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Are Men and Women Really Equal?

So, you've just got your first job babysitting. Hooray! You get to earn some extra money, maybe start saving up to buy something cool? When you get home, you compare paychecks with your boyfriend. He just got his first job, too. You realize he is making more money than you are. Wait a minute, isn't childcare an important job? Shouldn't your time be worth just as much as his? Let's just get it out in the open, right here and now: women do not earn as much money as men. In fact, women receive about three quarters to every dollar that a man makes. How can that be? This is, after all, the new millennium. Even the Declaration of Independence tells us that there should be equal rights for all. Equal, it says, or does it?

The more things change, the more they stay the same.
If we go way back to 1776, the Declaration of Independence states that "all men are created equal" and that "Governments are instituted among Men." Now, I don't mean to be too literal, but that is just what they meant. Thomas Jefferson, when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, was definitely looking out for wealthy, white men. Almost a hundred years later, Congress and state legislatures began adopting new amendments to the Bill of Rights. These were even more explicit in their exclusion of women. The Fourteenth Amendment, which supposedly guaranteed equal protection to all "persons," used the words "male citizens". And the Fifteenth Amendment gave "all men" the right to vote. But hey, what about the women? That's exactly why the women's suffrage movement began.

Jen champions the ERA!
Alice Paul worked together with other feminists towards women's suffrage. She believed that all people are fundamentally equal, regardless of their race, sex, or economic situation. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was passed and women were given the right to vote. But that was only one piece of the puzzle. What about obtaining equal protection under the law for women, as it was given to men in the Fifteenth Amendment? Alice Paul was wondering the same thing, so, three years after women got the right to vote, she drafted the Equal Rights Amendment. That was back in 1923, and guess what…it still hasn't passed as an amendment to the Bill of Rights. How can that be? Shouldn't women be given access to all of the rights and privileges that men have?

The Congress and the Senate passed the ERA, why isn't it an Amendment?****
The ERA has had a rocky ride on the legislative highway. In 1972, it was finally passed by both houses of Congress, but it was never ratified by the thirty-eight states needed to make it an amendment. Renamed as the Constitutional Equality Amendment (CEA), it has been placed before every session of Congress since that time. That means it's been before Congress for over seventy-five years! What's going on here?

As the Civil Rights Movement has shown, making large changes in a society's institutionalized discrimination doesn't come easily. Historically speaking, the majority group never wants to give up the privileges they enjoy. Since men hold the majority of government offices, could it be that our policy makers are slow to make changes to the laws that would affect women? The status quo is a difficult thing to change, but women haven't given up yet.

Why won't the states ratify the ERA?
Without the passage of the ERA or the CEA, what's a girl to do? Besides continuing to fight for the passage of the CEA, women have banded together in grassroots organizations all across the country to fight for and protect their rights. At both the government and the community level, women are creating their own power against the policies of sex discrimination in education, the workplace, healthcare, and many other areas important to women.

The National Committee of Pay Equity is one of these organizations. Its mission is to eliminate the wage gap - the large difference in wages that a man earns as compared to a woman for doing the same job. Historically, sex discrimination has always existed, and men have earned more money than women. In the 1950s, women earned only half of what men did. After all, men were the breadwinners, responsible for supporting their families, right? Wasn't anyone thinking about women who were widowed, divorced or single parents? Apparently not.

A smart activist keeps makes a statement!
Even though the ERA didn't pass, some legislation did support the rising fight for women's equality. In 1963, the Equal Pay Act was signed, making it illegal for employers to pay women a lower salary for an equal job. What an amazing concept! But, instead of paying equal salaries, some employers simply changed the job titles or altered the job description of their women employees. However, some employers did change their ways, and the next couple of decades showed the wage gap getting smaller. Women were earning more than they ever had, and, by the 1990s, the gap had settled at seventy-two cents on the dollar, as opposed to the fifty cents women were earning in the fifties.

Rosie the Riveter, a symbol of working women in America.
Unfortunately, in the year 2000 and beyond, we have not seen the wage gap get any smaller; in fact, it is slowly getting bigger again. It seems women have now hit a "glass ceiling." We can look up and see all the men going up, up, up on the pay scale, but if we try to go up any higher, we bump our heads on that ceiling. The National Committee of Pay Equity encourages women to demand equal salaries. Getting an education is one way to do this. Learning to negotiate a good salary is another. And trying to get women's voices heard in Congress through lobbying is yet another way. The organization helps women with all of these strategies and even promotes an annual "Equal Pay Day" across the nation. But if women are doing these things, and organizations are around to support them, why have we hit such a plateau in the movement against sex discrimination in the workplace?

Becky and Jen, two more women who believe in equal rights for all!
Hopefully, the women's rights movement hasn't become apathetic. Although we've certainly come a long way, there's still work to be done. Until the Equal Rights Amendment is passed, women will not have the same rights as men under the Constitution. Women are as intelligent, dedicated, and capable as men. When will our Constitution, and our paychecks, prove it?


Jenni and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day- A sickening feeling came over me…


Please email me at: jennifer@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Daphne - A fish, a bicycle and a woman named Gloria
Irene - Roe vs. Wade: Bringing balance to the two sides of the issue
Neda - You go, girl! Empowering women everywhere
MAD - The abortion issue: In the hot seat, again