“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
The proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution
That’s it. That’s all of it. 24 words. It says nothing about having to endure dual-sex toilets or the draft. It pretty much just outlines what most of the young women of this generation think they already have: equality under the law.
But, of course, they don’t have that. The current debate on contraception and Choice – a debate in which both secular and religious old men seem to think they have the right to determine what rights women should be “allowed” to have about their own bodies – makes that abundantly clear.
The group of us – women, that is – who were only “given” the vote in 1922, have never been “given” equality – (doesn’t that subservient verb just frost your petunias?)
Despite how hard we’ve fought for it, and despite the fact that we’ve made great strides toward the goal, we still earn 25% less than men do for the same job, we are still 90% less represented in Congress, we still have to break through a Glass or Marble Ceiling to get to the top. (Only 14 of Forbes 100 top CEOs are women). Most importantly of all, we still have to fight for the right to control our own bodies’ reproductive functions. This fact has just been underscored by Republicans, the Catholic Church and the fundamentalist Christians who are all busy determining whether a woman and her doctor should be in charge of her gynecological choices, or a government and a religious organization should make the rules. Although the latest fury all purported to rage about contraception and religious freedom, in truth, the real issue, as always, was about control of women. You may have noticed that no one seems worried about the fact that health insurance pays for the 30 million men on Viagra and other impotence drugs, and no commentator has demanded that men on Viagra do YouTube videos of the results of insurance having paid for the drugs.
According to Planned Parenthood and NOW, both of which know a vast amount about this issue, anti-Choice factions are not merely out to eliminate safe, legal abortion, they’re going after contraception, too. Not possible, you might have said, before the recent debacle. But consider the fact that even for the victims of rape and even with a doctor’s prescription, some pharmacies and pharmacists want the right not to fill contraceptive or Plan B prescriptions at all, if it interferes with their religious views. What’s next? Christian Scientists refusing to fill antibiotic prescriptions because they don’t believe in them?
Consider, too, that members of The Republican National committee have made public their intent to dismantle Planned Parenthood, the largest organization currently protecting and educating women about their own reproductive health. What got conveniently lost in all the recent anti-Planned Parenthood rhetoric, is that only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s budget is used to provide legal, safe abortion services, while 97% of their funding goes to providing women’s healthcare and health education to a large part of the female population, who have little or no access to even rudimentary health care, without Planned Parenthood’s services. What also got lost was the fact that extremists in government and in religious organizations have no right whatsoever to legislate the reproductive choices made by women and their doctors.
Equality Under the Law
So, I believe the battle for Equal Rights will be revisited soon enough. Maybe having Hilary Clinton nearly become her party’s Presidential candidate (please God, let us have a chance to vote for her in 2016!)… maybe this newest Reproductive Rights battle will sound the clarion call that rouses women of all generations to action. Or maybe the galvanizing issue will be a generation coming out of college to a job market in which only 54% will get employed, and even those lucky ones will earn 10 to 15% less than their peers would have 10 years ago, so women will be fighting hard for their equal share of the workplace, too. Or the fact that women in the military face the appalling reality that they may be attacked by fellow soldiers as well as by the enemy, and that the military has been slow to address this problem. Maybe, collectively, these and other issues,will make women feistier and more willing to fight for the rights they must have in order to be equal under the law. What matters is that everyone, male and female, finally understand that equal doesn’t mean the same, it means equally paid and equally protected by law and equally able to determine whether and when to bear a child.
Whatever the call to action will be – and my gut tells me it will be the cumulative realization that women’s rights are far from equal, and that nobody in the whole history of the world has voluntarily given rights to anyone – those who want rights, have to fight like hell for them. I believe the women of Dakota’s generation will find themselves doing battle for rights they assumed were already theirs.
© Cathy Cash Spellman/The Wild Harp & Co. Inc 2012