Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. I remember one day when I was about 25 years old, I was talking with a friend and she mentioned the Equal Rights Amendment, and I said something like, “Yeah, of course. So important, right?” And I think from my response my friend could tell I had only vaguely heard of it, so she said “You know it didn’t pass, right? The Equal Rights Amendment was up for ratification in the 1970’s and it didn’t pass.” And to my horror, she then told me that the ERA hadn’t passed because of the leadership of a group of Christian women, and that our own church had been instrumental in its defeat. I felt so betrayed, I literally remember where I was sitting and what I was wearing because I couldn’t make sense of it.
It’s embarrassing for me to admit that at the age of 25 I didn’t know the Equal Rights Amendment wasn’t already a part of the Constitution… but apparently I’m not alone - many, many Americans to this day have heard of the Equal Rights Amendment, but they think that like the 19th Amendment, it was up for ratification and there was a big battle to pass it… and eventually it passed. They don’t know that many states still won’t ratify it, and that they may live in a state or belong to a church that opposes it.
So this is an incredibly important “essential text” that we’re covering today. It’s really short, but it has a long history that is still unfolding as we speak, and I’m really grateful to have two experts here to clear up misinformation and help us understand this critical piece of legislation! My reading partners today are Emily Bell McCormick and Kelly Whited Jones, co-chairs of Utah ERA Coalition . They represent a coalition of individuals, as well as local and national groups that have been working on the Equal Rights Amendment for decades. Their mission is to educate, elevate the role of women, and ratify in Utah. So I’m thrilled to welcome you today, Emily and Kelly - Thank you so much for being here!!
(Hello, etc.) :)
To start out, could each of you tell us a bit about yourselves? (in whichever order you like)
Amy: And then I also like to ask my reading partners what “breaking down patriarchy” means to you.
Peace comes when I understand the why. That way for a lot of people. If we understand it, we are more able to deal with our relationship to it. Anecdote. Not some big elusive reason. It just happened. Series of small things over centuries.
Patriarchy is a system that prioritizes and values men over women, so removing that “power over” dynamic and seeking partnership is a necessary shift. In relation to the ERA, it’s recognizing that after 98 years, women are still waiting to be constitutionally protected in our founding document, while men have enjoyed those privileges since the document was written. It’s Abigail Adams entreating John Adams to “Remember the ladies” as he headed off to the Constitutional Convention, and John, well, not remembering to include the ladies. It’s sobering to realize that women were intentionally excluded from the Constitution. But we can fix that.
Amy: Let’s learn about the author of the Equal Rights Amendment, Alice Paul.
Amy: Alice Stokes Paul was born on January 11, 1885, a descendant of William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania. She grew up in the Quaker tradition of public service, and she first learned about women's suffrage from her mother, who was a suffragette and would sometimes bring her along to suffragist meetings.
In 1901, Alice went to Swarthmore College, and she graduated with a bachelor's degree in biology in 1905.
Paul then earned a Master of Arts from the University of Pennsylvania in 1907, after completing coursework in political science, sociology and economics. She then went to Birmingham, England to continue her studies, and took economics classes from the University of Birmingham, while earning money doing social work. She first heard Christabel Pankhurst speak at Birmingham, and when she later moved to London to study sociology and economics at the London School of Economics, she joined the militant suffrage group the Women's Social and Political Union led by Christabel and her famous suffragist mother, Emmeline Pankhurst. Paul was arrested repeatedly during suffrage demonstrations and served three jail terms. And I have to share a couple of these stories because they’re just so interesting:
On one occasion Paul and local suffragists made plans to protest a speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sir Edward Grey. For a week prior, they spoke with people on the streets to promote knowledge about why they were protesting against the Cabinet member. At the meeting, after Grey discussed proposed legislation he claimed would lead to prosperity, Paul stood up and exclaimed: “Well, these are very wonderful ideals, but couldn’t you extend them to women?” Police responded by dragging her out of the meeting and through the streets to the police station where she was arrested. As planned, this act was viewed by many as a public silencing of legitimate protest and resulted in an increase of press coverage and public sympathy. (These are classic civil disobedience tactics, also used by Gandhi and by MLK and others in American Civil Rights movement - provoke the other side to do something egregious to demonstrate how far they were willing to go, and get the public on your side)
Another example: Before a political meeting at St. Andrew's Hall in Glasgow in August 1909, Paul camped out on the roof of the hall so that she could address the crowd below. When she was forced by police to descend, the crowds rallied to support her, and when she and her fellow suffragettes attempted to enter the building for the meeting, they were beaten by police and taken into custody. The crowds tried to protect the women, and gathered outside the police station demanding the women's release.
