The ERA, first proposed during the women’s suffrage movement, has been debated for nearly a century, yet has never been adopted. The high water mark for the ERA was the early 1970s, when it finally gained bipartisan support (previously Democrats had opposed it) and was sent to the states for ratification. Over the next several years 35 states ratified the ERA, bringing it very close to the 38 needed to amend the Constitution. The drive for ratification petered out by 1980, and since then the amendment has only been brought up by diehard supporters — mostly women’s groups.
That the ERA lost support may appear perplexing at first glance, but one has to take into account the changes that were occurring in the 1970s. At this point, divorce laws had only recently begun to favor women, and US manufacturing was still fairly healthy. Additionally, affirmative action was just starting to kick in, and women still found themselves in what they considered an unfavorable situation. However, by the 1980s US manufacturing began its long decline, affirmative action became widespread, and the no-fault divorces that were mainly introduced in the 70s started to create windfalls for women across the nation. The American woman’s star was on the rise, and equal outcomes were no longer as attractive as alimony, child support and preferential hiring policies. For a time, men accepted these changes, as they still dominated the workforce and the Cold War economy created plenty of jobs for them. There were a few men, however, who saw the writing on the wall (mainly those who had been dispossessed in divorce), and men’s activism started to emerge as a recognized, if not particularly potent, political movement.
Despite the efforts of those valiant few men, the steady march of women’s activism did not lose steam; on the contrary, it became a juggernaut that mercilessly crushed its opponents throughout the Clinton presidency. When VAWA, the crowning achievement of women’s activism, was passed with the steadfast support of current Vice President Joe Biden, the women’s movement transparently switched from espousing egalitarianism to supporting outright domination.
The status quo that emerged in the 1990s has largely remained. Most ordinary men have been relegated to second-class citizens in their own homes and in the workplace, forced to walk on eggshells lest they get slammed with one or another allegation that could send them into the street overnight. Defeated men have begun to avoid marriage and commitment, and rather than take up traditional roles and responsibilities have been leading lives of carefree dissipation or quiet desperation.
Of course, it is up to men to do what they want with their lives. Given what men have been through over the last few decades, the last thing they need is more abuse, punishment or criticism. A man’s life should be his own, and, with due respect for the rights of others, he should live it as he pleases. But to be truly free, discrimination against men in the workforce in the form of affirmative action and discrimination against men in the family in the form of unfair divorce laws and VAWA should be eliminated. The ERA can do that. Every single provision of VAWA that gives superior rights to women could be gutted with these simple lines:
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.
Supporting the ERA may require a shift in perspective for some men. It may seem radical, but given the circumstances we find ourselves in, it is our best shot at righting some of the wrongs of the past several decades. If men do not demand equality under the law, we will only see a further erosion of our constitutional rights and be driven ever further toward the abyss of slavery.