The Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1923. The content has always been highly controversial as equality for women is a touchy subject. From the beginning, the ERA pitted not only men against women but feminist against feminist. Middle-class women were generally supportive although women in the workforce were dissatisfied, insisting that hours, wages and working conditions needed deeper discussion. As is always the case, when dissension divides the ranks, the battle is lost.
I’m fairly certain that if the members of Congress had been told in 1923 that the Equal Rights Amendment would guarantee women the right to go topless in mid-town Manhattan, the yes votes would have rattled the rafters from the first roll call. It’s amazing what exposing the female mammaries can accomplish. Just look at what First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceable assembly have done for New York City. Pedestrian plazas are now staging areas for racists, con artists, pugilists, panhandlers and drug users dressed as Elmo, Cookie Monster, Woody, Super Mario, Spiderman, Hello Kitty and Minnie Mouse.
Here is where a crystal ball would come in handy because history does have a strong possibility of repeating itself where gender equality is concerned and, perhaps, women need to look no further than a mirror for the answer to why progress is at a standstill.
When the Equal Rights Amendment was again introduced in Congress in 1972, it passed both houses. It’s ratification seemed guaranteed until Phyllis Schlafly, a staunch social and political conservative who opposed modern feminism, mobilized like-minded women by claiming that the ERA would be disadvantageous to housewives (who are not known for going topless). As a result of her efforts, the amendment failed.
Time marched on and by 1977, thirty-five of the necessary 38 states had ratified the ERA. Optimism was high but with the 1979 deadline looming, five of the 35 states that had ratified the amendment rescinded acceptance. Congress then extended the ratification deadline to June, 1982, but only the first 30 states continued to support the amendment and it once again fizzled. The ERA has been introduced—and failed— in Congress at every session for the last 33 years.
According to Catherine Rampell, a journalist for The Washington Post reporting on the topless women strutting their stuff in Times Square, Police Commissioner William Bratton, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and the Daily News are all over-reacting. Ms. Rampell further poo pooed the opinions of a large portion of the female gender who are veterans of the war on women in the workplace. She made it clear that, in her opinion, anyone opposed to a woman exposing herself in public was puritanical.
In her most recent column—New York’s bizarre uproar over a few topless women—Rampell stated that “New York City has lost its mind because a few women have lost their shirts.” She quoted a Sara Nicole, 29, who said, “The female body is a commercial entity but they don’t want us commercializing our bodies ourselves. Only the Gap and Victoria’s Secret get to do that.”
I don’t shop at either Victoria’s Secret or the Gap but I’m pretty sure neither of them feature fully exposed jiggling jugs in their advertising. As for the female body being a commercial entity, plying your naked wares on a city street could be considered a form of prostitution. That label could loosely apply whether you are selling sex or being tipped for having your photograph taken with a tourist from Idaho. I’m pretty certain the camera isn’t focused on the face.
Rampell drives her philosophy home by writing that women are taught to hate their bodies from a very early age. She has a point. Very few women can meet the standards set by Madison Avenue advertising firms. However, my gut tells me that most women are more interested in being recognized for their brains than their breasts. We’ve fought too long and too hard to allow a few extroverts to diminish and/or destroy the inroads we have made. Only someone too young to remember how steep the climb up the corporate ladder has been for most women would champion such behavior.
On the chance that the ERA doesn’t pass again when Congress next meets and you need an explanation, just remember what’s being preached by Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post. If ever women have proven to be their own worst enemy, the patriotically painted breasts bobbing in the breeze in Times Square might be the best example of how the stupidity of the few can destroy the hard work of the many.