Evolution and Current Status of the Equal Rights Amendment: Analytical Essay

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The right of women to gain equality in the United States has been a rather tumultuous journey. They have had to overcome many obstacles on their road to impartiality - sometimes even among themselves. During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the United States was undergoing a number of momentous changes within its borders. Changes in ideals, beliefs, and values that would later affect the lives of both men and women; but perhaps changes that were more paramount in the fight for the equality of women. Of the number of new changes on the horizon, the first and conceivably one of the most pivotal turning points for women rests with the Seneca Falls convention. This convention resulted in what is known as, the Declaration of Sentiments. This declaration argued for women’s rights in regards to politics, family, education, jobs, religion, and morals.The long and challenging journey that resulted after the convention finally concluded with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, giving women the right to vote; a right previously reserved for men. This, then, paved the way for the equal rights amendment or ERA at both state and national levels. The ERA, on its most basic level, called for complete equality for women. However, this push did not come without its objections and protests. It endured continuous criticism and opposition in the years following 1923 when it was first introduced by Alice Paul from the National Women’s Party. Several times after its introduction, the ERA received both endorsement and censure on both the home front and the political front. It was even “vigorously opposed” by many of the more progressive groups of the time.

This split between opinions also caused a bigger division among women. It has been a controversial and debated topic since its inception. Essentially, these debates placed pro-ERA supporters on one end of the spectrum and anti-ERA supporters on the other. The concern for both these groups rests with a number of varying factors. For pro-ERA supporters, the argument centered around women finally gaining the equality they deserve in the workplace, with property, and other such previously male-controlled facets of life. While the anti-ERA supporters centered their stance around what the ERA would essentially be taking away from women.

While heavily debated, the ERA has been introduced to Congress every year since it was first proposed in 1923 and until 1972, when it finally passed but was not ratified. Notably, it has also been reintroduced to Congress every year since 1982, yet, there are still a number of states that have yet to ratify the amendment. In order to understand the ERA in its entirety, while tracing the timeline of how it has been written about, it is useful to focus on certain time periods where the most writings were emerging on the issue: 1920, 1950, 1970, 1990, and currently.

The 1920s:

As America was recovering from World War 1, people adopted a number of new lifestyle changes and habits. Known as the roaring twenties, this decade was characterized by the popularization of jazz, flappers, speakeasies, talking pictures, cars and more. Both men and women were embracing new ways of “behaving and thinking.” With the rise in technology, industry, and leisure time many wanted to live a more opulent and lavish lifestyle.

One categorizing of this period was the unprecedented change in clothing, particularly in regards to women. Breaking free of the restraints of the Victorian era, women were now sporting short hair, shorter dresses, and embracing a more unrestrictive lifestyle. Prohibition was also a prominent component of this period, resulting in an increase in drinking leaving drinking to seem more “fashionable and exciting.” SOURCE

Though the aforementioned categorization of the decade was significant, there were a number of other big changes happening for women during this time. The first was the passage of the 19th amendment or the suffrage amendment allowing women the right to vote. This amendment did not come easily. It had been on women’s radar since the 1870s, but it was not until 1920 that it was ratified because of women’s exercise in perseverance.

After the passage of the 19th amendment, it seemed like the logical next step would be a push for complete equality for women. However, the proposal for the ERA caused a big divide in women’s groups during this time. As noted in one 1930 New York Times article, there was now a disparity among women. The article states that women should not be in support of the then-Republican candidate, Ruth Pratt because she chose to remain stagnant on the issue of the ERA. What is noteworthy in this article is that, instead, it pushed for women to support Pratt’s two male counterparts by reason of them supporting the ERA. Written with an undertone of subtly, the article actually reveals a new problem for women: opposition to each other. Like the article stressed, the women’s party, while previously would have pushed for the election of a woman, was now pushing for the opposite. It left the question now of whether or not supporting a woman candidate, who was not in favor of the ERA was showing support for women or was supporting a male candidate who was in favor of the ERA, showing the support for women.

