for Discussion: What are
arguments for and against granting women
equal rights and passing the ERA?
Reading: Hymowitz, p. 341-350; Gerster, pp. 214-220;
Why I Want a Wife (web); Steinem
"For the ERA" (web);
Falwell "Against the ERA" (web);
Against Feminism" (web)
The Women's Movement in
The Political Fight for
1. The Rise of the Women's
in the 1960s
2. The Political Struggle over the
3. The Women's Movement after the
Defeat of the ERA
1. According to Rebecca Klatch, why
is feminism anti-family?
2. Why does Klatch believe that American society
can't afford to allow women to pursue their own individual interests?
3. Why does Klatch believe that women need
protected from men?
4. According to Klatch, what should be women's
role in society and in the family?
5. According to Hymowitz, what was the goal
National Organization for Women (NOW) when it was founded in 1966?
6. What do feminists mean when the argue that
"the personal is political"?
7. Why does Judy Syfers want a wife? What
would a wife give her?
8. What are the major arguments Gloria Steinem
makes to support passage of the ERA?
9. What does Steinem mean when she argues
that "Women's Liberation is Men's Liberation, too"?
10. Why does the Reverend Jerry Falwell believe
that women's liberation is a threat the the family and American
11. What are Congresswoman Margaret Heckler's
major arguments in support of the ERA?
12. Why does Myra Wolfgang believe that the
Let's look at a larger paradox in
American society. Throughout its history, the United States has
been forced to grant an increasing number of groups their basic
rights and freedom as Americans. However, despite Americans' willingness
to accept Blacks, immigrants, Catholics, Jews, and other historically
excluded peoples greater rights and freedoms, Americans have been
at the same time reluctant to grant women their full rights and
freedoms as American citizens. Even today granting women equal rights
in American society is a very controversial and divisive issue.
What is it about granting women equal rights that causes some American
men and women to fear that American society, the family, and marriage
will be undermined? Why do women still not have the same rights,
freedoms, and opportunities as American men do? In order to answer
these questions we need to look at the history and debate over the
equal rights amendment, the ERA. Having been approved by Congress
in 1972, the ERA was soon ratified by more than 30 states, but the
closer it came to being passed as a Constitutional amendment by
the states, the larger and more vocal its men and women opponents
became. By 1982, the ERA was defeated, having failed to pass the
states, and women still do not have equal rights under the law in
the United States.
What did the ERA say? (See EQUAL
RIGHTS AMENDMENT site.)
EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT
Alice Paul, 1921
Section 1. Equality of Rights under the law shall not be denied
or abridged by the United States or 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.
The Equal Rights Amendment was written in 1921 by suffragist Alice
Paul. It has been introduced in Congress every session since 1923.
It passed Congress in 1972, but failed to be ratified by the necessary
thirty-eight states by the July 1982 deadline. It was ratified by
For an excellent history and series
of document on the women's movement after World War II, see The
Feminist Chronicles 1953 - 1993.
The ERA was first introduced in Congress in 1923, but still to this
day it has failed to become law. Let's look at the nature and history
of the debate over the ERA to try to determine why it is so controversial.
As a result of political pressure
from the Civil Rights movement, Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights
Act. It committed the federal government to protect and ensure the
civil and political rights of Blacks and women from discrimination.
It would appear that the Civil Rights Act was both a victory for
both Blacks and women, whose civil rights the federal government
was now committed to protect. But, in fact, it was only really a
victory for Blacks. During the debate over the Civil Rights Act,
Southern Congressmen included women in the Act hoping that enough
Northern and Western Congressmen would refuse to support it; Southern
politicians hoped that Congress would refuse to pass a law protecting
women's civil rights. Indeed, this demonstrates that for many protecting
American women's civil rights was even more controversial and divisive
than protecting Black's civil rights. But, in the end, the 1964
Civil Rights Act passed despite the fact that it would now force
to federal government to also protect women's civil rights.
Many opponents of the ERA argue
that it is not needed because women are included in the 1964 Civil
Rights Act. But, in fact, in 1965 and 1966 the federal government
and the courts refused to enforce the Civil Rights Act's protection
of women, arguing that it was a "fluke" and that Congress
had not really intended to include women in the law. Despite the
fact that women were included in the law, the government refused
to protect women's civil rights. This refusal outraged the leaders
of the women's movement. They felt that once again women were going
to lose out to Blacks, who were granted full citizenship and the
right to vote after the Civil War, while women were told to wait,
that there time would come soon. It seemed that once again the government
was telling women to wait, that it would now protect Black's civil
rights but not women's. As a result of the government's refusal
to enforce the laws protecting women's civil rights, the leaders
of the women's movement got together and formed the National Organization
for Women (NOW) in 1966. NOW's major goal was to force the government
to enforce the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
But by the late 1960s, the leaders
of NOW decided that enforcing the Civil Rights laws were not enough.
