As girl children of the 1970s my sister and I were raised to believe that nothing was beyond our reach. We were told, more than shown, that we could be doctors, lawyers, astronauts, CEOs or publishers, that we could do any of those jobs just as well as any man could.
But our mother, the woman with multiple careers, a Master’s degree and a high IQ, was most decidedly not a feminist. She despised the National Organization for Women generally and Gloria Steinem in particular. Feminists, in my mother’s opinion, were women who sought victory at the expense of men. They were brash, boastful, ill-mannered women whose win-lose approach was certain to cause only future strife. Equality was fair and appropriate; feminism was neither.
When the Equal Rights Amendment passed in 1972 I was six going on seven, a child whose view of the world came largely through the eyes of her mother, the walking contradiction. Mama’s sewing group, the group that gathered in our living room to drink coffee, smoke cigarettes and smock dresses while I sprawled on the floor with my dolls, talked about the E.R.A. only occasionally, if at all, and never with much enthusiasm.
There was one friend I remember, Alice Swanson, a woman my father described as “the liberated sort,” who was always egging my mother on and trying to get her to become more involved. It was inconceivable to Alice that my mother wouldn’t join the women’s movement; it was inconceivable to my mother that any woman would.
And then the whole thing sort of dissolved, at least in our house. The amendment passed; the box was checked; we moved on. We talked about what opportunities lay ahead, what things we girls could achieve. My sister and I went to college; we got jobs; we became modern women. We did not become feminists; why would we?
We are still modern women, my sister and I. We’re well-educated career women juggling work and family life, the sort of women who try to stay reasonably up to date on both current affairs and pop culture. My sister, the doctor, is in charge of reading JAMA. I, the marketer, am responsible for reading the Sunday New York Times and listening to NPR. Margaret sends me technical articles about exercise and sunscreen; I send her human interest stories and reviews of novels I know she’ll never have time to read. We both recognize Janet Yellen when we see her picture (yep, we’re in that 24%), but to be honest, given a free 30 minutes in the evening (rarity that it is) we’d rather watch Modern Family than read The Wall Street Journal.
Knowing what you now know about my background, you either will or will not understand my surprise (I was dumbstruck, actually) reading this recent Huff Post piece about the Notorious R.B.G. (Ruth Bader Ginsberg) and learning that the Equal Rights Amendment, that thing I’ve taken for granted my entire adult life, is not law.
Yes, you read that correctly: the E.R.A. passed by Congressional vote but was not ratified by the required number of states (38) for it to stand as a Constitutional amendment. Here’s what Justice Ginsberg had to say about it to New Republic’s Jeffrey Rosen:
One thing that concerns me is that today’s young women don’t seem to care that we have a fundamental instrument of government that makes no express statement about the equal citizenship stature of men and women.
In the age of #YesAllWomen and #BringBackOurGirls one tiny detail seems to have escaped ongoing headline discussion: women in the U.S. do not enjoy constitutionally protected equality because only 35 of 50 states could agree that such an amendment was reasonable, and 38 state ratifications were/are required.
I read and re-read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” I shared it with friends and discussed it in depth. I’ve followed Lisa Belkin’s writing for years, from The Opt Out Revolution to The Gender Gap. I’ve talked with other women about issues facing women. Even though I was raised not to be a feminist per se, I’ve marched right up to the edge of F word territory on a relatively frequent basis. How did I not know that the Equal Rights Amendment has been hanging out in legal never-never-land? Am I the only ignorant one?
No, as it turns out; I’m not alone, at least not among my local peers. I took a short and very unscientific poll of my women friends, all well-educated women with jobs like teacher, doctor, scientist, etc. “Did you know that the Equal Rights Amendment was never ratified, that it’s not law?” I asked.
“Are you sure?” one friend responded. “Are you sure that’s right?”
Yes, I’m sure. Ask your lawyer husband. We fell three states short, way back in the 70s, a fact known to only two of my friends, a lawyer and a journalist.
This is all meaningless hogwash, you say, certain that there are laws aplenty to protect women against employment discrimination, sexual harassment, domestic violence and more.
Yes, there are numerous statutes protecting women, and at this juncture the Equal Rights Amendment might be largely symbolic. Now go tell the National Rifle Association that Amendment 2 might similarly be largely symbolic, and let me know how that works out.
