Do We Really Need the Equal Rights Amendment?

I saw in the Washington Post today that, yet again, the ERA has been introduced in Congress. This time, however, supporters think they can get it through the new Democratic Congress. I was born in 1982, so the ERA has always been dead as a doornail as far as I’m concerned. And, quite frankly, I’m not sure what it’s supposed to accomplish that can’t or hasn’t been accomplished by other legislation. Scare tactics of unisex bathrooms (then) and legalization of same-sex marriage (now) have no effect on making me be against it, but I have no idea what the amendment would actually do, and I’m leery of amending the Constitution for anything but matters that simply can’t be handled just by legislation.

I’m not up on the specifics of the new ERA, but it appears that there’s still a pretty significant income disparity between the sexes (and races) here in the US. Whether an amendment is a fitting remedy or not is debatable, but it seems certain that those who make meaningful decisions in terms of individual’s compensation are still not doing it in a satisfactory (for the 21st century) manner, and perhaps a measure of meaningful legislation is needed to provide motivation for discontinuing this particular form of discrimination.

Arky, the whole income disparity thing is not a result of sexism. If women and men work at the same job, they get paid the same wage. That’s the law. Women, however, tend to choose lower paid occupations, are out of the workforce longer, etc. It’s not a question of “those who make meaningful decisions in terms of individual’s compensation” simply deciding that women get to make less than men.

I’ve said this elsewhere on the Web today, so I might as well say it here: the Constitution of the United States, written as it was in a time that barely recognized a distinction between women and chattel, should absofuckinglutely be amended to state explicitly that men and women are now and forever equal under the law.

Here’s what it will do legally:

It will raise the level of constitutional scrutiny to be applied in gender discrimination cases from “intermediate scrutiny” to “strict scrutiny”. Basically, it will make gender-based discrimination just as constitutionally suspect as race-based discrimination.

It’s about time. When 60% of new college students are from one gender, with the gap widening over time, clearly something must be done. The schools don’t seem to recognize a problem, they claim they are “gender neutral”.

Since the schools and free market are content to let males be denied an education, it’s time for the government to step in and legislate change.
[sub]somewhat, but not entirely, tongue in cheek[/sub]

In fact, you’re right: it’s a serious problem, but it’s not caused by college-admission policies. It’s caused earlier, by social and psychological factors which cause boys to do less well at school. It used to be that girls held themselves back at school, because of social messages that they didn’t need an education, and that if they appeared too bright they wouldn’t attract a husband. Now the girls don’t hold themselves back that way, but the boys do. The boys probably always did, because it wasn’t cool to be a nerd and do well in exams, but now the other sex has caught up and over-taken them.

What to do about it is more difficult, because you’re going to have to change the social pressures on school boys – including pressures from their peers. And in all of this, I don’t think that the ERA is likely to do much one way or another.

I’ve never really seen how an Equal Rights Ammendment could work. Four examples:

1: The draft. As it stands right now, women have the right, on their 18th birthday, to sit around and do nothing, while men are required to register with Selective Services. This is clearly an unequal right. One solution, of course, would be to eliminate the draft, but I doubt that the political will exists for that. On the other hand, I also doubt that the political will exists to draft women, either.

2: Any other jobs where physical strength is an asset. Firefighters, for instance, have certain strength requirements, and reasonably so. But men are, by and large, physically stronger than women. Would fire companies be required to hire the same proportion of women who apply for jobs as men? Is it discrimination, if fewer women pass the physical fitness tests?

3: Public restrooms. Would equal rights mean that the same amount of floor space needs to be devoted to restrooms, or the same number of fixtures? Men, on average, need less time to use the restroom than women; should this be a consideration? What if it’s a public space which, demographically, is used more by one gender than another, such as a sports stadium: Does “equal rights” mean that the same amount of facilities be available for each, or that the amount of facilities for each be proportional to the number using them?

4: Maternity leave. Women can get pregnant, but men can not. If a company offers maternity leave for female employees, does it also have to offer equivalent paternity leave for males? An expecting father doesn’t need to visit a doctor, and can do his job just as well as a man who isn’t expecting (which is not necessarily the case for the mother). And does it matter if the father-to-be is playing a part in the mother’s or baby’s life? A woman doesn’t have much choice in the matter.

In these and several other cases, folks currently play things by ear, but with an effort at being fair. And for the most part, it works out OK. But no matter what decisions people make, someone can make the case that it’s unfair, and under an Equal Rights Ammendment, those cases would be actionable.

Anyone needing ammunition against the Equal Rights Amendment should look to Concerned Women for America. Back in 1978:

I’m sure all Right Minded folks will find much to support at the CWFA.

This is the entire text of the ERA:

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.

Apparently somewhere over 80% of Americans want equal rights for men and women, and 72% of Americans believe that the Constitution already guarantees equal rights to men and women.

I seriously doubt that “the whole income disparity thing” is not a result of sexism, but I do concur that some of it is due to women’s career choices and child rearing.