Two separate but revealing New York Times articles, both written in 1921 gives a better understanding of conversations that were centered around the ERA at this time. One article titled “Fixes Equal Rights Amendment Form” emphasizes the support by many prominent lawyers around the country in favor of the ERA. It concludes with turning the issue, then, to an agreement among the lawyers that the ERA would not affect welfare laws. Conversely, other articles such as the one titled, “Equal Rights Plan Assailed as Futile,” turns the conversation in the opposite direction. It stresses the ideas of one woman by the name of Dorothy Kenyon. What is interesting here, is the importance placed on Kenyon’s status in society: lawyer, suffrage leader, and a member of the League of Women Voters. The article centered around her views that the ERA was “a round-about noise route, a diversion, and publicity that leads nowhere.” it went on further to explain Kenyon’s view that the ERA would nullify the idea of husbands supporting their wives which essentially means that certain rights would be taken away from women. While the exact date of this article is not given, they both seem to be a direct response to the other. Nevertheless, these articles reveal the much deeper split between women that centered around who was actually vying for the best interest of women.

The 1950s: a new turn

The 1950s were mainly characterized by the aftereffects of World War II. The war had only ended a few years prior, and the United States was undergoing rapid change. The G.I. bill allowed many returning veterans to buy homes and attend college, Suburbs were gaining major popularity, and the economy was booming with increased military spending. Men were also now returning from the war and resuming their jobs in the workplace, women were returning to the household, and for some, a new sense of normalcy was reemerging. Synchronously, however, it was also a time where that rebound to normalcy was also being vastly questioned. Women were now, more than ever, seeking to find their own identities. As in the case of Betty Friedan, we see a new struggle for middle-class women emerging: “the problem with no name.” Where women were feeling a sense of intense guilt for both working and staying at home with their families. Whatever decision they made, it still seems to stem the same level of guilt among women.

While the 1950s seemed to have been a thriving period, there was also the underlying fear of communism among people. This rooted fear of communism caused a big distrust among many; Jewish women were being falsely accused of being spies, women in Southern California were taking a step back and on the side of conservativeness that led them to become “foot soldiers of conservatism.”

The conversation that centered around the ERA at this time was quite different from the one in the 1920s. In a 1951 article written by Marguerite Fisher, associate professor of political science at Syracuse University, we can see the slight change in tone when the issue of the ERA is being written about. Fisher heavily focuses on the disadvantages of women. However, what is noteworthy is that she does this by exploring various aspects in which women do not have any legal power. For instance, serving on a jury in all states, the superior rights of fathers as compared to mothers, the legal disabilities of married women when starting a business, women’s earnings are sometimes not their own and the legal right of husbands to collect his wife’s wages. What makes Fisher’s points more valid and appealing is her use of rather poignant examples. It seemed as though her aim here was to evoke emotion and a reaction from her readers to showcase the unfairness that women were faced with.

On the other hand, Fisher’s article does shed light on the opposition of the ERA as well. While she did not write with the same ardor and suggestive tone as she did for the pro-supporters, she did do a very thorough job in maintaining both sides of the argument. This reveals something new to us- she was a woman of her time, writing with only a subtle tone of her stance. First, reading her article, one can argue that she was easily pro-ERA, however, as her writing progressed and she shifts into explaining the reasons for the opposition, you can sometimes get a sense that she was really trying to give a thorough account of the ERA. But because of this, her opinion on the subject gets a little more clouded. This is vastly different from the writings seen in the 1920s. The writings in the 1920s were very much written around the author’s stance. It was heavily defended and no light was shed on the counterarguments.

Another example of this is portrayed in Ethel Ernest Murrell’s 1952 article. While she was clear from the beginning that she stood firm in support of the ERA, she also does not neglect the arguments made by anti-ERA opposers. Interestingly enough, she uses the same tactic as Fisher, with her poignant, emotion-evoking examples when explaining the benefits of the ERA. But one very notable difference is Murrell’s use of sarcastic commentary when addressing issues opposers have with the ERA. Though, the major difference between these two articles lies with the undertones of each article; Fisher seemed calmer and more composed on the issue while Murrell’s article has a very strong undertone of anger and annoyance aimed at those that opposed the ERA. Again, this highlights the division that seems to still be lurking among women.