They concluded only a Constitutional amendment that once and for
all included women as full citizens under the law would guarantee
women equal rights and freedoms in the United States. State and
federal governments had already proven that they would find ways
out of enforcing lesser legal protections for women's rights. In
fact, some critics of the ERA argue that it is not needed because
women were included in the 14th amendment's guarantee of equal rights
under the law to "all person born and naturalized in the United
States." But, as we have seen, the Supreme Court on a number
of occasions has ruled that the 14th amendment's protections did
not include women. Supporters argued that only the Equal Rights
amendment would force American government and society to finally
recognize women as persons and full citizens under the law.
Let's look at NOW's "Declaration
of Purpose" in 1966 to better understand the goals of the women's
movement and supporters of the ERA. (See The
History of the National Organization for Women.)
The National Organization
for Women's 1966 Statement of Purpose
We, men and women who hereby constitute ourselves as the National
Organization for Women, believe that the time has come for a new
movement toward true equality for all women in America, and toward
a fully equal partnership of the sexes, as part of the world-wide
revolution of human rights now taking place within and beyond our
The purpose of NOW is to take action to bring women into full participation
in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all the privileges
and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.
We believe the time has come to move beyond the abstract argument,
discussion and symposia over the status and special nature of women
which has raged in America in recent years; the time has come to
confront, with concrete action, the conditions that now prevent
women from enjoying the equality of opportunity and freedom of choice
which is their right, as individual Americans, and as human beings.
NOW is dedicated to the proposition that women, first and foremost,
are human beings, who, like all other people in our society, must
have the chance to develop their fullest human potential. We believe
that women can achieve such equality only by accepting to the full
the challenges and responsibilities they share with all other people
in our society, as part of the
decision-making mainstream of American political, economic and social
We organize to initiate or support action, nationally, or in any
part of this nation, by individuals or organizations, to break through
the silken curtain of prejudice and discrimination against women
in government, industry, the professions, the churches, the political
parties, the judiciary, the labor unions, in education, science,
medicine, law, religion and every other field of importance in American
Enormous changes taking place in our society make it both possible
and urgently necessary to advance the unfinished revolution of women
toward true equality, now. With a life span lengthened to nearly
75 years it is no longer either necessary or possible for women
to devote the greater part of their lives to child- rearing; yet
childbearing and rearing which continues to
be a most important part of most women's lives -- still is used
to justify barring women from equal professional and economic participation
Today's technology has reduced most of the productive chores which
women once performed in the home and in mass-production industries
based upon routine unskilled labor. This same technology has virtually
eliminated the quality of muscular strength as a criterion for filling
most jobs, while intensifying American industry's need for creative
intelligence. In view of this new industrial revolution created
by automation in the mid-twentieth century, women can and must participate
in old and new fields of society in full equality -- or become permanent
Despite all the talk about the status of American women in recent
years, the actual position of women in the United States has declined,
and is declining, to an alarming degree throughout the 1950's and
60's. Although 46.4% of all American women between the ages of 18
and 65 now work outside the home, the overwhelming majority -- 75%
-- are in routine clerical, sales, or factory jobs, or they are
household workers, cleaning women, hospital attendants. About two-thirds
of Negro women workers are in the lowest paid service occupations.
Working women are becoming increasingly -- not less -- concentrated
on the bottom of the job ladder. As a consequence full-time women
workers today earn on the average only 60% of what men earn, and
that wage gap has been increasing over the past twenty-five years
in every major industry group. In 1964, of all women with a yearly
income, 89% earned under $5,000 a year; half of all full-time year
round women workers earned less than $3,690; only 1.4% of full-time
year round women workers had an annual income of $10,000 or more.
Further, with higher education increasingly essential in today's
society, too few women are entering and finishing college or going
on to graduate or professional school. Today, women earn only one
in three of the B.A.'s and M.A.'s granted, and one in ten of the
In all the professions considered of importance to society, and
in the executive ranks of industry and government, women are losing
ground. Where they are present it is only a token handful. Women
comprise less than 1% of federal judges; less than 4% of all lawyers;
7% of doctors. Yet women represent 51% of the U.S. population. And,
increasingly, men are replacing women in the top positions in secondary
and elementary schools, in social work, and in libraries -- once
thought to be women's fields.
