Even if you’re a news nerd, you might not realize that the 28th Amendment, the coveted Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), technically became law on January 27, 2022, exactly two years after Virginia signed on as the 38th state required for its two-thirds state ratification.
You might not know because it isn’t official yet, despite having met all the requirements. There is hot debate over an arbitrary term written into the amendment’s preamble 40 years ago, imposing a 10-year deadline for 38 (two-thirds) states to sign on satisfying ratification, following Congress’ passage of the measure in 1972. The first 35 states came aboard before 1982, but the final three came after, Virginia being the last in 2020.
Former Attorney General Bill Barr blocked ratification in 2020, despite Virginia’s representation as the 38th state. Congress could have voted to bypass the condition, but Barr said “No, that time has come and gone.” Since 2021 President Biden has strongly affirmed Congress has the right to remove the condition, saying, “No one should be discriminated against based on their sex —and we, as a nation, must stand up for full women’s equality.”
So what’s the holdup?
An obscure man working in a basement, U.S. Archivist David Ferriero, has taken Barr’s cue and is refusing to publish ERA as the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The good news is Ferriero will be retiring in April and replaced by a Biden-selected archivist. For all kinds of reasons, this last hurdle is a parody of the entire crusade for equal women’s rights since 1920, when some women were first allowed to vote. One step forward and two steps back.
Today, a host of women are pushing ERA to the finish line. Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Jackie Speier (D-CA) are respective sponsors of two bills currently hovering in Congress: one proposing to start all over, reintroduce 28 and have it survive all the hoops again; the other a bill proposing removal of the preamble condition.
Internationally, the fight for equal women’s rights has been waged in Africa, Serbia, Ukraine, Chile, Libya, Sudan and Morocco, Britain, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan and New Zealand. The list goes on.
But returning to America, we celebrate the life and contribution of three of our own, never forgetting the many others, a.k.a. RBG, Angela Davis, Simone de Beauvoir, Barbara Walters, Christine Blasey Ford, Maya, Toni, Alice, Amanda and beloved Michelle Obama, et. al …
Gloria Steinem is dubbed the Founding Mother of the Women’s Liberation Movement (Women’s Lib). She is best known for co-founding Ms. Magazine in 1972, but her other early claim to fame was bra burning. The ritual “became the most durable and unsettling image of modern feminism… Wives and mothers were torching their most intimate accessory of control“ (“Lift and Separate”: Why Is Feminism Still So Divisive,” New Yorker, Ariel Levy, November 8, 2009).
Geraldine Ferraro was the first-ever woman tapped as a vice presidential running mate, campaigning alongside Walter Mondale in 1984. In 1978 she was elected to the House of Representatives, where she rose through the ranks by focusing on legislation to bring equity to women’s wages, pensions and retirement plans.
Ferraro self-branded as a “‘small ‘c’ conservative,” emphasizing that she was not a bleeding-heart liberal, but “Finally, A Tough Democrat” (her campaign slogan). It would be 24 years before Senator John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate and another 12 years before Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris.
Vice President Kamala Harris has gotten off to a rough start (from a polling standpoint, at least), serving as the country’s first woman vice-president and woman of color. The first blow was likely a “comically bad” poll, as the San Francisco Chronicle put it. The poll was actually an outlier poll, according to some pundits, characterizing the vice-president’s first year as one of struggle and disappointment.
Taking a closer look, the president has assigned Harris two nearly impossible tasks, albeit similar to those he assumed under President Obama: First: she is tasked with addressing the root causes of undocumented migration into the US from Central American countries (which unfortunately many perceive as the whole of immigration and border security). Second: she is tasked with enacting national voter reform. The truth is Harris’ numbers are fairly inseparable from the president’s, which have been plagued, as the New York Times wrote after SOTU, “with the right ideas, but the wrong words.”
As former First Lady Michelle Obama said, following two turbulent weeks of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court, when former President Trump openly mocked Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony and apologized to Kavanaugh for her accusations: “Change is not a direct, smooth path. There’s going to be bumps and resistance,” she said. “But I think it’s up to the women out there to say, ‘Sorry, sorry that you feel uncomfortable, but I’m now paving the way for the next generation.”