Mar 8, 2012

International Women's Day and the ERA

International Women's Day and the Equal Rights Amendment

By Diana Washington Valdez
Column

Today the United States, the world's leading democracy, joins other countries in celebrating International Women's Day.

On this day, it's worth noting that this great nation did not grant women the right to vote until 1920, nearly a century and a half after the American Revolution, and half a century after the United States passed the Fifteenth Amendment, which granted African-American men the right to vote.

The United States though has yet to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, which is required to guarantee women equal protection under the law once and for all. Many states have adopted their own versions of the ERA, and these state laws have helped to create a legal structure that protects women against discrimination.

Over its history, since the early 20th century, both liberal and conservative groups have supported the ERA. And, for different reasons, both liberal and conservative groups have opposed it. The lack of advancement on this front shows that our democracy is a process that is still in progress.

Recently, the controversy over a radio talk show host calling a young woman who testified before a Congressional panel a "slut" and a "prostitute" served to bring to the forefront once more the issue of equal rights for women in America.

Sandra Fluke, the woman the radio host insulted, is a law student at Georgetown University. She in fact testified before a House committee on behalf of a classmate whose health care insurance plan did not cover birth control.

Here is the transcript of what radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh said demonstrating that his comments were not taken out of context:

Limbaugh: What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? Makes her a prostitute. ... She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex."

In the first place, Limbaugh, the talk show host who is popular among conservatives, did not bother to check that Fluke's first name is actually Sandra.

In the second place, without fully informing himself about Fluke's role in the hearing, he resorted to the kind of name-calling that denigrates and objectifies women.

Ed Schultz, a radio and TV talk show host, is guilty of the same thing. Last year, during his radio program, Schultz, a self-admitted liberal, called Laura Ingraham a “slut” because of her political views. MSNBC suspended Schultz for a week, and he apologized to Ingraham, who is a conservative-leaning talk show host.

While some may be tempted to dismiss these unfortunate events as mistakes made by people who are passionate about politics, they sadly also reflect the paternalistic views that many in our society still hold toward women.

During the latest public discourse over birth control, I can't think of an instance where a man in Congress, the Senate or the White House was called such names.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, regardless of what you think of her politics, was right when she challenged a House committee last month on why it did not include any women on its panel to discuss birth control and insurance plans. Could it be that women  have been having sex (and getting pregnant) all by themselves?

As long as women cannot exercise legal control over their bodies, which is a concept that helped to end slavery in this country, they will continue to be subjected to the whims of men in power who objectify and denigrate them.

It has been shown that men who batter women regard their wives and girlfriends as property, and not as full partners worthy of their respect. There is not much distance between verbal and physical abuse.

For these and other reasons, if women are to be treated as true partners in our society, then the ERA must become a part of the U.S. Constitution, the essential foundational document of our democracy.

This year affords a new opportunity to pass the Equal Rights Amendment.

Today, on International Women's Day, let your representatives in the House and Senate know that you want them to push for the ratification of this important measure.

The text of the ERA is as follows:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

(Diana Washington Valdez is an author, journalist and blogger in El Paso, Texas, and a political science adjunct professor at El Paso Community College.)