Official pronouncements of the advance in the status of women hide
not only the reality of this dangerous decline, but the fact that
nothing is being done to stop it. The excellent reports of the President's
Commission on the Status of Women and of the State Commissions have
not been fully implemented. Such Commissions have power only to
advise. They have no power to enforce their recommendation; nor
have they the freedom to organize American women and men to press
for action on them. The reports of these commissions have, however,
basis upon which it is now possible to build. Discrimination in
employment on the basis of sex is now prohibited by federal law,
in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But although nearly
one-third of the cases brought before the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission during the first year dealt with sex discrimination and
the proportion is increasing dramatically, the Commission has not
made clear its intention to enforce the law with the same seriousness
on behalf of women as of other victims of discrimination. Many of
these cases were Negro women, who are the victims of double discrimination
of race and sex. Until now, too few women's organizations and official
spokesmen have been willing to speak out against these dangers facing
women. Too many women have been restrained by the fear of being
called `feminist." There is no civil rights movement to speak
for women, as there has been for Negroes and other victims of discrimination.
The National Organization for Women must therefore begin to speak.
WE BELIEVE that the power of American law, and the protection guaranteed
by the U.S. Constitution to the civil rights of all individuals,
must be effectively applied and enforced to isolate and remove patterns
of sex discrimination, to ensure equality of opportunity in employment
and education, and equality of civil and political rights and responsibilities
on behalf of women, as well as for Negroes and other deprived groups.
We realize that women's problems are linked to many broader questions
of social justice; their solution will require concerted action
by many groups. Therefore, convinced that human rights for all are
indivisible, we expect to give active support to the common cause
of equal rights for all those who suffer discrimination and deprivation,
and we call upon other organizations committed to such goals to
support our efforts toward equality for women.
WE DO NOT ACCEPT the token appointment of a few women to high-level
positions in government and industry as a substitute for serious
continuing effort to recruit and advance women according to their
individual abilities. To this end, we urge American government and
industry to mobilize the same resources of ingenuity and command
with which they have solved problems of far greater difficulty than
those now impeding the progress of women.
WE BELIEVE that this nation has a capacity at least as great as
other nations, to innovate new social institutions which will enable
women to enjoy the true equality of opportunity and responsibility
in society, without conflict with their responsibilities as mothers
and homemakers. In such innovations, America does not lead the Western
world, but lags by decades behind many European countries. We do
not accept the traditional assumption that a woman has to choose
between marriage and motherhood, on the one hand, and serious participation
in industry or the professions on the other. We question the present
expectation that all normal women will retire from job or profession
for 10 or 15 years, to devote their full time to raising children,
only to reenter the job market at a relatively minor level. This,
in itself, is a deterrent
to the aspirations of women, to their acceptance into management
or professional training courses, and to the very possibility of
equality of opportunity or real choice, for all but a few women.
Above all, we reject the assumption that these problems are the
unique responsibility of each individual woman, rather than a basic
social dilemma which society must solve. True equality of opportunity
and freedom of choice for women requires such practical, and possible
innovations as a nationwide network of child-care centers, which
will make it unnecessary for
women to retire completely from society until their children are
grown, and national programs to provide retraining for women who
have chosen to care for their children full-time.
WE BELIEVE that it is as essential for every girl to be educated
to her full potential of human ability as it is for every boy --
with the knowledge that such education is the key to effective participation
in today's economy and that, for a girl as for a boy, education
can only be serious where there is expectation that it will be used
in society. We believe that American educators are capable of devising
means of imparting such expectations to girl students. Moreover,
we consider the decline in the proportion of women receiving higher
and professional education to be evidence of discrimination. This
discrimination may take the form of quotas against the admission
of women to colleges, and professional schools; lack of encouragement
by parents, counselors and educators; denial of loans or fellowships;
or the traditional or arbitrary procedures in graduate and professional
training geared in terms of men, which inadvertently discriminate
against women. We believe that the same serious attention must be
given to high school dropouts who are girls as to boys.
WE REJECT the current assumptions that a man must carry the sole
burden of supporting himself, his wife, and family, and that a woman
is automatically entitled to lifelong support by a man upon her
marriage, or that marriage, home and family are primarily woman's
world and responsibility -- hers, to dominate -- his to support.
