Much to the disappointment of advocates for the ERA, the statement was more of a nonresponse than anything else.

The petition, which currently has over 33,000 signatures, was created as an effort to force the Obama administration to commit to passing the ERA, especially focusing efforts in the states that have not yet ratified the amendment. Members of Congress have quietly reintroduced the ERA in many sessions including in March 2013. However, serious efforts to ratify the amendment have not been made by the administration, which has left supporters disappointed.

To add to their disappointment, the statement released by the White House on Monday barely acknowledged the ERA. Instead of tackling the issue head on, the White House made a statement basically summarizing President Obama’s achievements in bettering the lives of women. While it is wonderful to have a president who is committed to important issues such as fair pay and protecting women against domestic violence, it is disheartening that President Obama did not take the opportunity this petition presented him and declare his support for the current resolution to pass the ERA. The statement lists Obama’s many achievements in progress for women’s rights during his time in office and even says we completely agree that [the ERA is] an important priority,” but never comes out and says what he will do to ensure the amendment is passed.

The ERA has long been a popular amendment, but today many lawmakers shy away from endorsing it and making its passage a priority. President Obama, while advocating for women’s rights in a number of areas, has seemingly joined this group.

At the MWPC offices today, we were discussing how upsetting it is to even be in a society where we as women have to be given our rights by an amendment. I’ve always felt the fictional character Ainsley Hayes on the TV show The West Wing described this situation best when she said the following about the ERA:  

“It's humiliating! A new amendment that we vote on, declaring that I am equal under the law to a man. I am mortified to discover there's reason to believe I wasn't before. I am a citizen of this country. I am not a special subset in need of your protecting. I do not have to have my rights handed down to me by a bunch of old, white men.”

Ms. Hayes certainly has a point. As citizens under American law, why should we even need an amendment declaring that women are equal under the law? Shouldn't the Fourteenth Amendment (The Equal Protection Clause) cover us as American citizens? Despite the logic behind the character’s statement, in many cases--such as fair pay and workplace discrimination--women are not treated equally under the law as it stands now. So what IS it going to take for women be treated equally in all aspects of society?