The strong, courageous, historic fight for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment has been increasing in intensity as the ratification clock ticks down to the June 30 deadline.
When the ERA campaign began in 1972, its supporters were very low key. Most felt that it would be quickly ratified without controversy. Who would stand in the way of an amendment that was "fair" and "just"? The government collects taxes equally from men and women, so why not equal rights? Very few people thought a massive, grass- roots campaign was needed.
They were wrong. The ERA got ambushed. Opponents said the ERA was an issue of life style, not equality. We were told the ERA would make women men, as if the Constitution could change chromosomes. Opponents said that the automatic consequences of the ERA would be a gaudy parade of horribles--unisex toilets, women in combat, destruction of the family. Equality, unfortunately, is not as flashy an issue as life styles. The ERA ratification process was covered by some in the media like a sporting event, with charges and counter- charges being lobbed across the net. The image was often left of two fighting cats, and little attempt was made to analyze the facts.
Moreover, many women during the 1970s thought that having a constitutional floor under their legislative gains would be nice, but wasn't really necessary. The legislative trend was definitely toward more equality. No one thought backsliding was possible, so they did not get actively involved in ERA ratification.
With the election of Ronald Reagan, backsliding became a reality. Not only did he oppose the ERA; his administration's record is abysmal on the appointment of women to key jobs, budget cuts in programs that affect women and women's issues generally. Couple Reagan's record with the crowing of the administration's friends in the New Right--like Howard Phillips, director of the Conservative Caucus, who propsed that women be allowed to vote or own property only if there were no men in the family.
Women are even more tired of the hypocrisy of ERA opponents who fully participate in all the rights our foremothers won for us--voting, owning property, access to higher education and the professions, etc.--yet oppose the ERA. Phyllis Schlafly, the leader of the STOP-ERA movement, is a lawyer, author, congressional candidate and opponent of equal rights for women--contradictions aplenty for a hilarious Lily Tomlin skit. But how can Lily Tomlin be funnier than the real thing?
In any event, the ERA as a constitutional floor is looking more and more desirable to more and more women. I traveled twice to Florida recently, and a few other unratified states, and I was overwhelmed by the mounting anger. Women are angry that the democratic process has not been allowed to work. In North Carolina, for example, the ERA was tabled when it looked like the proponents had the votes.
As a result, for the first time since women were enfranchised in 1920, they are polling differently from men, and the difference is widening. Moderate, middle-of-the road women have been getting involved in the ERA ratification as never before.
As the ratification clock ticks down, the impetus to pass the ERA is increasing and plans are being made to reintroduce it. A phenomenal, nation- wide grass roots movement will be behind it ready to take off, not unlike the phoenix of Egyptian mythology.