A major issue of the women’s rights movement was passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The ERA was first proposed in 1923. Women’s groups worked for its passage for about six decades. It was finally passed by Congress in 1972; however, it was never ratified by the constitutionally required two-thirds (38) of the states. The ERA “died” in 1982 for failure of ratification.
Opposition to the ERA came largely from organized labor, which feared that the amendment would eliminate state “protective legislation” that established minimum wages and maximum hours for women workers. Resistance to the amendment also came from women who were bound up with being wives and mothers, and who wanted to ensure that women who devoted their lives to their families were not accorded lower status than women who worked outside the home.
A leader of the anti-ERA movement was Phyllis Schlafly, a Radcliffe-educated mother of six from Alton, Illinois. A larger than life figure, Schlafly earned a law degree at the age of 54, wrote nine books (including the 1964 best-seller A Choice, Not an Echo), and created her own lobbying group, the Eagle Forum. Schlafly argued that the ERA was unnecessary because women were already protected by the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which made it illegal for employers to discriminate against women in hiring and promotion unless the employer could show that sex was a “bona fide occupational qualification,” for example, hiring a man as an attendant for a men’s restroom. Schafly contended that the amendment would outlaw separate public restrooms for men and women and would deny wives the right to financial support. She also raised the “women in combat” issue by suggesting that the passage of the ERA would mean that woman would have to fight alongside men during war.
The Era of the ERA,” by Phyllis Unger Hiller (1974) deals with arguments made to rescind Tennessee’s original ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. (looking for audio)
The Equal Right Amendment came up in Tennessee;
the legislature voted “Yes”, thought it best for you and me. Tennessee came on strong to have it ratified;
It looked like justice had prevailed, and all were satisfied.
Once it was ratified, Tennessee had done its part,
But no, that wasn’t right enough, someone made another start.
Should have heard one senator, debating on the floor,
Equating equal rights with the signs on restroom doors.
Rescind! Rescind! Don’t let this thing begin!
Freedom of this kind affects a woman’s mind.
Rescind! Recind! Don’t let this thing begin!
It will all “get out of hand”
When they’re equal to the men.
Isaiah and Peter were quoted left and right
Pro and con, rescind or not, became the issued fight.
“They want to draft your mother, kids, and send them off to war,
Then you won’t have a mommy to love you anymore.
And what about drafting women? Be glad for what they’ve got.
Protect the family unit and destroy the Commie plot.
Women are the weaker sex and belong at home at night,
Not in an army barracks with soldiers left and right.
Some fine words were spoken in behalf equality.
When senators prepared their talks- not afraid of bein’ free.
“There’s nothing wrong with this amendment, I recommend vote ‘aye’
We can pass it once again, and I recommend we try.”
The people in the gallery were told to hold their cheers.
There were mostly women there in a variety of years.
To some the thoughts of freedom were the thoughts of doom,
Others couldn’t believe their ears, the senators wouldn’t make room.
Wouldn’t it be nice if
We had an amendment
To give civil rights to women
To once and for all just
Really lay it down from
The point of view of women
I know what you’re thinking
That’s just redundant
Chicks got it good now
They can almost be president
But is worker against worker
Time and time again
Cause the rich use certain issues as a tool
When I say we need the E.R.A it ain’t cause I’m a fool
It’s cause without it nobody can get away
With anything cool
And you don’t need to go far like
Just over to Canada
To feel the heightened sense
Of live and let live
What is it about Americans
Like so many pit-bulls
Trained to attack and
To never give
We gotta put down abortion
Put it down in the books for good
As central to the civil rights
Make diversity legal
Make it finally understood
Through the civil rights of women
And if you don’t like abortion
Don’t have an abortion
And teach your children
How they can avoid them
But don’t treat all women
Like they are your children
Compassion has many faces
And if men can kill and be decorated
Instead of blamed
Then a woman called upon to mother
Can choose to refrain
And contrary to eons
Of old time religion
Your body is your only
Nature is not here to serve you
Or at any cost to preserve you
That’s just some preacher man’s
Old time opinion
Life is sacred
Life is also profane
A woman’s life
It must be hers to name
Let an amendment
Put this brutal game to rest
Trust that women will still take you
To their breast
Trust that women will always
Do their best
Trust our differences make us stronger
In this amendment shall be
Family structures shall be free
We’ll have the right to civil union
With equal rights and
And then there’s the kids rights
They’ll naturally be on board
The funnel through it
Women’s lives are poured
Our family is so big
we’re all so very small
Let a web of relationship
Be laid over it all
Over the strata of power piled up to the sky
Over the illusion of autonomy on which it relies
Over any absolute that nature does not supply
And the birthing woman shall regain her place
In a circle of women, in a sacred space
Turn off the machines, put away the knives
This amendment shall deliver from bondage, midwives
“Ballad of the ERA,” written and sung by Kristen Lems (2007) gives some of the historical debate about the amendment. (https://youtu.be/5zQttvAJ8kk)
It was 50 years ago
An amendment was proposed to make the law state men and women equal
But little did we know
Just how long the fight would go
And even now, we’re working on its sequel
Chorus: So no more debate because we can’t wait
We demand equality today
And it’s fight we must to make the law just ERA – ERA – ERA!
“I’m only Adam’s rib
Keep me safe within my crib!”
Ms. Shifty cries while working women labor
“Any girl who needs to work
Should find a man, or she’s a jerk,
And if she don’t know her place,
Who cares what they pay her?” (We do!)
Said the man who’s been laid off,
“How can I support this stuff?
The boss tells me you’ll make more competition.”
She said, “Find work if you can
But not just cause you’re a man
Let’s work side by side in factory and kitchen!”
Said the sergeant with a sneer,
“Well then tell me something dear,
Are you willing to be drafted with the others?”
She answered, “Yes, and more,
I will not support your war,
I will resist and fight beside my brothers!”
Now the day is close at hand
That across this lovely land
Those who try to keep us down will be defeated!
So help us speed the day, Shout the word, it’s ERA!
Till the era of equality is greeted!