Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

"Can we talk" about the equal rights amendment?

March 2, 2012 by Alison Young


As the country examines the tone of political dialogue, Alison Young provides a regular commentary under the title “Can We Talk? A Conversation about Civility and Democracy in America” exploring the current state of public discourse and civility in American politics.

Photograph of Jimmy Carter Signing Extension of Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) Ratification.

March is women’s history month, and any conversation about the progress of women in the United States invariably circles back to the never-ratified Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).  When first proposed in 1923, the amendment’s goals were simple: to ensure that men and women have equal rights under the law. So, during women’s history month, Can We Talk about the need for an equal rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution?

Between its introduction in 1923 and 1970, the ERA was introduced in every session of Congress, though with a few exceptions in 1946, 1950 and 1953, it never reached the House or Senate floor for a vote. In the 60s and 70s, largely due to the influence of key women’s rights groups, Hollywood and the media, the ERA once again gained momentum, and in 1972 the amendment passed Congress with a seven year deadline for state ratification. But the ERA never received the support of 38 states required for ratification and, despite attempts to extend the deadline and revive the debate, the amendment expired. Five states even withdrew their support.

Jump ahead to today. In 2012, women in the United States have significantly lessened the gender pay gap. According to the U.S. Census, women are outpacing men in both undergraduate and graduate college admissions. Rapidly advancing technologies and family-friendly workplace policies are allowing women who choose it, the flexibility to work and parent successfully. In 2008, we had a viable female presidential candidate. And this summer with the addition of women’s boxing, we’ll have women competing in every sport in the Olympics for the first time in history.

In the 225 years since the Constitution was ratified, women have become landowners, voters, working moms, Cabinet Secretaries, elected officials and Fortune 100 CEOs. This alone is a testament to the sufficiency of the current Constitution to guarantee the rights of women.

The achievements of women are many, and throughout women’s history month we should take time to honor the courage and strength of those who came before us and who wrote the rich narrative around the inclusion of women in We The People. But do we need a constitutional amendment to guarantee women equal rights under the law? This woman doesn’t think so.

This March, visitors to the National Constitution Center can celebrate Women’s History Month with special events that pay tribute to the achievements, leadership, courage, and strength of countless women throughout American history who challenged the status quo. Visit our website for more information.

Alison Young is the Vice President of Public Engagement at the National Constitution Center.

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