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Contrastly, in a 1950 article written in the Stanford Law Review lists a number of discriminations against women in the law. This is rather noteworthy because it allows us to see that the issue of equality was not just among women or women’s groups of the time, but rather, this issue of equality was getting attention in other corners of society. The article starts off by saying that the “fact that a constitutional amendment is deemed necessary shows that some women are not satisfied with their present legal position.” It then goes on to list a number of existing discriminatory laws such as those against women being on the jury, discriminations in marriage and divorce rights, property rights, and wage and labor laws. However, as demonstrated in the previous two articles, this source also allots time in explaining the reasoning that the opposers give in their defense of the ERA. It seems as though the aim of this article was to not only to enlighten on the discriminations that women faced but also a major part was to clarify on some misconceptions of the law that women were using in their pro-ERA stance. Not that their views were wrong on the issues, but the author merely mentions some discrepancies in the numbers, to illuminate on how the majority of states were already adopting more equal laws for women. For example, when speaking about the rights of a window or husband of a deceased spouse, previous writings have alluded to the disparities between the surviving man and woman. To disprove this, the author acknowledges that the rights of a surviving husband or wife are more alike than dissimilar in more states than not. Throughout the article, the author continuously makes references as such where he showcases how some states were amending their laws to some degree.

At the forefront, these three articles show a new way of writing about the ERA that was happening in the backdrop of the 1950s. While women and men were having new experiences in their daily lives, with new postwar issues that were not significant during the 1920s, the writings around the ERA still continued - just slightly differently. Now, authors were not as one-sided as they previously were. Many writers pushed their stance by focusing on both the positives and negatives of the ERA. One clear change was that writers were not making their point by focusing on who in society was backing them. As in the case with the two 1920 writers, who heavily made the point that prominent lawyers were in agreement with them and centered their arguments around that point.

The 1970s:

The 1970s was characterized by a number of substantial issues; being in the midst of the Vietnam war, the fight for equality continued among various marginalized groups in the backdrop of the watergate scandal. Various groups were fighting for equality alongside women, including African Americans and gays and lesbians. What is instrumental during this time period, in regards to women, is the emergence of second wave feminism. Beginning in the 1960s, women were now spearheading this idea of the “new woman.” Second wave feminist were rethinking issues surrounding gender, sexism, racism, sexuality, reproductive rights, religion, labor, colonialism, technology, art, music, and environment. Leading figures of feminism during this time included Gloria Steinenem, Betty Friedan, and Wonder woman.

On March 22, 1972 the ERA was finally passed by congress after the revival of feminism and countless push by women organizations. It was then sent to the states for ratification which required thirty eight states to ratify. However, the ERA did not meet the thirty eighth state requirement and so the ERA was never ratified. However, the writings and approach that emerged during this period were quite different than they previously were.

In an article written by the League of Women voters (LWV) in Missouri, aiming to promote the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, we see a new trend emerging in the writings surrounding the ERA: mockery. Interestingly, the LWV’s tactic in promoting the ERA was a sort of minimized mockery to showcase its benefits. It seems as though their goal was to promote the ERA but do so in a way that would seem almost appealing to their male counterparts. They did this by elaborating on the benefits of the ERA in regards to men. Benefits such as not being solely responsible for supporting the children financially, not having the “burden” of paying for their wives mishaps with the law, being able to gain custody of the children, and other such male-focused benefits were sprinkled among the article. This is quite revealing in regards to the progression of the writings surrounding the ERA. While previous writings were centered around picking one side and defending it, these new writings were in a way more complex as it aimed to appeal to men.

Contrastingly, one article published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in 1979, shows a different tactic in relaying the benefits of the ERA to its readers. Being that this article was published by the NAEYC, it can be theorized that while the country was in a divide over the issue of the ERA, not all organizations that were focused on family affairs were promoting an anti-ERA stance, as the STOP-ERA protesters were. FIND STOP ERA ARTICLE.

