June passes and with it the Equal Rights Amendment--the latter being a helpless victim, if reports in the media are to be believed, of some dark immensity, inscrutable and implacable. What precisely this occult force might have been no one in the media seems to know. At least no one has paused to define it.
The defeat of the ERA is one of the few political contests in modern history covered almost exclusively from the campaign headquarters of the loser. Who beat the ERA? A ghost? Fate? Possibly the National Organization for Women was knocked out while shadow boxing. Well, you cannot really do a feature story on the shadow. And so the news featured NOW's Eleanor Smeal, victim of the ineffable in progressive America. In progressive America, there are mysteries: as in the Islamic Republic life is frequently not what it is made out to be.
Smeal was gallant enough to identify an opponent. "The forces against equality are large," she declared, and she named the Republican Party and "special corporate interests." That is correct, the corporate Camorra that "profits massively from sex discrimination particularly on the local level."
There you have it; born of the lie that generations of American males have conspired against American females, the ERA is buried with the lie that this ghastly legal monstrosity was ambushed by the agents of the Fortune 500.
The women's movement, as it is widely misnomered, has been a sham from the start. Better it should be called "some women's movement." Shamelessly arrogating the rhetoric of the civil rights movement, it exploited the fact of changing career patterns among middle-class women. The new patterns were the consequence of technological developments and painful economic need, not ideology.
Yet the feminists capitalized on the attendant anxiety. Their shrieks were always unpopular at the polls, and so, true to their elitist nature, they manipulated the least democratic powers in the American polity: the bureaucracy and the courts. There they succeeded, bringing down on us such antique policies as quotas and reverse discrimination. Progressive America became an ascriptive society: jobs distributed according to physical characteristics rather than performance.
The so-called women's movement has been a radical movement of the left from the start. It moved rapidly from a plea for equal opportunity toward a far-ranging attack on American life. Denigrating mainstream mothers and wives, its speakers have been rabble- rousers to the soap box born, inflaming old enmities, creating new ones, merchanting "rage," as they say.
With bugles sounding, the women of the fevered brow strutted forth to battle the nation's male chauvinists. For years we heard of their exploits, breaking down all-male bars, proscribing boys choirs and father-son picnics, bravely unhitching their hellish bras. Yet as their rodomontade grew it became eminently observable that male chauvinism was not going to battle back. There has never been a men's equivalent of NOW, nor male rabble- rousers proclaiming male superiority, nor pickets. The battle against chauvinists was always a battle against shadows.
The dissimulations of the so-called women's movement doped up the media but not ordinary Americans. Where their views are felt most intensely, at the state and local level, the ERA was defeated. The journalists may miss the story, but the historians will not. ERA's defeat was a most amazing display of democratic process. Riding on a chloroform cloud of rosy national publicity, the ERA captured 35 states in five years, but the common folk saw the amendment for the monstrosity that it was. It never got the needed 38 states. Even when the elitists manipulated an extension in 1978, the common folk would not be thwarted. Over the next four years, with the most elite institutions of the land in favor, with millions of dollars pouring in, the pro-ERA forces could not win three more states. In fact, they had lost states.
That is the stupendous news story of ERA's defeat. The elites lost.
Why? My estimate is that ordinary Americans recognized the members of the so-called women's movement for the radicals that they are. The evolution from an innocent call for equality of opportunity to a far-ranging criticism of the American way of life worried Americans. The vague utopia promised with its endless litigations and squawkings worried them more. At the last hour, the opposition organized, and it was not composed of ghosts or fiendish corporations. It was composed of Main Street Americans, mainly mothers..