A nation that will not guarantee equal rights for women

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Supporters march in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment in
April, 1979. | Sun-Times Library

The U.S. Constitution does not guarantee equal rights for women, although Congress approved the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972.

Thirty-eight states had to ratify the amendment to the Constitution for it to become the law and only 37 have done that. The last one to do so, number 37, was Illinois earlier this year.


I mention this because of the continuing debate over whether men can be trusted to determine whether a woman is telling the truth about whether she has been sexually assaulted. I mention this because of the continuing argument about whether men should have the right to determine whether women can legally have an abortion.

I mention the Equal Rights Amendment because of this country’s long history of oppressing women and denying them equal rights, dating to the day the U.S. Constitution was signed.

I was a college student when women began campaigning for the ERA. Critics said it would lead to the destruction of the “gentler sex.” Women would be drafted into the military, they said, and forced into combat. There would be unisex toilets. It would mean the end of the traditional family.

We are in the 21st century, an era of artificial intelligence (as we still search for the organic kind), self-driving cars, and gay marriages. Yet the men of this country still can’t bring themselves to see women as their equals.

Forgive me. Many men are perfectly willing to admit that women are just as good as they are or even superior in some ways. They’re just not sure they want to grant them equal protection under the law.

Or give them equal pay.

Or admit that men, for centuries, have abused women verbally, sexually and physically.

Despite the #MeToo movement, a woman who accuses a man of holding her down on a bed or dropping his drawers and dangling his genitals in front of her face, remains suspect.

Her background must be investigated. We have to know if she was sober at the time, how many sexual partners she has had and whether she has a history of mental illness. Is she the sort of person given to hysterics?

The word hysteria can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and the word “uterus.” It was the physician Hippocrates who first postulated the theory that women had trouble focusing their thoughts and were driven to emotional outbursts because of a “wandering uterus.” Hysteria was his diagnosis.

And for centuries thereafter, in cultures throughout the world, women who complained they were mistreated by their husbands, were sexually active or demanded equal rights were forced to have hysterectomies.

Illinois is considered a blue state. For many years the Democrats controlled the Illinois Senate, Illinois House and the governor’s mansion. Yet, this state did not pass the Equal Rights Amendment.

There are some who contend that even if the amendment is finally ratified by 38 states it will not be lawful. It would face a constitutional challenge because Congress placed a time limit for ratification of the amendment and, even though that original seven-year period was extended, the time is now long passed for its legal adoption.

There are critics who contend women don’t need the ERA. They are already guaranteed equal treatment under the Constitution, these people say.

They want women to trust the men who dominate the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trust the men in Congress.

Trust the president.

The proposed Equal Rights Amendment states: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

For 46 years this nation has debated this concept. Women have never been treated fairly. Yet, men scream today because a fellow man is charged with sexual abuse by a woman who has asked for an FBI investigation of her charges.

Life isn’t fair. That’s for sure.

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