Women’s war on women.


Here is the principle, which dates back to the 4th century B.C.:

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

It is often a practical theory, though far from a perfect one. There is no perfect theory, perfect being, often, the enemy of practical.

But I am not looking for perfect theory. What I want to know is simply this:

Must the friend of my enemy be my enemy?

The text, in its entirety, reads as follows:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by 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.

That’s it. All of it. Those three brief sections represent the entire Equal Rights Amendment,  initially drafted as the “Lucretia Mott Amendment” by Alice Paul in 1923 and introduced to every session of Congress between 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 angle.

There are no riders to the ERA, no attachments, no additional provisions. That isn’t how Constitutional amendments work.

On that note, here’s a very short, highly abbreviated, grossly-over-simplified civics refresher:

The United States is a federal republic – one, central, constitutional government with individual sub-units, or states. The U.S. Constitution is the overarching set of rules that define our nation. When you hear on the radio or TV that the Supreme Court has decided a case, it means that the nation’s highest court, which was established by the Constitution, has chosen to hear an appeal either from a state or lower federal court and then to decide whether the lower court’s ruling either does or does not conform to the framework of the Constitution.

All federal acts – federal laws passed by Congress – must be acceptable within the framework of the Constitution. State laws, likewise, must also acceptable within the framework of the Constitution.

An amendment to the Constitution, different from a federal act, changes the framework under which laws are tested and implemented. Amending the Constitution is a two-step process, starting at the Congressional level and then followed by state ratification. At each step the amendment must receive majority approval in order to go to the next step.

Approximately 12,000 Constitutional amendments have been introduced since 1789; 33 have received Congressional approval; and 27 of the 33 have been subsequently ratified by the states. One amendment, the 18th (Prohibition), was repealed by another, the 21st; so one could argue that the overall net gain is really only 25. Out of 12,000. The odds are long, the stakes high.

An example of a Constitutional Amendment ratified by the states is the Nineteenth Amendment:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

An example of a Constitutional Amendment approved by Congress but never ratified by the states is the Equal Rights Amendment, the complete text of which is now familiar to you. Just for emphasis, here is the first section again:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

When you read or hear that a proposed amendment would “write _____ into the Constitution” what the writer, or speaker, often means is that the amendment would open new ways of interpreting laws within the framework of the amended Constitution. So, in further grossly-over-simplified terms, if the Equal Rights Amendment were part of the Constitution, then no law could be interpreted one way for one gender (sex) and a different way for the other gender (sex).

According to ERA supporters, the amendment could be used to eliminate pay inequality and discriminatory hiring practices. According to ERA opponents, the amendment could be used to eliminate single sex education and single sex restroom facilities.

As an aside, you might wonder why we need the ERA when we have the Fourteenth Amendment, passed during Reconstruction, that includes the clause: “…nor shall any State … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Well, I’m not a lawyer, but I understand from a bit of research that the Fourteenth Amendment is one of the most litigated parts of the Constitution because it is subject to widely varying interpretation. For example, the equal protection clause was the deciding factor in both Plessy v. Ferguson (“separate but equal”) and Brown v. Board of Education (“separate education facilities are inherently unequal”).

Also (and again, not a lawyer), if the Fourteenth Amendment made things even-Steven, then why did we need the Nineteenth Amendment in order for women to vote?

But we, the People, did decide that the Nineteenth Amendment, and a handful of others, were necessary. And we, the People, did almost decide on one more. Almost.

For 93 consecutive years we, the People, have failed to finalize amending the U.S. Constitution to guarantee gender equality. And while the official death blows may most often have been dealt officially by men in elected office, the death sentences have most often been written by the hands of women.

In the 1920s and 30s, the strongest opposition to the ERA came from working women who feared the amendment would eliminate the workplace protections that kept them, at least in theory, from heavy manual labor. For decades this was the primary argument against passage.

When the ERA finally got some traction in the late 1960s and early 1970s, its proponents, bolstered by the overall civil rights movement, were temporarily louder than the amendment’s opponents. But the opposition rallied, led by a woman named Phyllis Schlafly, whose position was (is) that the ERA would actually harm women’s rights. And the allies in her army were (are) women – often mothers and traditional homemakers.

