“This is easy,” he told me.
Really? Guys who look like Andersson have been blocking this thing for decades.
Those men (and some women) say it will give women unfettered access to public funding for abortions. They say that it will destroy businesses if women must be paid the same as men. They say women and men will have to share bathrooms, locker rooms, hospital rooms.
Baloney, all of it, is what Andersson tells opponents.
“This is easy,” he said to me again as we were jostled at the raucous and jubilant party celebrating Virginia officially becoming the 38th state to ratify the amendment.
“This is the right side of history,” he said. And men will be okay. In fact, there are ways it will benefit men, he said.
Andersson is one of the guys who gets it.
I sat in the Virginia Senate gallery Wednesday amid scores of women who’ve been in this fight for years. There were the gray-haired women who picketed in 1972, when Congress first voted on it. They brought their granddaughters, in braids and cute dresses. Gen-X women who were astounded when they learned that the ERA had never passed were there. Millennials with awesome “Legalize Equality” hoodies cheered and whooped. A woman in a straw hat and full suffragist dress flew in Tuesday night from Minnesota to be in Virginia on this historic day.
And in the middle of all those selfies and hugs and emotions sat two men, in their dark suits, briefcases on their laps, waiting for their unrelated agenda item that day. Statler and Waldorf in the statehouse.
“Legalize what?” one said to the other as he tried to read one of the sashes. “Legalize marijuana?” They both chuckled.
“They want equality? They have equality. I don’t know what else they want,” one told the other as he began to unfurl examples of his female family members who were allowed to “go wherever they want for school.”
“It’s symbolic, I guess,” the other said. They chuckled again.
It’s exactly what I heard the Richmond talk-radio guys conclude as I drove in that day.
Andersson would shut those guys up if they spent five minutes with him.
He is the ERA whisperer, flying across the country — “Utah, Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Virginia, Virginia, well, Virginia three times” — to convince men, usually fellow Republicans, that the Equal Rights Amendment is good for the country and not bad for men.
It’s not about his daughter or his wife, as many men who support women’s equality tend to say.
Andersson says it’s about human rights.
His missions don’t usually work when he meets with a pack of men, he said.
“One-on-one works best,” he said.
This amendment — introduced in 1923 and finally ratified on a gray Wednesday this week in 2020 — is supposed to make it loud and clear in the U.S. Constitution that discrimination based on sex is not okay in our country.
Andersson was a state legislator in the Illinois House of Representatives in 2018 when he crossed party lines to vote for the ERA in that state.
“Boy, did I get blowback,” said Andersson, who has since left the legislature and now works with the Illinois Human Rights Commission.
In Illinois, the fight was all about abortion — that was the big boogeyman opponents used to try to defeat the amendment.
“Now I’m pro-life,” Andersson said. “But if a woman has a legitimate threat to her life or health and the treatment is medically necessary, that treatment must be covered.”
But really, “there is no court that has suggested that elective abortions must be publicly funded,” he said. “It wasn’t so much about abortions here in Virginia.”
But he did hear folks, in the state that houses the Pentagon, talk about a mandatory draft for women.
“I have a daughter and a son. I love them equally,” he said. But one child shouldn’t have to register for the draft while the other one doesn’t.
Maybe, if there’s the possibility that daughters, girlfriends and wives are eligible, the possibility of a draft will be harder.
Or what about paternity leave for men?
Or child custody cases?
“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg liked those cases where sex discrimination meant that men were discriminated against,” Andersson said. “Those will be impacted, too.”
Yes, Ginsburg began her groundbreaking crusade smashing laws across the land that allowed for sex discrimination with cases advocating for men — such as one challenging different drinking ages for men in Oklahoma (it was 18 for women, 21 for men), or the case of a widower who couldn’t get his wife’s Social Security benefits because it was assumed he made more than her and didn’t need them (he didn’t, he did.)
But let’s be real. A society built on a foundation of inequity is immoral and undemocratic. American women still earn less than men. (We see that hold true for young, childless women, too, so don’t give me that “women took time off to have kids” routine.) We struggle to have final say over our bodies. And the legacy of generations of men in power makes equity constantly elusive.
Despite this historic move in Virginia, the fight for the ERA isn’t over.
Virginia provided the 38 states needed to ratify the amendment before it can be added to the Constitution, but that was supposed to happen by a deadline — 1982 — that Congress imposed way back when.
There will be no shortage of legal efforts to prove that the deadline is bogus. Maybe enough women will come into power soon and they won’t have to wait for men to help make it a reality.
But in the meantime, history can be made by guys like Andersson who refuse to see equality as red or blue, conservative or liberal, men or women.
It’s simply the right thing to do. And yes, it’s that easy.
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