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Women Are People

When I was in college I had the good fortune to land a work study job at the Women’s Resource Center on campus.  It was there that I got introduced to feminism. It was there that I learned everything from the complexities of a systemic power analysis to the bumper sticker slogans like, feminism is the radical notion that women are people”.  The late seventies and early eighties was also the time that women were trying to get the Equal Rights Amendment ratified.  The Equal Rights Amendment states that the equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”

I’m pleased to say that Montana was one of the 35 states that ratified the ERA. The amendment fell short of being included in the U.S. constitution because three more states still needed to vote to pass it.  I remember being disappointed that it wasn’t ratified, but honestly I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. I thought the ERA was blasé. It seemed so middle of the road when there were so many more important things that needed to be fought for. 

Now, more than 30 years later, I’ve changed my mind. I realize that while the ERA is no magic bullet, it is stronger than state laws which can be repealed.  And even more importantly it has the weight of a cultural norm. 

Our constitution is the document that states what we value as a nation and what this country stands for.  The ERA is the metaphorical scale of justice with which to weigh state laws and corporate practices regarding women’s equality.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg says that if she could choose one amendment to add to the constitution, she would choose the Equal Rights Amendment.  She wants her granddaughters to be able to see in the constitution that women and men are considered equal under the law

Just this week a sex discrimination case was settled against Union County Savings Bank in New Jersey.  For decades this bank has been denying female employees health insurance benefits for their spouses or children.  The company provided this benefit free of charge for its male employees.  Two women challenged this practice and the company retaliated by not giving them the pay raises it gave to all other bank tellers.

Under this week’s settlement, Union County Savings Bank has to reimburse the two women for the costs they incurred for their families’ health care and their associated damages, and must increase their weekly salary to compensate for the retaliatory denial of a pay increase.  

The lawyer for the National Women’s Law Center said, “It is shameful that in this day and age an employer would shortchange its female employees simply because they are women.”  End quote.

Another example from just this week is a case being filed in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of a pregnant UPS driver who was told by her doctor to avoid heavy lifting for the remainder of her pregnancy. Even though UPS makes accommodations for employees who need light duty because of a disability or an on-the-job injury—and have made accommodations even when a driver lost their license because of a DUI. UPS was unwilling to make reasonable accommodations for this woman. She had to take an unpaid leave of absence for the rest of her pregnancy, resulting in the loss of her salary and her health insurance.

According to the National Council of Women’s Organizations, the ERA would provide a clearer judicial standard for deciding cases of sex discrimination, since federal and state courts (some working with state ERAs, some without) are confusing and inconsistent.  Quote: “It would also clarify sex discrimination jurisprudence and 40 years of precedent for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who claimed in an interview in the California Lawyer, that the Constitution, specifically the 14th Amendment, does not protect against sex discrimination.” End quote.

The ERA would defend against the weakening of the progress women have made in the past 50 years. Congress, state legislatures, and the courts’ are continually attempting to limit women’s access to family planning. In addition, members of Congress have tried to role back Title IX, which requires equal opportunity in education — they have opposed the Violence Against Women Act, the Fair Pensions Act, and the Paycheck Fairness Act.  It is way past time that our constitution reflect the radical notion that women are people.  This is Terry Kendrick, thanks for listening.

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