I have given a number of speeches since the #MeToo stories started popping up on social media and since the powerful men started falling down. People regularly ask me about the Arizona efforts to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Now, they also are asking me about sexual harassment in government.
My younger naive self experienced workplace sexual harassment perpetrated by much older men. Like Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, I made my own #MeToo post on Facebook, but mine focused on men from my past– not on men in the Arizona Legislature.
In my post, I ratted out the restaurant manager who suggested we have sex in the stock room before the lunch rush (because “no one would know”); the married engineer who often suggested I accompany him on out-of-the office trips in his car (to take pictures, since I was the photographer) and who cooked up flimsy excuses to invite me to his house during work hours and to his hotel room when we were on an out-of-town trip; and the married university professor who also often suggested I accompany him on out-of-the office trips in his car and who patted me on the butt in my office. The restaurant manager was just a dolt, but the other two were powerful, wealthy, charming, married men who were angling for an office affair with a women 15-20 years their junior and who schemed to get me alone with them on multiple occasions. I was lucky that all three of these men took “No” for an answer and kept their pants on!
With the election of many women in November 2016, the amazing Women’s Marches in January 2017, and now the #MeToo movement, American women are in a position of power that we have never had before.
So... is it finally time to pass the ERA? The ERA’s 100th anniversary is in 2023. One hundred years and American women still don’t have equal protection under the US Constitution and equal pay for equal work. In fact, in this decade, women have seen their rights eroded by hundreds of anti-woman bills passed by red state legislatures like Arizona’s.
In 2017, ratification of the ERA was proposed in eight states, including Arizona. In Nevada, Illinois and Arizona, it was actively debated on the floor. In Nevada, it was ratified. (Watch the announcement here.) Arizona Democrats used parliamentary procedures and the element of surprise to force the ERA debate in the House and Senate. (Go here to watch the House debate.) In Arizona, Republicans shut down debate on the ERA with excuses like they “didn’t have time to read” the one-sentence amendment. We will be back in 2018.
I have already opened a bill folder for the Equal Rights Amendment for the 2018 session, and I’m hoping for some bipartisan support. In the Arizona House in 2017, Reps. Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Heather Carter voted with all of the Democrats to not shut down debate and to vote on the ERA on April 27, 2017.
As prominent Republicans and Democrats tumble from power following charges of sexual harassment and sexual assault, it would be a grand non-sexist gesture for all politicians– regardless of party– to work toward passage of the ERA in 2018.
After all, as the Salon article Could the ERA Pass in the #MeToo Era? points out, many arguments that were used to sink the ERA in the 1970s are irrelevant now, like giving fathers custody rights, drafting women, legalizing “homosexual marriage,” and eliminating women’s restrooms and other sex-segregated public facilities. Here is an excerpt from the article.
Eighty percent of people polled in 2016 think that the United States Constitution already has an amendment protecting equal rights for women. When they learn otherwise, more than 90 percent support an ERA.
As a historian who studies women in the modern U.S., I wondered, what does this mean about the future of the ERA? More specifically, what does it mean in a country that recently elected a president who lacked political experience and boasted about sexually assaulting women during a campaign that vilified the accomplished female candidate in the tired sexist language of yesteryear? In the words of her opponent, “She doesn’t have the look. She doesn’t have the stamina.” Other detractors simply called her a “c—,” but spelled it out.
Could this political climate possibly give rise to an Equal Rights Amendment?
Arguments don’t last forever
To be clear, the overwhelming support pollsters have charted for an ERA is probably less a message of support for feminist legislation than it is a revelation about the disappearance of age-old arguments against it. More specifically, women have lost – or are in the process of losing – the very “privileges” that were invoked to defeat the ERA in the 1970s and 1980s.
On November 8, 2016, 10 women were newly elected to the Arizona House; this summer another woman was appointed to fill a vacant seat. Arizona now has the highest percentage of women of any state legislature– 40%.
The House Democratic Caucus is majority women, and there are a significant number of powerful, intelligent women on both sides of the aisle in the Arizona Legislature. We don’t need any of the Republican men to vote for the ERA to pass ratification in 2018. We need all of the Democrats– which we had in 2017– and some of the Republican women.
Look for organizing events statewide in 2018. NOW, the League of Women Voters, National Federation of Democratic Women, Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) and others are joining the struggle to surprise the world by ratifying the ERA in Arizona. Let’s do this! Watch this blog, my Facebook page and Twitter (@p2hannley) for news. Also, check out the ERA in AZ Facebook group.
Background Articles about the ERA
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