“I think the main goal of the feminist movement was the status degradation of the full-time homemaker. They really wanted to get all women out of the homes and into the workforce. And again and again, they taught that the only fulfilling lifestyle was to be in the workforce reporting to a boss instead of being in the home reporting to a husband. That is an attitude toward marriage and homemaking that I think is intolerable and false.”

Phyllis Schlalfy, Still Championing the Anti-Feminist Fight, NPR interview with Michel Martin, March 30, 2011

In Schlafly’s assessment, the turning point in the ERA’s eventual demise was the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston, where, perhaps for the first time on a national stage, the issues of sexual orientation and access to safe abortion were discussed openly, if not always agreeably. According to Schlafly, a few months after the conference the then-Governor of Missouri, Joseph Teasdale (a Democrat), was quoted as saying, “I was for equal pay for equal work, but after those women went down to Houston and got tangled up with the abortionists and the lesbians, I can tell you ERA will never pass in the Show-Me State.” [Note: I could not find a single source, other than this LA. Times interview with Schlafly, attributing that particular quote to Governor Teasdale, whose campaign platform was pro-ERA but whose actions in office did not match those campaign promises.]

ERA supporters, recognizing the practical need to separate the amendment from the issue of abortion, crafted a finely-detailed strategic plan for President Carter in order to get ratification in three of the remaining undecided states before the 1982 (extended) deadline. But the tide had clearly turned, the wedge driven. Voices of women like the author of this 1980 opinion piece in the C.S. Monitor had gained both public advantage and momentum. Woman v. woman became the front-line battle. That is still the battle, still today.

Since 1982 the Equal Rights Amendment has been re-introduced, without success, to every session of Congress. Starting from zero, passing the amendment will require two-thirds of both House and Senate to approve the measure, followed by ratification in 38 states. One suggested alternative legal maneuver would invoke the precedent established by the Madison (Twenty-Seventh) Amendment, which took 203 years to ratify, and continue pushing for three more states to ratify the original 1972 amendment. It’s hard to predict exactly what will happen next; it is easy to see that there are no quick or easy answers.

It is possible, if you’ve made it this far into this little history lesson, that you’re wondering why today, why now. I’ll tell you, although some of you, one in particular, may later wish that I had not. I hope this will not be our end. But we are in the kind of battle that often leads to rigid allegiance, and all choices have consequences. I understand what it at stake.

In 1971, while the ERA was gathering steam and making its way toward Congressional approval, I was in kindergarten. One of my best kindergarten friends was a girl who lived in the house that is diagonally across from the house where I live now, today, in 2016.

Back in 1971, when my friend and I were young, we spent our mornings with Ms. Betty and Ms. Jean and a dozen or so other girls and boys, learning our colors and numbers and letters, listening to stories and napping on purple terrycloth nap mats. After school we often went to my friend’s house to play. We would climb the big, tall brick stairs to her enormous front door, which was opened by her lovely, kind, smart mother. I loved her mother; I loved my friend.

In 1971 we were told that the world belonged to us; our futures were limitless. We could be doctors, lawyers, astronauts, heads of school, marketing executives, or even engineers. We could do these things and also be mothers. We could grow up to believe what we believed, pursue what we wanted to pursue. Granted, we were also encouraged to be polite, respectful and feminine, to play the part of traditional woman even if we also wanted to climb into big-girl career shoes. We wanted to be as pretty as Farrah Fawcett, as clever as Nancy Drew, as sporty as Chris Evert, as independent as Mary Tyler Moore.

And so my friend and I, we girl-children of the 1970s, grew up to be both career women and mothers. That is not to say that we grew up to be the same, she and I. We do not, for example, share political or religious beliefs. We are no longer close friends. But we are still friendly, on Facebook and in real life. I am glad when she comes to visit her mother, who is as lovely, kind and smart as when I was in kindergarten.

I have known and loved both of these women almost my entire life. So when I tell you that this woman, my friend, believes abortion to be a crime against humanity, understand that I know, because I know her, that her belief runs to the deepest fiber of her being. It is her right to hold this belief. It is her right to choose the path she chooses, to follow what she believes. I respect her right to follow her path, and I will fight for her right to be herself, to believe what she believes, to use her voice publicly and be heard fairly.