How is this possible? How could all those pioneering 1970s women neglect to tell their footstep followers, “Oops – Our bad!”
Actually it’s our bad, the would-be followers’ fault. For four decades a dwindling group of activists has been running a relay, ready to hand the baton to the next generation. But we of the next generation, so many of us anyway, have been busy running a parallel race, enjoying the easy benefits but actively shirking the more complicated responsibilities and unattractive adjectives. We’ve relished our ability to bring home the bacon and then write blogs about cooking it, but the women’s rights movement, well that’s old news, ancient history.
Except that it isn’t. It is very much today’s issue for today’s girls and women. We’ve come a long way, baby; but we staked our claim on a slippery slope.
What to do? Well, according to the ERA website, if you live in on the of nine states where ratification seems not impossible (Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, or Virginia) then it’s time to get busy and figure out what’s happening in your state, particularly if you live in Illinois or Virginia where the flame seems still to be most alive. The current plan, as I understand it (even though I’m not a lawyer) is still to get three more states in the hopper. Apparently the 27th (“Madison”) Amendment was ratified more than 203 years after its passage, so the whole seven year deadline thing might not hold up. Again, not a lawyer; but the concept makes sense to me. (And, in case you’re curious, the six states not listed and apparently written off as impossible are Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Utah.)
Live in one of the 35 states that already voted YES (Tennessee! Hurrah!)? Great; now tell your friends about the issue. Ask them if they are aware that in the United States in 2014 gun ownership has the virtually unbreakable protection of the U.S. Constitution, but women’s equality does not.
With apologies to my late mother, that should be enough to bring out the feminist in us all.
Food | Week of October 13, 2014
So,yeah, I too think it’s a wee bit funny that I’m sticking to my routine and tagging a weekly family cooking plan onto the end of this particular post. It’s especially funny in light of the best article I read last week, Virginia Heffernan’s “What if You Just Hate Making Dinner?”
I’m the designated cook in our family because 1) I actually enjoy it and 2) I’m usually pretty good at it. Yes, I truly, honestly enjoy cooking. It is a great creative distraction for me, something I can do to take my mind off of other things. I have always enjoyed cooking. And I have enjoyed these almost two years of ending my weekly posts with a weekly menu because planning for dinner helps me juggle that whole work/life thing that is particularly hard for women these days.
But some days I just don’t feel like it. And when I don’t feel like cooking, I don’t cook. It’s that simple. We eat leftovers, we eat cereal, we eat scrambled eggs. Sometimes- EGAD! we even eat takeout or fast food. Choices and options: these are good things.
The weekly dinner plan keeps choices and options from being overwhelming. It’s a framework, a reference guide. Having a plan keeps our weeknight evenings from unraveling into stressful chaos. This week our plan includes fish, chicken, sausage and two vegetarian meals. And, since I’m always forgetting to add this, if you try one and like it, drop a line and let me know.
Flageolets | Cornbread | Bibb Lettuce with Buttermilk Dressing
Yep, I’m making another push for Rancho Gordo heirloom beans, this time advocating the flageolets, which are mild and flavorful. There are cooking suggestions on the Rancho Gordo site, or you can try this Ina Garten recipe, an easy recipe to adapt if you want to make truly vegetarian – just skip the bacon and use vegetable broth. Serve with cornbread (here’s Bittman’s recipe, or you can just use Jiffy). Round it out with a Bibb lettuce salad like this, our favorite, also from Ina Garten.
Black Rice | Steamed Cod | Sauteed Sugar Snap Peas
This dinner sounds harder than it really is, mostly because the ingredients sound difficult to find. I found Lundberg’s black pearl rice at Kroger; it’s also available at Fresh Market and Whole Foods. Cook the rice according to package directions; it’s that easy. For the fish, which you can buy flash-frozen if fresh isn’t available, this Martha Stewart recipe is simple and quick. Round it out with some sauteed sugar snap peas.