After returning from England to the United States in 1910, she earned a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation was entitled "The Legal Position of Women in Pennsylvania", and it discussed women’s suffrage as the key issue of the day.
Paul later received her law degree (LL.B) from the Washington College of Law at American University in 1922. In 1927 she earned a master of laws degree, and in 1928, a doctorate in civil law from American University. (!!!)
One of Paul's first big projects was initiating and organizing the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. This was designed to put pressure on Wilson, because the President would have the most influence over Congress. Over 8,000 people marched, led by Inez Milholland on a white horse, and people said it was an incredible event. But listeners might also remember this parade from our episode on Anna Howard Shaw’s speech on women’s suffrage - some of the white suffragettes wanted the march to be racially segregated, and Ida B Wells was told she shouldn’t march with her home state of Illinois because she was Black. (She marched with them anyway because she was a queen.) But it was a really disappointing, really tragic misstep by Alice Paul that she capitulated to racist Southern white feminists in segregating the parade, rather than standing with the African American women who were fighting so ardently alongside her for suffrage.
Once suffrage was achieved in 1920, Paul and some members of the National Woman's Party shifted attention to constitutional guarantees of equality through the Equal Rights Amendment, because of course the right to vote does not guarantee the right to equal justice under the law, equal access to opportunity, equal education, equal pay for equal work, etc. So Paul wrote the Equal Rights Amendment and delivered it to Congress in 1923. For twenty years it didn’t pass, and in 1943, the amendment was renamed the "Alice Paul Amendment", and its wording was changed to the version that still exists today. So Emily, can I have you tell us what that current version is?
Emily: 24-words. 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 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.
Beginning in the 113th Congress (2014-2015), the text of the ERA ratification bill introduced in the House of Representatives has differed slightly from both the traditional wording and its Senate companion bill. It reads:
Section 1: Women shall have equal rights in the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction. 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: Congress and the several States 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.
The addition of the first sentence specifically names women in the Constitution for the first time and clarifies the intent of the amendment to make discrimination on the basis of a person's sex unconstitutional. The addition of "and the several States" in Section 2 restores wording that was drafted by Alice Paul but removed before the amendment's 1972 passage. It affirms that enforcement of the constitutional prohibition of sex discrimination is a function of both federal and state levels of government.
Amy: So normally on the podcast, I would say the year our book was published, or the date the article was signed into law. But although we have a date that the text was authored - 1923 - as I mentioned at the beginning, we still don’t have a ratification date, so this story is still ongoing.
So Kelly, can you tell us what has happened since 1923?
Kelly: (1923-1960’s) The Amendment has been introduced in every Congress since it was first presented by Susan B. Anthony’s nephew, a Republican, and by a future vice-president of the U.S. Charles Curtis, in a bi-partisan bill. But it has faced the same challenges it faces today. It has been blocked in committee and not brought to the floor, or it would pass one house, but not the other. In the 1940s in particular, women were more engaged than ever in this effort. Prominent women in Utah, such as Amy Brown Lyman, the eighth General Relief Society President of the Mormon Church and Lucy Grant Cannon, President of the Young Women’s Association in 1943, wrote their Senator, Judge Abe Murdock, asking him to “join with the women of the United States in their appeal for equal rights with men and urge your favorable consideration and vote for the equal rights amendment, S.J. Res. 25.” (located by Ardis Parshall, a historian and researcher, just last year.)
