By Elizabeth Lesman
March 1st in the United States marks the beginning of Women’s History Month. As soon as information begins to make its way into the ether about this special month devoted to women, I begin to hear blowback about why women think we need our own month. Every year. Just as with all things women-centric.
“Why do American women need a month all their own when men don’t have one?”
“Why do American women need feminism; do they just hate men?”
“Why do American women need to talk about equality all the time when they already have it?”
In short, EVERY MONTH is men’s month, not all feminists choose to hate men but do choose to promote women, and we are absolutely not equal.
How are we not equal? Well, let’s take a look, for the sake of Women’s History Month, at some actual United States history.
At the moment, for example, guns have more protections under current U.S. law than women do. Yes, you heard me. Guns are better legally protected than women.
But how can this be?! you query. Funny story. And by “funny” I mean not funny at all.
When the founding fathers put their Y-chromosomed heads together and wrote out America’s Big Three Documents, they purposefully neglected to say a word about women. They talked about men but never specifically women.
And it was most definitely on purpose.
On March 31st, 1776, Abigail Adams, wife of founder and eventual second president John Adams, wrote to her husband as he participated in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia appealing for him to “remember the ladies”. Abigail Adams held great hope that women’s rights would be considered and appreciated far more than they had ever been before.
Did he and his fellow founders heed her urging? Nope.
It took almost another 150 years of women’s suffrage for American women to win their right to vote. It took campaigning, protesting, and fighting. It took beatings, imprisonment, and torture on behalf of women fighting for what they saw – and we all universally recognize today – as their fundamental right as American citizens.
The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote, was first introduced in 1878. It was then voted down in 1887. It took until 1919 for Congress to vote upon it again, and it then took them three different votes before Congress finally passed it and sent it to the states for ratification.
It took over another year, from June 10, 1919, until August 18, 1920, to obtain the votes from the full 36 states needed to ratify. Eventually, the other twelve states at the time ratified as well – the final being Mississippi on March 22, 1984. Gosh, well done, Mississippi….
After ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, suffragist leader Alice Paul proposed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1923 as the next logical step towards equality.
“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
That’s it! Straight forward. To the point. No rights can be denied due to sex.
But – there’s always a “but”, isn’t there? – it took Congress until 1972 to pass the ERA and send it to the states for ratification.
Oh, my word! Cliffhanger! “What happened next?” you ask.
Congress placed an expiration date on the Equal Rights Amendment. That’s how much respect they gave to the concept of equal rights for women in the latter half of the 20th century. Bless their hearts, they did extend it once – to June 30, 1982 – but that’s it.
By June 30, 1982, only 35 of the required 38 states needed to ratify the ERA had approved it.
The Equal Rights Amendment, granting constitutional protection and equality to HALF of America’s citizens, failed. Equal rights for women are still not written into the constitution.
To this day, despite the expiration, the ERA still comes up for votes yearly in nearly all of the states which failed to ratify it. On March 22, 2017, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
Only two more states are needed, in the hopes of overturning the expiration date and passing the amendment, but the battle rages on.
This is why American women need our own history month AND why we need feminism AND why we continue to fight for equality. Until the Constitution of the United States of America says that women are equal, we cannot truly be.
There are people, women included, who feel that American women have great lives, amazing opportunities, and astonishing rights in comparison to women in other countries. And we do. But that doesn’t change the fact that, at any moment, all we’ve fought so long and so hard for, and continue to fight for, could be stripped from us because the U.S. Constitution doesn’t say otherwise.
American women areunderrepresented. We are underrepresented in our government, in our history, and in the very laws which govern us. It’s time to change that. It’s far past time to change that.
As one of my favorite internet quotes points out – Equal rights for others does not mean less rights for you. It’s not pie.
So contact your congress people. Find a local organization’s meetings to attend. Shout it from the rooftop: Pass the ERA! And get equal rights for women!