Larger companies certainly do make efforts to make sure the playing field is level. But there are a whole lot of backwaters employers out there that just as certainly discriminate.

Again, it’s debatable whether an amendment is the appropriate remedy for the disparities that exist, but if a given company truly does not discriminate in any way, then they have nothing to worry about with regards to an ERA. If someone in their heart of hearts truly does not discriminate, there is truly nothing to fear and this legislation would cause no hardship. So what are folks afraid of?

I am one of those opposed to it because I believe the existing Constitution does fine on the issues. I am believe that any residual sex differences in society (in both directions) are either going away on their own or they are there for a reason (I think the income gap reported above for example is disingenuous in the same way the college education gap in the other direction is for example).

The part that gets only peripheral attention is what the ERA would actually DO. Many say it is symbolic but it can never be symbolic because amending the Constitution is an incredibly powerful act and will have consequences. Furthermore, once it is passed, even the supporters of it have no say anymore in what it DOES. The Supreme Court, not activists and women’s rights groups say what the amendment would do for all eternity and nobody knows what that will be. For all we know, it could introduce barriers against women like in cases of very disproportionate college enrollment between the sexes. I don’t see why things like unisex bathrooms gets dismissed right away either. I am sure there could be a case where one sex has much better bathrooms in a federal building and the only solution is to combine them according to the amendment.

Just wow.

Yeah, I know it sounds like “if you have nothing to hide, then who cares if the govenment eavesdrops on you”, but as written the ERA isn’t about that. The devil would, however, be in it’s administration. My major concern about it would be that, as usual, the onus would be on businesses to prove they aren’t discriminatory. So, yeah, I do have some qualms about it.

However, it’s still nowhere near the same level of constitution abuse as a flag burning amendment would be. I also don’t necessiarily believe that an actual constitutional amendment is the answer, but since discrimination is still amazingly rampant here for a supposedly advanced country…why is there a problem with not discriminating?

So what’s the answer? Do nothing? Tacitly support discrimination? I’m open to ideas; I’d really like to know if there is a good reason for allowing discrimination.

So a constitutional amendment may be necessary because women take time out of their careers to raise children at higher rates than men and choose to work in occupations that do not pay as much as men?

Sorry to keep posting, but I needed to add this:

I’ve never witnessed businesses do the right thing without being forced, so strong legislation, IMHO, is a way to get them on board. There is a schism between consevatives and liberals as to whether the government is the appropriate/most effective vehicle for positive change; I believe that some kind of compromise could be reached, if only the political environment weren’t so divisive.

So I have to ask my conservative brethren, do you think that discrimination has been eradicated? If not, what is the most effective way to correct the situation? I don’t believe that more laws, etc. is the best solution, so what is it?

Again I don’t want to compensate women for voluntarily limiting career choices, only to make sure that discrimnation is eradicated.

Identify the sort of discrimination you’re talking about. Is it the income disparity thing? That’s one of the worst metrics out there for determining discrimination.

Compare the average wage of a person over 80 to a person age 40-50. We both know that the average person age 40-50 makes more than the average person over 80. Why? Because of a ridiculously obvious reason, most people who are over the age of 80 are retired and not actively earning a wage (but living off of resources stored over a lifetime.)

The figures you’ve linked on income disparity ignore something equally obvious, that women in general have less work experience than men of equivalent age, work less hours, and work in jobs that do not pay as well.

If your figures showed a wide disparity between a man and a woman working at the SAME position in the SAME company, then there’d be a serious problem. But all those figures really show is that a nurse makes less money than a doctor, or that a teacher makes less money than an accountant; because on average more doctors are male than female, more nurses are female than male, more teachers are female than male (talking about public school teachers, K-12.) You should honestly consider looking at the link you provided, it highlights all of these problems with not looking a bit more carefully at the income disparity figures.

If you’re worried about discrimination, I think it’d be best if we’d identify where the discrimination is happening.

Legally speaking, identify rights a man has that a woman doesn’t have. Identify situations in which the government gives unfair treatment to women versus mean, or supports (financially) institutions which do.

If you look for that kind of thing, and actually find that it’s running rampant, then there’s a problem. But if more women grow up to work jobs that aren’t paying as well as those that men chose, that’s not really something an amendment could fix in the first place.

Demonstrate the discrimination first, I’ve seen nothing to suggest we should just assume it is there. If it’s there, it should be dealt with, the how would depend on the form and mechanism of the discrimination. But I’m not seeing the evidence for it.

I’m not sure I think that constitutional amendments ought to be evaluated primarily as practical remedies for specific social problems.

Rather, ISTM that the major question is whether they express a core principle of our nation or a fundamental aspect of its governance, and whether an explicit statement of them is needed to guide legislative and judicial policy.

I’d argue that gender equality before the law counts as one of our core principles at present, but I’m not sure it’s necessary to state it explicitly in the Constitution. We don’t have an equivalent amendment declaring racial or religious equality before the law, which I’d consider equally fundamental.