There’s a perception that things went dark on the ERA, but this idea is unfounded. Women’s groups like the American Association of University Women, founded in 1917, have been working to pass it since it was written, and are still part of efforts to ratify today. We count them among our Utah ERA Coalition partners. The ERA has never lacked the support of tenacious women across our nation. The League of Women Voters took some time to sign on, until just after the ERA passed Congress in 1974, but realized the positive impacts of the amendment for women, seeing First Ladies Betty Ford, Lady Bird Johnson, and Roselyn Carter champion the ERA, and the League reversed their decision and have been ardent supporters ever since. Just this year, the National organization awarded a grant to our League of Women Voters of Utah to support ratification efforts here -- a postcard campaign and a video detailing Utah’s complicated history with passage. It’s a sobering and honest look at why ratification didn’t pass when it was proposed here in 1977. It’s transparent about the role that the LDS church took, much like the efforts of Prop 8 in California, actively working against gay marriage. Where Mormon women supported fundamental rights in 1940, in the 1970s they were given callings to oppose it, speak out against it, and were even bused to conventions to vote against it. A religious committee was formed specifically to stop progress for women in our state. Many of the women who work for the ERA today, have mothers that were told to actively oppose it in the 70s.
Amy: What happened in the 1960’s and 1970’s? I just watched Mrs. America - which I highly recommend to listeners - and this was the chapter in history that my friend told me about that made my world go dark.
Kelly: (Phyllis Schlafly vs “the women’s libbers”) The aim of Phyllis Schlafy was to preserve a traditional role for women, even as she herself worked outside of the home as an attorney. She was a contradiction in terms, she would bring Eagle Forum propaganda attached to baked goods to legislators to highlight her role as a homemaker, even though she didn’t fit that traditional mold herself. She capitalized on fear of change during that progessive time period of Civil Rights and her ideas resonated. She effectively said, women want to remain on the pedestal, in the gilded cage, and be protected. Making claims about social security and child custody that had no basis in fact. She fed misinformation and fearmongering about what the amendment might do. We hear many of these arguments still being made today. In fact, a few months ago we hosted a debate between Senator Riebe who ran the bill this year, and the Eagle Forum here in Utah that formed under Schlafly. The current president Gayle Ruzicka said straight out, “women don’t want equal pay. Women don’t want to be equal.” And I had to check my watch to make sure I wasn’t back in the 1930s.
Amy: What were the counter-arguments used at the time? Why were they effective?
They were effective at slowing progress.
I also remember that one thing I read about ERA opponents being terrified that there would be genderless bathrooms. I thought about that this morning at CrossFit as I did my super masculine weights workout in a room full of men and women (where by the way, one man had brought his baby to the gym and was doing his squats while holding his baby) and I ran in to use the unmarked, neutral bathroom and thought “we’re already living in Phyllis Schlafly’s nightmare world!” And I love this world and think it’s a huge improvement. So as you said, many of the changes she feared were unfounded, but many of the biggest ones happened anyway.
Amy: Schlafly was Catholic, and I know that other conservative religions - including our common religion - opposed the ERA in the 1970’s, and the LDS Church just released a statement that they still oppose it. What reasons do they give for opposing it, and how do you refute those points?
Kelly or Emily:
I mentioned this above. I was raised LDS, my dad was a professor at BYU -- a church school. My sister actually left our religion when Sonja Johnson was excommunicated for her support of equal rights. It was a taboo topic in my home. And it wasn’t until I went to college and looked up the words, that I was really surprised to see it wasn’t what I thought it was. I thought “that’s it?” The wording is simple and the ideas are fundamental. Women deserve to be legally protected in our founding document, the U.S. Constitution. We have similar wording in our state constitution. It’s been there since 1895 that women’s civic and political rights “shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex.” Almost the exact wording. That’s it. That’s all we are asking for.
