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The ERA — a historical primer

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It could have been the “She Decade.”

But the 1970s didn’t turn out to be groovy for the Equal Rights Amendment, which received the required two-thirds votes needed in both houses of Congress — but foundered on the road to ratification, which requires three-quarters of the states to approve it.

Things initially looked promising for the movement in the decade Tom Wolfe described as beginning “in a flood of ecstasy, achieved through LSD and other psychedelics, orgy, dancing meditation, and psychic frenzy.”

“I am Woman,” by Helen Reddy was a Billboard smash hit in 1972, the same year that Congress approved the amendment. It quickly became an anthem.

Even President Nixon, who apparently hated everybody, endorsed the amendment.

Things looked even promising a year later, when Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in a Battle of the Sexes tennis match — a seminal, if only symbolic, moment which remains the most-watched contest in that sport’s history.

But in the age of bell-bottoms and Afros, not everyone thought the movement was far out.

Conservative opposition mounted, arguing the disintegration of the American family was at stake.

Rep. Emanuel Celler (D–Flatbush) the Brooklyn-born chairman of the House Judiciary Committee described the amendment as “a historic step backwards.”

“There is as much difference between a male and a female as there is between a horse chestnut, and a chestnut horse … and, as the French say, ‘Vive la difference,’ ” he said.

The rate of ratification slowed, and despite the extension of its seven-year-deadline to 1982, the amendment fell three states shy of the 38 needed.

— Gary Buiso

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Reader Feedback

Twiss Butler from ? Alexandria, VA says:
This silly riff on pop images from the 1970's trivializes the well-concealed fact that American men continue to deny to American women the guarantee of equal protection of the law that American men receive as a constitutional birthright! This kind of pseudo-history helps maintain the biased system that the ERA was intended to correct.
Jan. 19, 2011, 12:33 pm
sandy oestreich, ERA Inc says:
Dear legendary Twiss Butler, above, should KNOW. I have read her women-highlighted writing, and I APPLAUD HER! Thank you for writing, Twiss. Please be in touch at SandyO@PassERA.org.

You may be happy to know that SEVEN STATES are annually gearing up for ERA passage into the US Constitution by working, struggling, groveling before arrogant state legislatures, begging for a modicum os justice for 52% of the public, its women.

YESTERDAY, the 7th state, Virginia, had 2 bills filed. I am very proud of the national Equal Rights Alliance which has spearheaded 9 years of bills before one state while mentoring friends in Virginia TO DO THIS!

Fabulous that ERA ONLY NEEDS 3 MORE STATES TO RATIFY so it can pass into the US Constituiton! And we WILL do this since every nation since WWII already HAS AN ERA!!!

Not so civilized are we, yet, Twiss?

Tell me, was it then big business that kept ERA out of the Constitution then, as it does today?

Of course, we know it must be awful to contemplate an ERA that makes it a Constitutional violation to discriminate on the basis of sex. And, worse when your company gets sued!

That's the basis of he ugly repressive business world's monolithic stand against ERA these days. Then there are also religious leaders who are against equal treatment for females. Still can't reconcile that in my mind with the teachings of Jesus and other religious leaders!

But, Twiss, do come visit me and us at www.2PassERA.org, and please write me, all readers, at SandyO@PassERA.org. It will do our heart good and I would be honored. SandyO
Jan. 20, 2011, 1:08 am
Twiss Butler from Alexandria VA says:
I am happy to see that Brooklyn Paper gave Sandy O her full say in this space, but question the fact that my preceding letter with its historical background and fresh analysis of the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment was severely cut to one tiny paragraph. The apparent editorial decision behind this disparity serves yet again to show that any explanation that disagrees with the practice of blaming ERA's defeat on only on such standard targets as big business or religious zealots will be censored.

Anyone who would like to read the full text of my comment is invited to contact me at tbutler@equality4women.org
Jan. 22, 2011, 11:35 am

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