Why I Wish the ERA Had Passed

I am old enough to remember the ERA battle, barely. I even read some of the arguments against it. Its opponents said the Supreme Court has a history of interpreting constitutional rights in ways people never expected. They worried that the ERA could lead to unisex bathrooms and women being drafted. They said that protections for women were already in place throughout the country, making the amendment not just risky, but unnecessary.

I don’t know if the things they worried about would have happened or not, but I now wish the amendment had passed, and not because I am concerned about women’s rights. I am more concerned about men’s rights.  They are not more important than women’s rights, but few people are talking about them.

Unfortunately, the existence of real misogynists requires me to say that I do support women’s rights. Women are not always treated equally. This is wrong. I would not want to be treated the way women are sometimes treated. I would consider myself to be a feminist, but I now believe that for too many feminists, gender equality isn’t an actual goal.

I have had too many personal experiences with some kind of discrimination and bias as a man to believe that the elimination of bias against women will result in equality. Because most people who fight for women’s rights are totally silent about discrimination against men, and the angriest feminists do everything they can to keep men from even talking about it, I have decided that if feminists achieve all their goals, women will actually have a superior position to men. Bias and discrimination against women would be eliminated, while bias and discrimination against men would remain. Given feminist rhetoric, the best men can hope for if feminists were to prevail would be to wait until all bias against women is eliminated before saying anything at all about bias against men. (Of course, this is an extraordinarily unlikely outcome–let’s face it, men do have influence in the world).

But if the Equal Rights Amendment had passed, then discrimination against either sex would be immediately unconstitutional. Men wouldn’t have to wait until it was socially acceptable to talk about bias against them, because the Equal Rights Amendment would not just ban discrimination against women, it would ban all discrimination based on gender.

The bias against men in child custody battles? Any bias would be unconstitutional. Unfair child support judgments?  Possibly also unconstitutional. Telling men they are not wanted in an all-female workplace? Unconstitutional. Creating an environment where men cannot make negative generalizations about women, but women can make disparaging comments about men? Unconstitutional. Those are just some of the things that the Equal Rights Amendment would do.

And if the Equal Rights Amendment were passed, we might be able to broaden our focus from the gender imbalance in the sciences and address the gender imbalance in elementary schools and preschools, where boys have their first experiences in education and have few role models. Or maybe we could take fathers as seriously as we do mothers (and expect them to step up to the plate, as we expect women to do now). Maybe we could worry about boys’ self-image the way we worry about girls’ self-esteem. Maybe we could nurture boys instead of expecting them to make it on their own. Maybe it would matter when boys cry. Maybe we could address the differences in the way boys are treated when they are sexually abused. Maybe we could address the fact that men are sometimes victims of spousal abuse.

I’m probably dreaming there, though: that’s a lot to hope for. A constitutional amendment probably wouldn’t actually bring genuine gender equality to the nation because there are a lot of problems that the government simply does not control.

Even so, as a man concerned about gender equality, I support the adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment. If it were reintroduced and passed, women, including feminists, would have solid protection in the issues they care about. Women would be equal, period. And so would men.

And sadly, I have to say this: if any man uses my words as a justification for attacking feminists, I have one question for him: do you support the Equal Rights Amendment? Because if you don’t support equal rights, you have no business criticizing feminists for anything.

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