But some are not ready for women to be fully equal, particularly in religious life, where men do make decisions for women, where women are still being taught to obey their husbands. Since correlation in my religion, men retain the final decision making over budgets and programs that women lead. Can patriarchy and women’s equality exist in the same space? I think that’s a great question, and one that we are still grappling with here in Utah. I believe firmly that spirituality and equality can co-exist very well.
How do I personally reconcile that my religion doesn’t support women’s equal protections in our founding document? I struggle. It’s precisely because of my spiritual upbringing that I am working for equality. My faith informs my support of the ERA. Ideas of fairness, of the golden rule, a belief that women have individual worth, that we should work to lift each other up. Respect women. This amendment is in line with the principles I was taught that we are all alike unto God. I welcome a chance to have a conversation with church leaders about this amendment and describe what this amendment could mean for women. What it could mean for women who are struggling. Women who have faced economic hardship. Women who have been mistreated. I will sit down and talk with anyone, and if given the chance, I would ask them to reevaluate and retire the arguments of yesteryear, and look at the ERA with new eyes.
All my life I was taught from the pulpit that we must study an issue out in our own minds, and vote our conscience and that the church wants us to vote, but will not tell us how to vote. But is that true here? With this issue? The founding fathers wanted that separation of church and state. We believe they were divinely inspired. I’ve had legislators say to me that the Church’s view “shouldn’t impact how they act politically or how they evaluate this issue,” but you can see that it does or why bring it up?
And interestingly, after four years of declining to comment about it, saying unofficially that they were neutral on the topic, they did come out with a statement on the same day Representative Karen Kwan announced our bill in 2019. There was tremendous support for the ERA, more than 70 % of Utahns support it based on two independent polls, so the press kept pushing, and finally the church spokesman did issue a statement.
What they actually said was that they haven’t reevaluated their opposition from the 70s. Forty plus years. My lifetime. And considering that the main arguments of the 70s against ratification are moot, and have come about without the ERA, I see that as having some wiggle room. I really do think the church wants to do better for women. It’s time to reevaluate those positions. It’s overdue. If you look on the church’s website, you’ll see only the old articles from the 70s -- no new information.
Let’s look at the ERA with new eyes given what we know now and given that we want the next generation to have every opportunity open to them. The ERA doesn’t just protect women, it’s for men too. As certain industries increase their numbers of women employees, men may find that they need these workplace protections just as much, to make sure they are paid as they should be and have equal advancement opportunities.
Amy: Ok, so back to this history: What has been happening since the ERA was defeated in the 70’s?
Well, defeated is a big word. We are not defeated now. But when the ERA fell 3 states short, in 1979, they petitioned Congress to extend the timeline three more years until 1982. Congress has the power to extend and even remove the arbitrary timeline. The OLC opinion issued under the Carter Administration said that the timeline could be extended if Congress agreed and that’s what happened. Timelines for amendments aren’t mentioned in the Constitution. Some amendments have them, and some don’t. Some have been ratified right away, and some, like the Madison Amendment and the ERA, have a longer journey. Madison was the first amendment and it took 203 years, but it didn’t have a timeline. Congress has all the power here. With amendments, Congress can do what it wants. It’s not bound by what another Congress has done in the past.
Why did it stall? This is where Eleanor Smeal and Gloria Steinem contradict the depictions in Mrs. America, the insurance companies realized that if women were equal, if women were working in greater numbers, they would have to insure them too. And so there were cultural reservations, but there was a powerful financial incentive not to advance the ERA.
Those same women’s groups that were active prior to passage, kept working on it. They didn’t stall. In Florida and South Carolina, in Illinois. Women never put it down. In the early 1990s, the main women’s groups that were involved, including the National Organization of Women, met and voted on how to go forward. One idea was the three state approach. Another idea was a “start over” ERA that would have explicitly included all women, no exceptions. The three state approach won the vote. We were so close to being done, it was decided that we would finish what we started.
