READER’S EDITORIAL: WE’VE COME A LONG WAY BABY – OR HAVE WE? EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT: A 100 YEAR WALK IN THE LEGAL BONEYARD

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By Helen Horvath

Isn’t it time we made the system work for women instead of the women work for the system?

December 18, 2019 (San Diego’s East County) -- Two of my favorite songs in the fight for equal rights for women include V-Day’s “Break the Chain” and Andra Day’s “Rise Up”.  These songs touch my heartstrings in different ways. I often raise my hands to the sky as I pray for improvements and opportunities for the women in our communities.  Women are not possessions and should not be held back from future success based upon relationship status, religion, or beliefs of others.  Women in our community are professional athletes, mothers, teachers, doctors, attorneys, fast food workers, and a sundry of other occupations.  Many times, women are paid less than their male colleagues. 

Women must always remember that we are beautiful creatures who guide and teach our children, family members, and communities how to break the chain to create opportunities to “be the change” to be impactful.

Let’s face facts: women are often the hearts of our communities. Together women do move mountains. 

Part of the multifaceted women’s issues we face are clearly tied to gender bias. Legally, gender bias is a subtle method of unequal treatment in employment opportunity.  When we have firms that are predominately men, as women, we may face difficulty obtaining promotions, improved employment opportunities, obtaining equal pay, and less benefits.  Some men may experience this in an all women work environment.  The degree of bias is directly tied to how an organization operates. 

At times, women in this and other communities have been disenfranchised from key services and opportunities in employment, housing, and other quality of life areas. Statistically, women are still the primary caregivers of their children; some choose to raise children instead of work while their children are younger. This sometimes leads to women earning less over the woman’s lifetime. 

Based upon career field and industry, women are often paid less than their male counterparts.  Matt Lauer, prior to being exposed, made $25 million per year compared to Savannah Guthrie’s $8 million annually at NBC.  There are subtle gender biases in pay and benefits within other industries such as women’s soccer or the Women’s NBA.  You simply have to review the federal governments statistics in O*Net to create a better understanding of the disparity in pay and employment environment.  Women are often held back because they do not learn the system they work within (HR, Benefits, Promotion Requirements, etc).  Isn’t it time we made the system work for women instead of the women work for the system?

Recently, I spoke with two political science students in their second year of college at UCSB.  I posed the question, “Are women losing their rights under the Constitution?”  The short answer was yes, with an explanation of how women came to this point in history.

A brief history lesson

The Constitution was written with the following passages “…we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…Governments are instituted among Men…”(emphasis added).

 In this document, the passages ignore the rights of women and minorities.  Historically, women were generally free to marry so long as their father agreed to the marriage and were typically not permitted to own property. 

 

Abigail Adams implored her husband, John Adams,  to "remember the ladies" in drafting the Constitution, adding, "Remember, all  men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” Unfortunately, he did not listen.

The fight for women’s equality and rights began long before the 1848 Seneca Falls Anti-Slavery Convention that included women’s rights. The Seneca Falls Convention solidified the Women’s Movement, women’s right to vote, and the first attempt at the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The passage of the 19th Amendment – women’s right to vote – was at the core of the initial attempts to create full rights for women in this nation.  Three years later, the ERA was introduced in Congress and did not pass. 

In nearly 100 years we have not been able to have the male dominated power structure agree upon passage of the ERA.  This weakens women’s political ability to create stronger and more equal government under the 14th Amendment.  By not having strong women leaders in Congress, women are not able to get beyond their constitutional right to vote in elections under the 19th Amendment. Basically, the Amendment lacks teeth to transition to incorporate all Equal Rights for women. 

Our nation has been one vote shy of passage of the ERA since the 1970’s. Virginia has been a final hold out to pass the ERA in Congress.  The ERA has languished in the legal boneyard awaiting the needed single vote for passage. This may change in 2020 as a result of a leadership change in Virginia’s capitol. Women may finally have the opportunity during the next five years to rise up and actually have the passage of the ERA into law based upon Virginia’s state government potentially ratifying the amendment.

Even when the ERA is passed, the path of the ERA will not be easy.  The legislation will be again tied up in legal battles instead of finally acknowledging that women are equal to men under the Constitution.  Women in this nation deserve full rights as a citizen.  Many women may not acknowledge that legally women still are experiencing subjugation to men in all areas of life with the exception of voting.  The rights currently enjoyed can be removed with a snap of fingers.  That until the ERA is passed; women will always be legally in a position of being less than full citizens under the Constitution. 

This position of being less than full citizens can be exemplified in the treatment of women throughout our nation’s history.  The founders of this nation participated in a double relationship standard that has become part of how our nation and society operates. We use religion as an “excuse” for certain behaviors while violating the very tenets of the religion in other spaces. Examples of this include a laundry list of national leaders that spans the entire history of our nation who were embroiled in sexual scandals.  Most of the scandals are tied to women that involve national leaders who had extra marital affairs, participated in  polygamy, rape, incest and other negative behaviors that compromised our national security and ability to govern.

The failure to pass the Equal Rights Amendment sends a clear picture relating to the double standards in society. Historically, women have been expected to be “good women” as men exploited other women through the use of power to create dominion over women in political and community situations.  This “Cult of True Womanhood” – the belief that “true” women would be pious, submissive wives and mothers that would take care of home and family.  Only these women would be acknowledged in society.  Women were not supposed to work; yet, they did.  History has shown that women have been put in survival mode across the globe to survive in a male oriented society.

