Feminists: Pass The ERA, Then We Can Argue About Armpit Hair

Studio shot of nude woman
Studio shot of nude woman

Too many feminists, especially in the age of social networking, are reprimanded by other feminists accusing them of being radically feminist, not feminist enough, or not up to their particular feminist standards. Many in the feminist community disagree about what feminism is and they're not afraid to argue about it.

Anyone of any gender or sexual preference who believes in equality of the sexes is a feminist. And keep this in mind -- just because one feminist says something you disagree with, it doesn't mean all feminists feel that way. For instance, maybe you've heard one person who identifies as a feminist say that all men are pigs. I'm a feminist, and I don't believe all men are pigs. Feminists are people, and people having varying opinions. Maybe a racist loves roses, but loving roses doesn't make you a racist.

It can get pretty confusing out there because some people don't understand the definition of feminism, or they have a distorted view of what feminism actually is. In order to provide the most clinical and straightforward definition of feminism, let's boil it down.
  1. the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
  2. organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests

It's easy to determine if you're a feminist: You believe in the legal and social equality of men and women.

The legal part is cut and dried. The confusion usually falls within the social definition because it's left to personal interpretation: paying for dates, shaving armpits and legs, wearing make-up and a myriad of other nuances. All of these nuances have been debated for decades with no solid absolutes. Feminists shave their legs or don't shave their legs. They wear make-up or don't wear make-up. They pay for dates or don't pay for dates. They can be male or female or trans. The point is, no matter how strong you are in your convictions, you don't get to decide whether or not someone else is a feminist based on any of these examples.

Unfortunately, no matter where you are on the feminist spectrum, someone is waiting to pounce and tell you why you're not a real feminist. In fact, I guarantee this article will be accompanied by angry comments from people telling me I don't know what I'm talking about. They'll tell me I don't get to define feminism. That is why I provided Webster's definition.

Before you comment, please consider this:

The United States doesn't have a gender equality clause in its Constitution, but according to that founding document, 38 states are needed to ratify an amendment. We came close back in the 1970s and secured 35 states, but a toxic gender traitor by the name of Phyllis Schlafly told a series of preposterous lies about what a ratified Equal Rights Amendment would mean, and the growing momentum to ratify it came to a screeching halt prior to securing the last three states. In 1982, the deadline imposed by Congress expired. Expired!

So while some feminists (not all) are busy arguing with each other about make-up and shaving habits, women continue earning less than men for the same work. African-American and Hispanic women earn even less than white women.

As noted in Jessica Neuwirth's groundbreaking book, Equal Means Equal, a loophole in the Equal Pay Act allows employers to legally discriminate based on prior earnings. This means if you've ever been a victim of gender discrimination, the cycle can legally continue because employers can use your past earnings against you by paying you less than your male counterpart for the same work. A ratified ERA closes that loophole and would ensure that women have an effective legal remedy for systematic pay inequity.

If you are a young woman who has graduated from high school, you can expect to earn $700,000 less over the course of your career than the young men with whom you graduated.

If you are a young woman graduating from college, you can expect to earn $1,200,000 less over the course of your career than your male classmates.

If you are a young woman with an advanced degree such as law or medicine, you can expect to earn $2,000,000 less in your lifetime than your male colleagues.

Does that piss you off? It pisses me off -- and it's a million times more frustrating than a disagreement on armpit hair. Why are we focusing on the minutia and not the bigger picture?

Along with pay equity, the ERA would also protect the transgender community from discrimination because the amendment would be all-inclusive and would protect everyone, not only women. Pregnancy discrimination, violence against women as well as a variety of other societal ills would also fall under the umbrella of protection.

Despite the fact that 91 percent of Americans believe men and women should have constitutional gender equality, 72 percent mistakenly believe we already do. Some argue that the 14th Amendment is adequate. It isn't. The 14th has been cited in court cases and failed to protect women against gender discrimination. The 14th Amendment didn't give women the right to vote. Women's suffrage didn't happen until the 19th Amendment was ratified. If gender equality were guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, women would have had the right to vote.

Others even argue that the text of the ERA be changed from "sex" to "gender," but when you take a look at the text 19th Amendment alongside the text of the ERA, you can see that the term "sex" hasn't caused any confusion:

19th 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.

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

If the United Sates elects a woman president, she will not enjoy constitutional gender equality. She may be the leader of the free world but her ascendancy will not signify the end of the fight.

We all need to take a cue from the women and men who came together in the '70s and '80s -- the ones who demanded constitutional gender equality -- and use our collective outrage in a productive way. Consequently, men and women would once again have to unite and demand Congress remove the deadline, and then three more states would need to vote on passing the ERA. Which three? Take your pick. This link provides which states ratified and which states haven't. The only way this will happen is if we set aside our individual differences and fight for the protections that should have been our birthright -- much like the battle for marriage equality. We need to urge members of Congress from both parties to support and vote for it. We need a new movement. If we don't do it, they won't do it.

Once the ERA is secured and equal pay is protected in the Constitution, we'll have plenty of time to enjoy the luxury of criticizing each other for being too radical or not feminist enough.

More information: History of the ERA.  Equal Means Equal, the bookEqual Means Equal, the movie. More interesting facts.