And so, the work continued until 2017, when a phenomenal Black, gay woman -- a veteran who worked for the Pentagon, Nevada Senator Pat Spearman sponsored and won ratification in Nevada. And the next year, a white male, pro-life Republican, Steve Andersson passed the ERA in a very tight vote in Illinois. Why did he run the ERA? Because the Eagle Forum gave him a flyer, and as an attorney he knew what they were saying about the ERA wasn’t factual. And it made him angry. And it ignited a passion in him to fix that misinformation. In 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. There was a herculean effort to flip their state blue to do it. They made history for women that day.
In Utah, our efforts formally revived in 2016, with the largest group protest at the Capitol during the Women’s March, in a snowstorm no less. And with Senator Dabakis running the bill to ratify. We’ve been working every year since and like our most recent sponsors, Senator Riebe and Rep. Kwan have both said, we’re not going away. Women aren’t going to stop working for equality.
Amy: And I was just reading about something important that just happened a couple of months ago, in March, 2021. Could you explain that?
In March, a judge ruled on a case before the DC courts. The case was brought by the Attorney Generals of the three states who ratified after the arbitrary timeline on the ERA had passed. The case wasn’t about the merits of the ERA, it was only on amendment procedure.
Amendments are a funny beast. They are rare. They are intended to be rare. We don’t want our Constitution to be changed willy nilly, and so we support that we only pass amendments when something has broad legal necessity for a wide swath of the country -- like the ERA has for women. Consequently when we do get to 38 states, the procedure is that the amendment is immediately certified and signed into law. The archivist has a secretarial role, in that he takes in the ratifications and he signs them. It’s what he did for Nevada and Illinois, but he stopped short on Virginia. He hesitated. And he decided to ask Bill Barr in the Trump Justice Department to offer another decision from the OLC -- the office of legal counsel. This one effectively replaced the Carter Administration OLC. And though it’s not legally binding, it represents a legal opinion with some persuasion. And so the Archivist, Ferriero, did not certify the ERA when it reached 38 states, like Article IV of the Constitution requires. Hence the lawsuit asking that he be compelled to sign. And the decision came down in March, that the Attorney Generals did not have legal standing to bring the suit because they were outside of the timeline. Something that is immediately being appealed. However, and this didn’t get as much press, the judge also threw the case back to Congress in his written opinion. He knew that a bill to remove the timeline has already passed the house -- Rep. John Curtis from Utah was one of only four Republicans who voted to remove the timeline, and a similar bill SJR1 is currently waiting to be heard in the Senate. We have 52 senators, including Republicans who have signed on. We need 7 more to clear the path for women.
Timeline Detail: We refer to the timeline as being arbitrary for a few reasons. It’s not part of the official language of the amendment. It was added as an addendum. It was meant to add pressure and even stop women from completing it by putting added constraints. But the fact that Congress has extended the timeline before, demonstrates that it can do so again, and even remove the timeline altogether, which is what is happening in Congress now.
Amy: Super helpful to understand the history!! So tell me - why is the ERA necessary? And before you answer that I’ll say that we just did an episode a few weeks ago on the 1964 Civil Rights Amendment, which Pauli Murray and Mary Eastwood and later, Ruth Bader Ginsberg argued included women. So why do we need a separate amendment?
We need the ERA because the hard won rights that women have gained are subject to change. We can lose the protections we have. We’ve seen that happen. One of our most recent groups to partner with us is a newly formed cosmetology organization in Utah. Last session, lawmakers put through a bill to deregulate their industry. In a field that is mostly women, who have invested sometimes $20,000 in education, and years of study and experience, to have the bill pass means that they lose credibility, they lose their investment, and there is a real threat to public safety, as less qualified people now have access. The Utah Nurses Association joined us due to a similar issue. Though 90% of Nurses are women, recent studies show that men in the industry are making more than women do. And doctors, who are still predominantly men in Utah, have outsized governance of what qualified nurses can do -- one bill in the last session was about pain clinics, and forces nurses, when they set up a pain clinic, to pay for a doctor on call, even if they never need him, in order to open their business.