We believe that a true partnership between the sexes demands a different
concept of marriage, an equitable sharing of the responsibilities
of home and children and of the economic burdens of their support.
We believe that proper recognition should be given to the economic
and social value of homemaking and child-care. To these ends, we
will seek to open a reexamination of laws and mores governing marriage
and divorce, for we believe that the current state of `half-equity"
between the sexes discriminates against both men and women, and
is the cause of much unnecessary hostility between the sexes.
WE BELIEVE that women must now exercise their political rights and
responsibilities as American citizens. They must refuse to be segregated
on the basis of sex into separate-and-not-equal ladies' auxiliaries
in the political parties, and they must demand representation according
to their numbers in the regularly constituted party committees --
at local, state, and national levels -- and in the informal power
structure, participating fully in the selection of candidates and
political decision-making, and running for office themselves.
IN THE INTERESTS OF THE HUMAN DIGNITY OF WOMEN, we will protest,
and endeavor to change, the false image of women now prevalent in
the mass media, and in the texts, ceremonies, laws, and practices
of our major social institutions. Such images perpetuate contempt
for women by society and by women for themselves. We are similarly
opposed to all policies and practices -- in church, state, college,
factory, or office -- which, in the guise of protectiveness, not
only deny opportunities but also foster in women self-denigration,
dependence, and evasion of responsibility, undermine their confidence
in their own abilities and foster contempt for women.
NOW WILL HOLD ITSELF INDEPENDENT OF ANY POLITICAL PARTY in order
to mobilize the political power of all women and men intent on our
goals. We will strive to ensure that no party, candidate, president,
senator, governor, congressman, or any public official who betrays
or ignores the principle of full equality between the sexes is elected
or appointed to office. If it is necessary to mobilize the votes
of men and women who believe in our cause, in order to win for women
the final right to be fully free and equal human beings, we so commit
WE BELIEVE THAT women will do most to create a new image of women
by acting now, and by speaking out in behalf of their own equality,
freedom, and human dignity - - not in pleas for special privilege,
nor in enmity toward men, who are also victims of the current, half-equality
between the sexes - - but in an active, self-respecting partnership
with men. By so doing, women will develop confidence in their own
ability to determine actively, in partnership with men, the conditions
of their life, their choices, their future and their society.
This Statement of Purpose was co-authored by Betty Friedan, author
of The Feminine Mystique, and Dr. Pauli Murray, an African-American,
What was it about the demands of
NOW and the growing women's movement in the 1960s and 1970s that
caused the growth of a committed and powerful "Stop ERA"
campaign and an anti-feminist backlash by the 1970s and 1980s? In
order to understand the growing opposition to the ERA and the women's
movement by conservative men and women and by powerful Christian
organizations, we need to look at the growth of the "Religious
Right" and the "conservative Right" in America since
the 1950s. See Historical
Background of the Religious Right site for a general history
of the growth of the conservative movement after World War II. In
order to understand the rise of the the Religious Right in the 1970s
and 1980s, see The
Religious Right Of The '6Os And '7Os and The
Religious Right Of The '8Os And '9Os internet sites. For a good
historical overview of the rise and growing power and influence
of Religious conservatism in American society and politics since
1960s, see the With
God on Our Side site. Finally to get a look at the political
and religious views of some of the major Christian groups that helped
defeat the ERA, see The Christian Coalition
Home Page and The Eagle
Forum Home Page. With the defeat of the ERA in 1982, many religious
and political conservatives went on to try to roll back some of
the victories of the women's movement in the 1960s and 1970s. What
is it about women's full social, economic, and political equality
with men that caused conservative American men and women to fight
so hard against equality for women?
Let's look at an excellent summary
essay, "Women against Feminism," by Rebecca Klatch to
understand the rise of the conservative opposition to the women's
movement. Klatch begins her argument by equating feminism and the
women's movement with the social and moral decay caused by the 1960s.
The implication is that feminist, civil rights, student, anti-war,
and other political movements of the 1960s damaged American society.
But how did the women's movement damage America? Klatch charges
that feminism was in fact an ideological attack on the family that
has caused the decline of the family and "family values"
in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. Along with the other
radical changes in the 1960s, she argues, feminism helped cause
the "internal erosion of the moral bases supporting family
life, particularly with the rising divorce rate and increased number
of working mothers."