Pan-Fried Weisswurst | Potato Salad with Dill & Apple
I know; you’re wondering: What the hell is weisswurst? Literally, it’s white sausage – NBD. Here’s the context: Bernard likes Boar’s Head bratwurst; no other brand will suffice. “Get the white bratwurst,” he’ll say. So I did a bit of research and learned that there are numerous varieties of bratwurst, one of which is weisswurst, a mild white sausage typically with flecks of parsley visible through the casing. The Boar’s Head bratwurst isn’t technically that, but it’s the closest match I could find, and maybe it explains why a selected this recipe pairing from Martha Stewart for pan fried weisswurst. It is simple and tasty, and the link to the accompanying potato salad is embedded in the sausage recipe.
Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Goat Cheese
This recipe from Saveur is relies on the flavor of broccoli rabe (rapini), a bitter green, balanced by mild and acidic goat cheese. It’s very simple and easy to prepare; in my experience, it does not keep well; so make only enough for the night.
Baked Parmesan Chicken | Caesar Salad
Ina Garten’s Parmesan chicken recipe is simple and reliable; I’m also fond of my friend Marjorie’s version which calls for marinating the chicken in Italian dressing for a bit before cooking and using that same dressing instead of an egg wash before coating with a mix of bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. I use store-bought Caesar dressing, but here’s a recipe if you’re feeling domestic.
As always, intelligent, timely, thought-provoking. Who knew?!
I remember my freshman year of college telling one of the senior RAs that I preferred to be called “girls” because women felt so “old.” She left me with some deep thoughts. Later that year a conversation in the dining hall with a uniquely named bohemian (who may have just run against Cuomo for governor of NY) over a woman’s right to choose shook up my right-to-life childhood teachings. It has always been the peers I respected most who taught me and reminded me of my role as a woman (ahem) and a feminist. I now add a fellow Jenny to that list.
Thank you, fellow Jenny. Yes, I still prefer the term girls to women even though I know I should not. It’s hard to leave habits behind, I suppose; but it’s even harder to wade through the political tangles surrounding women’s rights, women’s privacy, women’s health, and women’s choice these days. May we live in interesting times, right?
Great title, great post. I also remember those heady 70s days of you can be anything but there’s really nobody for you to have as a role model. But I never thought of being anything other than a feminist, and never understood the contrary view. Still don’t, especially from the younger “girls.” (Yeah, I like that word better, too, no matter how old I get.) The story of KY’s ERA is interesting. The legislature voted for it, then voted to repeal it. And the Lt. Gov., a crusty old pol named Thelma Stovall, waited for the idiot governor to go out of state and vetoed the repeal. God love her. It was probably just about the last progressive thing KY ever did (except for handling the tobacco settlement well). And long live RBG. She rocks.
What a great story! I’m proud that TN, deciding state on #19, was also one of the 35 ‘yes’ states for ERA. I doubt either of those amendments would pass in TN or KY these days. Personhood is on the ballot here in November, and I’m worried about the outcome. But even my Republican neighbor has ordered a “No on 1” sign, so I’m holding out hope. My new mantra is, “you’re never too old to become a feminist.” If my mother were still alive, I think even she would agree.
A good sign! I keep many people from my hometown in my Facebook feed just as sociological studies for exactly that reason. It’s good to know how the wind is blowing even if (as is most often the case), it’s horrifying. Hope you have a wonderful week!
Unfortunately, in 1974, Tennessee rescinded ratification of the ERA. I was president of the Memphis State NOW Chapter at that time. We made repeated trips to Nashville, lobbying legislators to leave the ERA passage intact, to no avail.
I understand there is uncertainty whether the rescission would stand, overview here:
Well that’s an unpleasant bit of news. Thanks for the link and the clarification – and for the work in the 1970s. We have quite a bit of catching up to do, we who were supposed to take the baton. Again, never too late to become a feminist, I’ve decided.
Love reading Jenny’s lark! Your mama would be so very proud!
There is still much work to do. Any woman who works outside the home for money knows that for sure. Those who don’t know it too, although not as personally.
Great Post – thank you!
As a child of the 1970s, my mother confided over breakfast one morning “Women will never be safe without the ERA”. Little did she nor I realize the seed she had planted that some 35+ years later would germinate in her youngest daughter proposing (SJR 15 & HJR 113) to remove Congress’s deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Why would women ever forfeit the gains previously made to start over? We’re 92% of the way to victory!
And Jenny, your mother was right. Career feminists that ran NOW and other groups did fail our generation. They abandoned the ERA in 1982 when it ‘expired’ and left it languish for some future generation to accomplish…. ERA held no honor, no celebration and no priority within their ranks. So how could we have known what we didn’t know?
