I favor the Equal Rights Amendment. I hope it passes someday. Meanwhile, I can't be too unhappy that we have a couple of extra years in which to put straight a trend that, unattended, will set the hen among the roosters -- and force them to crow.
That trend is made up of two typical assumptions of our time: that nothing distinguishes the women from the men, and that the term "equal rights" covers human needs according to the traditional male priorities.
It's one of those things you hate to mention in mixed company nowadays, but there really is a difference between men and women. The truth is, most men and women start from different premises. On the whole, most males work out of attitudes originally oriented toward assertive action, a regard for general movements and patterns (like military and political history, for instance) and an interest in sex on its own terms. Women, in general, are necessarily pragmatic, offsetting their weaker physical potential with flexibility for endurance and survival. They are interested in personal behavior (like social history) rather than in impersonal systems, and approach sex at first as a single thread in a fabric of intimate intercommunication.
Probably one of the biggest differences between most men and women arises over choices concerning the family. Typically, the man will subordinate the personal interest of his family to his career goals, while most women, when the chips are down, will choose the family. (That, if anyone is still picking at the old chestnut, is why there have been no "great" women chefs or "great" women poets. Far more to the point would be to get away from the male standard of greatness and question how many of the "great" male chefs and poets have personally enriched the lives of those they claimed to love, and balance the answer against their career achievements in arriving at the final "greatness" quotient.)
Of course, conditioning has been at work. If it had not come about naturally, as a result of undeniable physical differences, it would have had to be invented so that the male and female approaches to life could balance each other in the complementary tension that ensures the survival of the human race.
Building on one or another of the traditional premises, the maturing personality, whether male or female, measures its growth by its increasing mastery of the strengths of both orientations. Probably most individuals stop short of perfect equilibrium, and that's a relief, for nothing is more annoying than the apparently totally objective personality. Androgyny is off-putting, and even attempting to achieve it detracts from the creative give-and-take that occurs between two valid approaches to living.
Or the should occur, and would have, if the feminist movement had been doing its job this last decade. Sadly enough, the thrust of the modern woman's movement has been to wipe out, rather than to equalize, the traditional concerns of women. Mostly to blame are the radical feminists, the biggest male chauvinists of them all. it is they who swallowed -- hook, line and sinker -- all the male ratings for the various vocations of humanity, and the immature male's priorities, at that. It was they who canonized for women the male gospel of career and self-fulfillment instead of raising the traditional female values of family and mutual personal growth to an equal acceptability.
What seems to be needed at this point, to reenter these scorned concerns into creative competition with the male ones again, is a little more guilt. Far too much effort has been wasted, for instance, in trying to free women from the guilt of leaving their children to go off to work. Women should feel guilty for leaving their young children. And so should men!
Guilt has its uses, and if one of them were to initiate a concerted effort by both sexes, through management and labor, to change America's work schedule to accommodate part-time jobs for both men and women, then I would believe feminism had made a valuable contribution to our culture. If the world of the furture allowed for fathers to take their turns with their families as well as their turns with their paying careers, then I might believe that respect for "woman's work" was finally on its way to achieving parity with that for men's.
And then I would welcome ERA, starting off from all the right premises -- not just half of them.