The double standard

The double standard that is exercised by our nation’s leaders towards women and relationships can be exemplified by the “good old boy network” attitude towards men and women.  In Congress and this country there is gender bias from a legal and business perspective that is at the heart of the disparity in treatment between men and women in society.  This double standard is subtle and tied to the “Good Old Boy Network”.  This “network” often impacts our nation as our communities are profoundly tied to behaviors and laws that either eliminate or sustain biased-based behaviors towards women and minorities.

This can best be exemplified by the recent Congressional events that include Rep. Duncan Hunter and former Rep. Katie Hill.  Hunter for years had a history of inappropriate double standard behavior in his professional and personal life – he was not fully censured by the community and collected over $300,000 in campaign funds in the last quarter while knowing he was guilty of something. Can the community please get a refund? 

Conversely, Hill was put in a position where a release of nude photographs were allegedly tied to the former campaign advisors of Steve Knight the ex-Republican Congressman who lost his seat to Ms. Hill.   My point is that two similar actions (outside of the theft of funds by Hunter) had extremely different reactions that have changed lives.  Hunter was permitted to stay in Congress and earn his salary while Hill was pushed out of office, as Steve Knight continues to deny his part and involvement in the demise of Ms. Hill’s political career.  Mr. Knight is now running for office to overtake the seat he lost.  Is it serendipity (chance) or a planned action when his campaign advisors are allegedly involved in a smear campaign and Mr. Knight attempts to take over the Congressional seat? Disparity in treatment at work.

Equal treatment under the law

I firmly believe in God and don’t like abortion.  At the same time, as a woman, I would never presume to tell another woman how to manage her body or healthcare decisions. Our 2019 reality is that the abortion debate is so much more psychologically when tied to a religious debate instead of defense of the 14th Amendment and women’s right to choose.   

I often wonder if women are being gaslighted by the federal legislative interest in equal rights, women’s healthcare and women’s reproductive rights?  At the 2019 President’s Healthcare Summit there was a discussion about women’s reproductive rights.  It was primarily a group of “old white men” at the conference table.  Not a single man at the Presidential Healthcare Summit has ever had a menstrual cycle, carried a child to term, faced the choice to terminate a pregnancy, had an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy or other life-threatening pregnancy condition, or could speak to the healthcare issues women face on a daily basis in our society.  Women were again excluded from the decision-making process about women’s bodies and choices. 

When we speak of equal rights, I think of different legislative attempts in our Country that are eroding women’s rights.  Mississippi and other States have attempted in 2019 to block abortions after the sixth week. Some have stated that this goes too far – taking away women’s rights and prevents free choice which is central to personal dignity and autonomy. Some people may not like woman’s right to choose resulting from religious beliefs; yet, just because people have a specific right does not mean that the right will be exercised.  Instead the reality is that taking away this choice will again erode women’s rights. 

I was surprised that former Congressman Duncan Hunter, Sr. spent quite a bit of political currency to attempt to override Roe v. Wade.  He attempted to dismantle a woman’s right to choose and proposed a constitutional amendment that would eliminate abortion in our country. His son, Duncan D. Hunter, similarly sponsored a bill that would have declared life begins at conception and outlawed all abortions – no exceptions even for rape, incest or saving a mother’s life.  Yet, if we take out religion from the pro-choice/pro-life debate then the conversation will shift.  Exercising choice in healthcare is an individual not government action.  When choice is not afforded as a right and under the 14th Amendment to women; our rights are being diminished instead of advanced.  As a nation we, as women, need to continue to use our voices to create change. 

If this legislation had passed when Duncan Hunter, Sr. was in office, abortions would still have occurred. A 1968 study before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal showed that 500,000 illegal abortions were documented; many women ended up in the hospital under the pretext of miscarriage. Other women simply died from blood loss due to “hanger/knitting needle abortions” or other methods of removing the fetus. 

Purpose and change

It seems that for more than forty plus years, women’s rights in our communities have been ignored or only a specific segment of our population was heard. Often women have been gaslighted and fallen into the same trap of women abdicating rights to privacy, dignity, and our own healthcare choices. The Congressional District had leadership that brought into play personal beliefs while ignoring Constitutional requirements for protection under the 14th Amendment. 

This is why the song “Break the Chain” by V-Day and “Rise Up” resonates so much with me.  One song is about the abuse of women rising up to change how society operates and the other song is about how we rise individually to create and take the world to its feet as we move mountains.

In order to rise up, women in the county and nation must renew a conversation that is based upon our ability to make our own healthcare and life decisions under the 14th Amendment.  This played out again in 2019 in an appeals court in Mississippi in 2019 – that ended in the government failing to win the right to legislate a women’s right to choose.  We will continue to play legal whack-a-mole until women have equal rights under and within the Constitution. 

Additionally, don’t you think that nearly 100 years is long enough to obtain passage of equal rights for women under the ERA? I hope that in my lifetime this will actually occur.  I would like to be sitting at the table when this is happens.  Will you join other women in our communities to rise up and bring the Equal Rights Amendment to its feet? 

Helen Horvath is an independent candidate in the 50th Congressional District currently held by Duncan D. Hunter.

The opinions in this editorial reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact editor@eastcountymagazine.org.

 

 


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