Tag Archives: ERA

The Equal Restrooms Amendment

Back when I was in high school, the Equal Rights Amendment was in the news. (Yes, I am that old.) We debated it, researched it, wrote papers on it, and held mock elections. Boys carried signs calling it the “Equal Restrooms Amendment.” (They were making fun of the ERA, but in fact, restroom parity seemed like a good idea at the time, as there was always a line in the women’s room, but never one in the men’s. But I digress.)

Now, with the ERA poised to become law (perhaps) since Virginia ratified it, the most important issue to some is how it will affect restrooms. Pearls are being clutched over the idea that any male – and especially transgender ones – can just walk into a women’s bathroom, locker room, or shower room and peep at the girls. Or worse. There’s also a lot of talk about men being able to compete in women’s sports and win all the prizes.

People don’t believe me when I tell them that the entire text of the amendment reads:

ARTICLE —

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Sec. 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Sec. 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

That’s it. Not a word about restrooms or sports. According to section two, the states can make any laws they want about restroom restrictions or sporting events, and the courts (now packed with Republicans) will decide whether they are constitutional – whether they abide by the ERA.

It’s also important to note that there are already laws that say men are not allowed to stalk, molest, kidnap, or otherwise harass women or children in restrooms, or anywhere else for that matter. Of course, these laws do not prevent men from doing so, but they establish penalties should anyone transgress. The ERA would not change these laws.

Really, the hubbub seems to be more about transgender individuals, who (at least according to the opponents) decide every day which gender they wish to be. And individuals with penises – always a danger to women who necessarily have their pants down. Or transgender individuals who have not had their penises removed. Or something. (The prospect of lesbians peeping in women’s restrooms is never addressed, perhaps because it is not a real problem.)

And let’s not forget men participating in women’s sports. Or having an unfair advantage if they do. Or something. Never mind that there are many sports, such as marathon races, that allow both women and men to participate. Yes, the men usually do better than the women, but that’s not the point. Women used to be arrested for trying to run in a marathon. Now they can, all without the ERA. (Title IX, which dictates parity in women’s and men’s sports in publically funded institutions like schools and colleges, is something totally else.)

But let’s get back to the intent of the ERA, those three tiny sections (not hundreds of pages of documents, as some have claimed and apparently believe). Their purpose is to establish equal rights for women – and men – in matters such as pay, law, education, advancement, opportunities, and areas where women are at a disadvantage simply because they are women.

But notice that men would be covered by the amendment as well. It’s not called the Women’s Rights Amendment, after all, and there’s a reason for that. In areas such as child custody, for example, where women have the advantage simply because they are women, men would have equal rights under the law.

It’s sad that there is so much fear, misunderstanding, and falsehoods about what is really a simple concept – equality under the law. The right to be treated equally by organizations and institutions. The explicit right to be protected by the Constitution, for all citizens.

But it’s not about the restrooms. It was never about the restrooms.

 

Post-Feminism: Back to the Future

Now that we’ve got the marriage equality question settled for all time (1), I think it’s time we turned to a brand-new, never-before-contemplated issue of social concern – women’s rights.

That’s right. We women want rights.

What rights, you ask?

Well, I dunno. There are so many.

The right to fair wages. The right to be believed when reporting a rape. The right not to be abused by a partner and to get something more than a restraining order that doesn’t work. The right to affordable, good-quality child care. The right to be represented in groups that make decisions about women. The right to have children or not, as we decide. The right to health care, mental health care, places in homeless shelters. The right not to be assaulted by fellow service members.

I could go on. So could you, I bet.

But, just as we’re now living in a post-racial society (2), I’m told we’re living in a post-feminist society.(3)

I’ve also heard that one of the reasons the Terrifying Gay Agenda (4) is having such current success is that they found a specific issue to organize around – marriage equality. Not “Treat Us Like Human Beings” or “Don’t Discriminate in Jobs and Housing” or “We Want Equal Rights.”

And those are some of the problems with the women’s movement – we’re not organized, we don’t have just one issue that we can knock off the list above, and “Change Society” is too vague.

So let’s narrow it down to one. For myself, I’d like to be mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. And that means the Equal Rights Amendment.(5) All we have to do, according to the experts at http://www.equalrightsamendment.org/, since the one proposed in 1972 was passed (6), is just get enough states to ratify it to put us over the top – three whole states.

The ones that haven’t ratified are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia. I figure Illinois is a good place to start. Then, I don’t know – Nevada? North Carolina? Virginia? What do you think?

But let’s do it. Then see what happens with all those other issues. I’m betting the ERA will have a good effect on many of them, and more besides.(7)

What’s that? It isn’t a good time to bring up women’s rights? The climate in the country isn’t conducive to the issue? There’s no chance of it happening?

Well, was it a good time to bring up marriage equality? Was the climate of the public discussion in favor of that? Was the country ready for it? Take a look at all the strict constitutionalists scrambling to figure out a way to defy the Constitution (8), and you tell me.

And to those who say that it’s an empty gesture, that an Equal Rights Amendment will make no real difference in women’s lives, think about what happened once black people were mentioned in that foundational document. No, it didn’t change everything for the better right away. But it sure got the ball rolling.

And I don’t know about you, but I sure would like to see some ball-rolling on behalf of women.(9)

(1) *snerk*
(2) *snerk* again
(3) I had a t-shirt that said “I’ll be post-feminist in the post-patriarchy.” My husband and I both wore it until you couldn’t see the letters anymore. I’d get another one if I could remember what catalog we found it in.
(4) As the joke goes, it includes brunch at 11:30, decorating committee at 4:00, and a dance at 9:00. It’s probably the dance that terrifies people.
(5) Here’s the full text:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

Fifty-two whole words. Scary, isn’t it?
(6) Yes, the ERA actually passed, although almost no one remembers this. It was the ratifying that did it in.
(7) Back in the day, when the ERA came around the last time, it was sneeringly referred to by some as the Equal Restrooms Amendment. Which is actually a topic that still needs addressing. Women’s bathrooms in public buildings need more stalls than men’s to achieve parity. Women need a stall for each excretory (and hygiene) function. Men conserve space using urinals; for some unfathomable reason, they’re willing to pee without walls and doors.
(8) And/or the Supreme Court. And/or the President, for that matter. Anything mentioned in the Constitution, really, except the Second Amendment.
(9) yet more *snerk*