Allow me a moment for mourning. I promise I won't abuse it. It is, after all, unsophisticated to grieve for a piece of legislation. Politics is politics. You win some, you lose some.
But this time we lost the Equal Rights Amendment, and it feels lousy.
The defeat was no surprise. By the time the grim bulletins came in from Raleigh, Tallahassee, Springfield, we knew it was all over. Some of us felt like members of a family who used up their emotional energy tending the sick. We greeted the end dry-eyed, a bit tired, even numb.
Still, there is a need to mourn. So, spare me for now the official lines of optimism.
Next week, next month, or next year, is time enough for perspective, the long view, the historical glance. Then I'll remember that it took three generations to pass suffrage. It will take a third generation to pass ERA. Nothing can kill an idea. It will start again.
Next week, next month, or next year is time enough to analyze what went wrong. Then I'll play the games. Was it ERA strategy or right-wing opposition? Were women their own enemy, or men? Were the ERA supporters too controversial or not confrontational enough? Was it the draft, the "family"? Were we just weak on votes or also on consensus?
Next week, next month, or next year is also time enough to tally up the good that can come with defeat. Then we can all chart how innocence has been replaced by savvy. The sanguine have become the cynical.
We can make optimistic comparisons. In 1920, when the 19th Amendment was passed, those who believed in women's rights went home with the illusion of victory. As the 27th Amendment goes down, those who believe in women's rights are fresh out of illusions. Women who have stood in the chambers watching their rights treated callously will take that memory to the ballot box.
But not yet. For today, please, a moment for mourning.
My country has refused to promise that "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex."
Today, those of us who expended energy and idealism for the notion of equal rights are the losers. So are those of us who believed the system would work for women. Those of us who just assumed that something as simple as this amendment would pass are losers. So are those who underestimated the enemies, and the enmity.
The angry won: people who linked the ERA wth every evil from unisex toilets to homosexual marriages. The scared won people looking for a scapegoat for the "breakdown of the family," the changing expectations for women. The politicians-as-usual won people who traded our rights away as if they were baseball cards.
And so did those who simply want to keep, or put, women down. The anti-woman sentiment was always there in this debate, raw and overt, ringing with biblical incantations about submissiveness. It was also there, civilized and sedate, covered by a veneer of protective language and states' rights litanies from people who were for the "E" and the "R" but not the "A".
No, I will not bury my heart in Tallahassee or Springfield or Raleigh. The defeat won't stop this women's movement, this movement of women, anymore than legislation could stop the continental drift. Someday our children-historians will look on this campaign as a time when fear got the better of our ideals and lynched our rights.
But it will take, at least, another 10 years to pass the ERA. I will be 51, my daughter will be 24. Another generation of women will have grown up without their rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Another generation will have expended their energy on basics. Another generation will have felt discrimination.
The ERA was no guarantee of Utopia, but it promised something: progress. For the moment, the bad guys have won. It's a moment worth mourning.