I will, likewise, fight for my own right to do the same, whether or not my friend and I agree. That is, to me, the entire point of the battle for women’s equal rights: to ensure that each of our voices is equal to any other voice; to ensure that any one of us has as much right to speak and be heard, to made individual decisions, as any other person, man or woman.

Recently this woman, my friend, took a public, professional position against Lands’ End for featuring Gloria Steinem in its spring catalog. To my friend the issue of women’s rights and access to safe, legal abortion are inextricably linked. All feminists are abortionists; all feminists are thus the enemy. Only the enemy of an enemy can be a friend.

I have spent weeks now thinking about my life-long friend, about women, about feminism and equal rights and how issues get tangled and thorny. I’ve thought about how women in the land of the free, home of the brave struggle so mightily against one another, even feminist against feminist. Instead of uniting, we are further dividing.

Last summer Elinor Burkett was lambasted – by feminists – for stereotyping women in What Makes a Woman?, a piece written to question female stereotypes. More recently Shelley Zalis has been lambasted – also by feminists – for naming her work the Girls’ Lounge, because the word “girls” trivializes women. Meanwhile, we’re all trying to figure out how we feel about Megyn Kelly and Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton. Must we support these women simply because they are women? Are we traitors if we do not? Should we buy swim-minis from Lands’ End or shouldn’t we?

Men, in my observation, do not do any of this. They don’t have angst-filled musings about what makes a man; they don’t fret over being associated with either Trump or Sanders just because they’re all male and might possibly get muddled up together solely due to gender.

And while they’re busy not worrying about all that, they’re making $1 for every $0.72 paid to a woman for doing the same work. In the United States. Today. We live with an inequality of rights according to sex; and the Constitution has no express provision to prevent it.

Meanwhile we women, sharply divided, are somehow stuck back in 1977, still trying to filter ally from foe within our own ranks. Today, as then, it is ours to decide whether the friends of our enemies must also be our enemies. It is ours to accept both the spoils and consequences of these war-time alliances. It is ours to accept that the war itself, woman v. woman, is entirely of own choosing.

Food | Week of March 14, 2016

lemon and cilantro

Right, I know; ironic. But remember that I cook dinner for my family because I choose to do so, because I enjoy both the cooking and the family dinner. Since Bernard and I both work full-time outside the home, and since our children are active in school sports, and time is never in abundance, we sometimes turn both meal planning and provision gathering over the the fine folks at Plated, which is what we’re doing this week. These are my choices; you do not have to make the same ones.

As a reminder, Plated doesn’t often make recipes available online for sharing; so I’ve offered links to similar recipes in those cases.


  1. What a great piece. I am so impressed by the clarity of your civics lesson and the thoughtfulness with which you mull the relationships among women. I, too, am astonished at how much time and energy women spend standing apart when we could be standing together. I see it played out in my work with young mothers, where there is still judgment and guilt galore over whatever choices they make — about whether/when to go back to work, breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding, parenting styles, etc. If we could only harness all that wasted energy and put it to constructive use.


  2. So thoughtful. So beautifully written. And what a difficult thing, to separate this big history that defines us, the choices we have made in our long lives, and then us, just little old, individual, doing-what-we-do every day us. I love that when I’m done reading what you’ve written I feel like sitting quietly and pondering the meaning of things in a very Tao of Pooh sort of way.


  3. Beautifully put, as always. And, as usual, you’re showing a bigger heart than I can muster. I’ve lived the 72 cents every day of my long career and it makes me really, really angry. But would being friends with Phyllis (good god, here she is again … http://wapo.st/1XiPvng) help raise it? I don’t know. But thanks for questioning it.


  4. Jennifer, you are a brilliant writer. Your words flow. The message is strong. This piece needs to be published broadly. I had forgotten so much of this history. Please share this !

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  5. This struck a harsh nerve with me as I hadn’t physically considered any way other than the competitive viewpoint. Someone must lose for someone else to gain. But, it’s true, we are all losers if we aren’t tolerant and practiced in the art of building up the foundation of each other as opposed to tearing it down. Thank you for an excellent civics recap that helped broaden my understanding of the ERA.

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