Klatch, like other religious and
political conservatives, argues that many of the major social problems
that faced the United States in the 1970s and 1980s were caused
by the women's movement and its moral and political campaign against
the family. Anti-feminists charge that rising divorce rates, drug-use,
the breakdown in families, youth violence, homosexuality, and growing
poverty among women and children are all caused by feminism and
so-called "women's liberation." But how does this work?
Aren't these problems symptoms of larger social and political crises
facing American society? How can feminism possibly be responsible
for all these growing problems?
Klatch argues that in demanding
social, economic, and political equality for women, feminists have
undermined women's traditional roles in American society. Women's
traditional roles of wife and mother, many conservatives believe,
is the glue that holds the family and the larger society together.
If women give up these roles and try to "become like men,"
Klatch argues, then society and the family will break down. She
"When individuality and freedom
of self extend to women as well as to men, marriage, the family,
and society itself are threatened....Feminism is a threat, then,
because when women pursue self-interest, not only is the family
neglected but also ultimately women become like men. Hence, "macho
feminism" is destructive because if everyone pursues their
own interest, no one is left to look out for the larger good, that
is, to be altruistic, to be the nurturer, the caretaker, the mother.
In short, the underlying fear expressed by this critique of feminism
is the fear of a a total masculinization of the world."
By demanding to have the same rights
and freedoms as men, Klatch argues that feminism is anti-family,
selfish, and narcissistic. Her underlying assumption is that only
women can care for, support, and nurture the family and society.
If women give up their roles as wives and mothers and try to become
like men, then the family, marriage, and society will not work.
But what about men? Why can't both men and women care for, support,
and nurture the family and society?
Anti-feminists argue that American
society can't afford to grant women equality with men. Women need
to continue to be granted protection and "special rights"
if they are expected to carry out their roles as wives and mothers.
Klatch now reveals the anti-men assumptions held by the anti-feminist
"The underlying image of men
is of creatures with uncontrollable passions and little sense of
commitment or loyalty. Only moral and legal authority can restrain
the savagery of male nature....Thus, when feminists remove the safety
valves that currently exist to protect women, they leave homemakers
particularly vulnerable to men."
Only if men are forced to support
and protect their wives and children will men accept their responsibilities.
By threatening the rights of women to be supported and protected
by men, Klatch argues the ERA threatens to undermine women's traditional
roles and undermine the American family.
But if men are moral monsters, as
Klatch argues, then why should women allow men to dominate their
lives and rule the family? Shouldn't women be trusted with the authority
to run the family if men are so morally irresponsible? Here, the
anti-feminists make an amazing move. They argue that women are,
in fact, "the real power behind the throne." Despite what
men think, women only pretend to accept men's authority and domination;
women are really in control. Phyllis Schlafly, the leader of the
"Stop ERA" movement, argues:
"The Positive Woman accepts
her responsibility to spin the fabric of civilization, to mend its
tears, and to reinforce its seams....God has a mission for every
Positive Woman. It is up to her to find out what it is and to meet
Thus, the ERA must be defeated because it threatens
women's traditional God-given role of wife and mother. If women
don't accept their traditional roles, Klatch concludes, then the
family, marriage, and society will not work.
Even though the majority of American
women and men supported the ERA and equality for women, there were
enough conservative men and women to defeat the ERA and derail the
women's movement. Just as in the past, Americans were reluctant
to give up their traditional belief in two separate and distinct
roles for men and women. Supporters of this "women's sphere"
argued that women must not demand the same rights and freedoms as
men because if they didn't carry out their traditional roles and
responsibilities the American family and society would break down.
Basically, their argument is that the strength of American society
lies in the family, and anything that threatens the family threatens
Faced with the growing power of
the Religious Right in the 1980s and 1990s, the women's movement
was forced to retreat and protect the victories they had already
won. In fact, some conservatives in the early 1990s were calling
supporters of feminism "feminazis." Women and feminists
have become useful scapegoats for conservatives who want to blame
America's social and economic decline since the 1970s on the 1960s
and the women's movement attack on "family values." The
challenge facing women today is how to convince Americans that granting
women political, economic, and social equality with men will help
the family and will help America solve some of the major problems
and crises it faces. Until feminists can do this, many Americans
will continue to believe that America cannot afford to grant women
equal rights. And the contradiction remains: America can grant Blacks,
immigrants, and other minorities greater rights, but it can't seem
to grant women equal rights. Equal rights for women continue to
be more controversial and politically unacceptable than equal rights
for racial minorities. This is one of the larger contradiction that
grew out of the civil rights and women's movement of the 1960s.