The ERA is fundamental, it’s essential. It acts like a filter for federal laws to pass through before they become law. It has the potential to bolster existing laws that protect women, so they can’t be walked back, or watered down like employment laws have been. And when women go to court on the basis of sexual discrimination they have an added layer of protection from what is called “strict scrutiny.” Right now the courts use a “work around” called intermediate scrutiny in these cases. With the ERA women would be a protected class and the courts would have to use that heightened level of consideration in these cases.
Said simply. Women would be more likely to find justice for clear cases of sex discrimination.
Amy: What are counter-arguments being used today? Specifically the one I always hear is that people fear “unintended consequences”.
Unintended consequences. It’s usually said by folks who don’t want protection for all women, who still want to exclude. And frankly, we have to learn our lessons of the past. The suffragists did exclude women of color in order to pass the 19th amendment. We want the equal rights of all women and men to be protected. We don’t want any exceptions. If you believe in fairness. If you believe in the golden rule, you know that equality is an essential right for all people.
Sometimes “unintended consequences” is used as another fear message or a stall. But why, after 98 years of working for full equality under the law, would anyone want to stop women from gaining full equal rights? Why when we are literally at the finish line, would some want to block women? Or tell them to “start over?” Isn’t 98 years long enough to wait?
Amy: Which states have yet to ratify the ERA?
Amy: If 38 states have ratified, do we still need other states to ratify, or is it better to focus on national efforts?
Emily or Kelly:
We do still need Utah to ratify, because our ratification requires a bi-partisan effort. It means more. We have this rich women’s history in our state, of pioneering women who won the vote twice, and this would send a powerful message that our state respects and supports women now. If DC becomes a state, we would need one more state to ratify to meet the requirements of Article V. It states that an amendment has to be ratified by the legislatures of ¾ of the states and the addition of DC for statehood would mean we need one more.
There is a concern that several states took back their ratifications, one was Idaho who inserted a “sunset clause” into the language of their ratification saying if it didn’t happen in the timeframe, it wasn’t binding.
Now that’s never held up before. With the 14th Amendment, several southern states tried to withdraw their ratifications, and were counted in the YES numbers anyway. You can see that if we allowed states to pull these back, we wouldn’t have any amendments remain intact -- it would be chaos.
Amy: What can people do who live in states that have still not ratified?
Amy: What can people do who live in states that have already voted to ratify the ERA?
Amy: Any final thoughts?
Emily and Kelly:
If you want to join in our effort, you can find the Utah ERA Coalition at www.utaheracoalition.org We are on facebook. And @erautah on Instagram and Twitter. Look for educational TikToks coming soon @erautahgal. For the national and local effort, we ask you to reach out to Senator Lee and Senator Romney and tell them you want them to vote yes on SJR1 to remove the timeline. Ask for an in-person meeting. We’ll come with you.
Equality is not a partisan issue, it’s not controversial, it’s fundamental. And it will take all of us working together to get it over the finish line.
Amy: Thanks, etc.
Next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy, we will be discussing the book Sexual Politics, by Kate Millett. If you’ve heard of “radical feminism” from the 1970’s, this is one of the defining texts of that movement. It’s a very, very dense academic text that identifies misogyny in literature in a way no one had done before, and the first chapter of this book shocked me because it opens with very long quoted passages of a very famous book (that I had never heard of) that is 100% misogynistic porn. So this isn’t a book that I would necessarily recommend owning, or even reading cover-to-cover. BUT, after I finished those opening chapters and revived myself with some smelling salts, I saw where Millett was going, and she truly is a genius. Her criticism of sexism in literature paved the way for feminist literary criticism, and it’s a really, really important landmark text that helped me understand what radical feminism was, and what it was advocating, and why there was so much pushback against it. Also, I will be discussing the text with the feminist legend Maxine Hanks. So you won’t want to miss the discussion of Sexual Politics, by Kate Millett, next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy.