Support Your ERA.
You Didn't Get
Where You Are Alone
BY JANE O'REILLY
SOMEONE KNOCKS AT
your door and asks you to donate time and money toward passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
What is the correct response?
- 1 gave at the office.
- I got where I am today all by
myself. Why can't other women?
- I'm a feminist, of course, but I'm
not a joiner and I don't consider
myself part of any movement.
- I don't think the ERA will ever
pass. Why don't we work for
something we can win? 1 hate to
be on the losing side ol anything.
- I don't want to seem like a crank.
All the gains have been won.
- We already have enough laws to
make us equal.
- What exactly is the Equal Rights
- I'm so glad you asked. I'm a
successful, savvy woman, and by now
the very thought of the ERA exhausts
me. We've been trying to pass an equal
rights amendment since 1923—56
years! It's incredible that it should
even be necessary, that halt the population—my half—is not included in
the Constitution o! the United States.
When 1 think about what that means,
that I am not considered equal under
the laws of this democratic country,
that 1 am a second-class citizen, I get so
angry 1 get tired. Powcrlessness is
wearying. Successful women can't express anger at the system without
seeming to be cranks. So we waste our
energy being mad at other women.
Take the older women, the "1 did it
myself, why should I help other women?" crowd. They are the ones who
felt the fiercest strain of being odd, of
always having to be better than men.
Like a fraternity hazing, they had to
eat worms to get into the club. Isn't
Jane O'AY/V/v's collection of essays on
•women's issues, The Girl 1 Left Behind
Me, will be published by Macmillan in
that reason enough to change
the system, not perpetuate it?
And the younger women,
the ones who think all the gams
are already won. Do they think
they can get into medical
school simply because they are
smart? Don't they know that
they are being admitted to professional schools, being hired
by corporations, being granted
tenure, because thev have to
be, because hundreds of other
women went to court to demand enforcement of affirmative-action laws? How can they deny they are
part of the movement when they are
reaping the benefits won by thousands
of women—pregnant teachers, older
stewardesses, university women,
A.T.&T. workers, reporters, even
Little League girls—who risked expensive, discouraging, embarrassing
years fighting to get and keep their
jobs and to redress past discrimination? Without the Equal Rights
Amendment, the lawsuits will go on
forever. Even with the Amendment,
the battles will go on, but at least we
will have a better weapon—a universal
legal definition of equality of the sexes.
Saying we already have enough laws
to make us equal is false comfort. We
have a lot of laws designed to make us
equal, but they apply only to some
parts of our lives, and some parts ot the
country, and are subject to the whims
ot legislators and the interpretation ot
the courts. We have many more laws
based on the presumption that women
are not equal, and the Supreme Court,
without an equal rights amendment,
does not consider laws that discriminate against women as automatically
suspect (as racial discrimination is considered automatically suspect). A
woman who believes we already have
enough laws will be surprised, if she
gets a divorce in Georgia, to find that
the house occupied by the family is the
property of the husband even if she has
earned the money and made the payments, or, if she and her husband
jointly run a business in Maine, to
learn that the profits are the propert)
of the husband.
HOW CAN WE TALK
about gains, when women are
still making 57 cents for ever)
dollar men earn in the United States?
When only 276 women serve on the
corporate boards of the biggest 1,300
corporations? When women and children make up 79 percent of the poor in
this countt)'? When 50.8 percent ot the
college population is now women, but
women with five years of college are
still paid less than men with four years
of high school? When women make up
40 percent ot the work force but 80
percent ot us are in the lowest paying,
dead-end jobs? When 94 percent ot the
people making over SI5,000 a year are
white males? Maybe that's the reason
men tell us we don't need the ERA.
Sure, it would be nice to be on the
winning side. So let's make sure we
are. Without equal rights, women will
always be on the losing side. Thirty-
five states have ratified the ERA. We
need three more, and we organized
and won an extension until June 30,
1982 to get them. No one is going to
push the ERA except us.
I'm not a crank. I'm smart enough
to have something to say, and in a
position to be heard. I have an obligation to all women—including myself.
How much money do you want, how
man)' telegrams shall I send, how
many speeches shall 1 give? Where do 1
Which is your answer?
raced by Jean I rancois Allaux