Notably, the 1970s was a very pivotal time for the ERA. Aside from the various writings that were still centered around the ERA with varying viewpoints, one major new emergence was the new support the ERA received from organizations that were previously opposed to it. For example, the United Automobile Workers and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union were among two of the newly emerging supporters.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) emerged during the post civil war period. The reasons for this emergence are numerous; on the most fundamental level, the WCTU began as a way to promote protestant-puritan values such as temperance, honesty, and order. It was also, in part, a reaction to the shift in influence from Protestant small town leaders to “new monied elites.” Similarly, it served as a way for women to broaden their domestic roles in the community. Because of the traditional values the WCTU promoted, they did not believe that those values aligned with the ERA and initially opposed it. But, as Noel Myricks clarifies, and reveals in 1977, a new focus was on the forefront concerning the ERA. More and more organizations, writings, and protests were centered around equal wages, conditions, and the impact on family life as a positive for both genders.

Similarly, a 1970 journal article, written by Raymond Munts, reveals this new notion in separating equality and labor laws like the WCTU previously affirmed. In relation to the ERA, Munts states that “the equality argument always has existed as an antithesis to the protection argument.” On its most basic level, Munts was shedding light on the long standing conflict that separated women’s labor organizations and women’s equality organizations. He ties the two by speaking of the comparable desires of both labor and equality organizations: equal wages for equal work, weight lifting restrictions for both men and women, night work, and occupational limitations. While this is very different than the Myricks article, the aim was the same: promoting the equal benefits associated with the ERA. What is different, though, is both Munts and Myricks approach with this. Munts focused more on stand-alone positives, while Myricks chose to portray these positives by showing how groups of people were not attesting to these positives.

Similarly, in 1980, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of industrial organizations (AFL-CIO) was also showing its support for the ERA. Specifically focused on its illinois brach, a newspaper article was published about the drive hosted by the AFL-CIO in order to endorse and promote the ERA. This new trend of support from such organizations shows us how the ERA supporters were beginning to acknowledge that supporting the ERA was not undoing labor laws, as many had firmly believed. Instead, it was undoing this divide between labor laws and equal rights that previous opposers had firmly rooted their beliefs in. This view combines both Munts and Myricks main points by showcasing this new way of highlighting the ERA’s benefits, as well as, demonstrating the change in certain organizations stance; as with the WCTU.

Overall, the 1970s, was a very defining period in ERA history. Because of the already established protective legislations in place during this period, it was easier to acknowledge both labor laws and equality laws on its own. Thus, leaving way for more women’s groups to become open to the idea of an ERA. However, while the ERA started with great acceptance after its 1970 introduction to congress, it did not meet the ¾ state ratification by the 1978 deadline. Because of this, congress extended the deadline to 1982, however, the extension expired without any states further ratification.

1990:

This period was met a surprising new emergence. While, this period was right after the deadline ended for the ERA, concluding with a standstill of the amendment, the writing during this time were no longer centered around ERA support but rather, it was now focused on antifeminist groups.

A 1991 article titled, “Who Speaks for American Women? The Future of Antifeminism,” gives us a little insight on this issue. Written by Susan E. Marshall, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas, tells of a new wave of antifeminist women’s groups growing after the defeat of the ERA.

The aim of this paper is to explore and investigate the public and political views of ERA, focusing on how those views have affected the ERA and have either changed or remained the same thereafter. I will also explore the current status of the equal rights amendment among various states in the U.S. and the current public views of this amendment. To do so, I will focus on writings from various time periods including the 1920s, 1950s, 1970s, and today. These time periods were specifically chosen because of the context of what was happening during this time in the United States. I will provide background information on the current state of affairs during each time period and how that directly or indirectly impacted the outcome of the ERA. but perhaps changes that were more paramount in regards to women. Exercise in perseverance.

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Evolution and Current Status of the Equal Rights Amendment: Analytical Essay. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 23, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/evolution-and-current-status-of-the-equal-rights-amendment-analytical-essay/
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