Now, knowing that there are bills in Congress spearheaded by a tiny mother-daughter social enterprise, United 4 Equality, LLC, solely dedicated to achieving constitutional equality for women – get involved! Become a working woman sponsor (that’s the only source of income we have), call your member of Congress, blog about how our generation has a really big role to play in establishing relevant policies for a 21st Century workforce – half of whom are women that deserve an equal stake at the bargaining table to determine our country’ future!
You can find out more at http://www.united4equality.com.
Thanks for this great comment and for all the information about getting involved and taking action. As I looked through your posted information about the current House bill, I couldn’t help but notice there were no co-sponsors from Tennessee. Now that I can work on, and I’ll definitely share information about U4E.
[…] came across a great blog post written by a 1970s child like myself and left the following comment. No matter what your […]
I, too, was told I could be anything I wanted. Actually, I was encouraged by my father to think outside the secretary-nurse-bank-teller box. I kept this information in my back pocket as I went off to college in 1967 with my collection of Pappagallo flower flats , more worried about what to wear to football games than whether or not I would be paid equally for the work I did sometime in the way distant future.
Granted, the University of Tennessee Knoxville was not exactly the nexus of cultural change in those years. Everybody else what pretty much worried about the same sort of things. However, there was a small group of women stirring the times-they-are-a-changin’ pot, and when I was elected to the Association of Women Students (tells you a lot about the times, right?) I put my spoon in with theirs.
In 1968 women who lived in residence halls had to be in at certain hours – 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights. We, most female students in general and the AWS in particular, thought this was wrong on many levels. After working through the proper channels didn’t get us anywhere, we decided that the only thing to do was to protest. Of course it was peaceful, and I think the Dean of Women Students was so shocked, she interceded on our behalf. Hours for women were rescinded. (Which turned out to be a mixed blessing., but that is another topic altogether.)
This began my awareness of the great divide between men and women. It still exists, my sisters, and the younger generation is not doing a hell of a lot to change it. They are not stepping up to the plate now and probably won’t in the future. They are way more interested in botox and which condo they will rent in Destin this next summer. Seriously.
I guess they think things aren’t so bad. I guess they think that being paid less than their male counterparts is OK. I guess they think what is happening to women in other parts of the world is not their problem. I guess they think that being ushered gently into retirement after age 55 or so, depending on how you look, is OK for women working as newscasters or sales representatives in many large companies. After all, they made their money and should be happy working at something less stressful.
I am horrified about the ERA not being law. Almost as horrified as I am about the attitude of young women today about their place in the world. They should all take a hint after Microsoft’s chief executive Satya Nadella’s comments about women asking for raises at the recent women in computing meeting. He told women to sit down, be quiet and let the system do its work. They would get the raise they should have Also, he noted that women who did that had better karma. Karma?Really? He said that? I know, he tried to mop up the mess, er Freudian slip, but it was too little too late in my opinion. How can any woman not be worried about comments like this in 2104?
As you know, because you know me, I’m quick to lose faith in womankind. It’s not my finest character trait. The 12 years of being in an all-girls school may have had something to do with it. But then again I’ve learned so much in my adult years from the wisdom of so many terrific women, you prime among them, you the second of my Five Redheaded Stepsisters (the post I was working on last week when I suddenly decided the ERA issue was more important). So don’t give up hope on today’s younger women, at least not yet. There are alarm bells everywhere (Satya Nadella, dear lord), and few women will be as capable as you at helping other women wake up and respond appropriately. And then you can teach them to drink champagne from tennis ball cans. That will be big fun. I’m definitely not going to miss that.
Brava, Jenny! I’m going to nudge my family and friends in those states to write to their elected officials.
[…] here! Second, thanks to all who have commented – here, on Facebook and to me directly, about my post on the still-unratified Equal Rights Amendment. I especially appreciated the information about the current legislative bills that would eliminate […]
[…] would love to be writing today with a cheery update on the piece I wrote last fall, the one in which I outed myself as a complete ignoramus, oblivious to the fate of the […]
[…] 1923 and 1972 until it finally passed, only then to fail state ratification and fail to become law. I’ve told you this story once before. Today’s story is simply a different […]
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