Feminist has become a dirty word. So often people feel uncomfortable openly identifying as a feminist because of the misguided notion that the term means that women should have power over men or that it is a euphemism for “man-hater.” Feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal rights If you believe in that, congratulations you’re a feminist! Both men and women can be feminists. Now more than ever it is important for closeted feminists to come out into the open. Because women, you do not have equal rights as men. Or to be more accurate, you do not have a legal basis for equal rights under the Constitution. And it’s not your fault for believing you do, as most of the United States population is living in inconceivable ignorance of this fact, falsely assuming that equality between the sexes is defined in the Constitution.
When our founding fathers wrote the Constitution more than 200 years ago, women didn’t have an independent personal identity separate from their husbands, or if they were single their fathers. They never assumed women – even the few privileged ones that were literate - would read it. Women hadn’t yet gained the right to vote or hold property outside of marriage; it protected only the rich white man. To achieve equality for all citizens, The Equal Rights Amendment needs to become a part of our Constitution. Originally written by Alice Paul in 1923 shortly after women won the right to vote it took almost four decades for it to pass both the House and the Senate in 1972 however, it received only 35 of necessary 38 state ratifications by the 1982 deadline.
Since then a few staunch supporters have attempted to make headway in getting the bill reintroduced to Congress, most notably being Patricia Arquette, who took the opportunity to address this issue when picking up numerous accolades for her performance in the film Boyhood, yet it failed to gain much traction. “People are unaware of it. It doesn’t affect them in their daily lives especially if you’re in the upper classes.” stresses Elizabeth Jagger, model and daughter of Mick. “It makes people feel very uncomfortable owning up to the fact that their country doesn’t have equality between men and women. Until people own up to that, their much happier being denial.”
Grabbing headlines in January for spraying ERA Now on the Capitol Building, female performing artist Natalie White is intent on promoting an issue that has received little mainstream media attention. “You have to do something that gets attention for your cause or nobody would be talking it. You know, 96% of Americans don’t know about this. The best way to do it, is read it in the newspaper. These days you have to do something really outstanding and radical to get noticed by the newspapers. Unfortunately, that’s the only way people are going to get this message.” White incorporated the theme of equality for women into her show, Natalie White for Equal Rights. As anyone who caught her 2013 exhibit Who Shot Natalie White knows, White is far from shy about disrobing, especially for a cause she has made her life’s mission and will not be body-shamed out of it from her detractors. “If me getting naked gets people to talk about the Equal Rights Amendment, so be it. Because before that nobody I knew, knew about the Equal Rights Amendment. If I can use my body and what it means against the people that are telling me I shouldn’t be able to use it for the cause of women’s rights, then I’m going to do it. It’s about using the enemies’ voice against them.”
Thousands marched in solidarity at Women’s March in Washington DC, including Jagger and White. However, Jagger was disappointed in the narrative the media took of the event. “The majority of the press from the women’s march wasn’t focusing on the importance of women’s rights, it was focusing on how much everyone really didn’t like Trump. Donning a beige custom created catsuit for the occasion with the phrases, “Equal Rights Amendment” and “Ratify” emblazoned in red paint, there’s no mistaking Jagger’s intention for attending the event. “We want our first view to be positivity not negativity and we’re inviting everyone to be in on this. Its equality, we’re not anti-anything. It would be nice if the general media supported us, but currently they have not been printing the full story. They haven’t been looking at what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Although The Equal Pay Act of 1963 abolished wage inequality between the sexes, many women - especially minorities have a hard time receiving equal pay without the Equal Rights Amendment in the Constitution. White is justifiably invigorated by this, “If a white man found out they were getting paid 54 cents to the dollar of someone else, they just wouldn’t go to work. Women are sacrificing for their families, themselves and the companies they work for by taking so much less pay. Its time women to stand up for themselves and say that I’m not going to take anything less.” What’s more alarming is that the United States ranked 45 on the 2016 World Economics Forums’ Global Gender Gap Report, below many European countries that have equal rights. Jagger points to the fact that many European countries take a much more progressive stance. “In large European countries, they have wonderful maternity and paternity paid leave for work, as far as I know. So, men and women there are enjoying a lot more equality than men and women in America.”
Both Jagger and White are cautiously optimistic that they can get the amendment ratified within the next few years – even under the Trump administration. White points to the fact that ERA was once on the Republican’s party platform. “It was supported by Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Since then the Republican Party has ran away from the ERA.” Stresses Jagger, “I would like to think that it’s a bipartisan issue and that it wouldn’t matter but we’ll have to see if that’s even a conversation for them. Because laying the groundwork of equality, would mean they’d have to accept that women are equal.”
Getting the amendment passed is a start to ending inequality and misogynistic attitudes, that White reminds is prevalent in the art industry. “Female artists make up only 3% of all the artists represented in major museums all over the world and 51% of all art students are women. So why aren’t 51% of all our artists represented in galleries women? It’s because of the misogynistic society that’s been set up. A bunch of white men go buy the artwork. A bunch of white men are the artists. And that needs to stop.” When you look at the film industry, the numbers don’t improve. Women make up only 5% of all directors. Kathryn Bigelow is still the only woman to win a Best Director Oscar in the 80-year history of the Academy Awards. Last month’s Cannes Film Festival came and went with Jane Campion still being the only woman in festival’s 70-year history to win its highest honor, the Palme d’Or. While it should be applauded that independent filmmaker, Patty Jenkins was given the reigns to direct Wonder Woman and that it became a critical and box office success, it still took 76 years since the character first appeared in the DC comics for a standalone film to be made featuring the character.
By keeping the conversation constantly ongoing, even in the face of negative pushback, so it does not fade into the rearview mirror for another thirty-five years and galvanizing others to speak up is the only way pressure Congress to take the necessary steps to pass the amendment. With Nevada’s ratification of the ERA this March - despite being past the expired deadline - Jagger is confident the act will eventually pass into law. “I think that its reasonable for us to pass this hopefully within the next couple of years. I would hope that if we were to speed up our revolution we could just pass it and not stay in the past. Although a lot of our politicians want to stay in the past these days, I don’t think that’s going to happen.” Despite her recent brush with the law, White has not been dissuaded from taking further risky actions in an effort to mobilize more people to join the cause. “I’m having a really great time doing civil disobedience and I’m definitely not done yet.” In today’s political climate it’s important to carry on the work done by feminist icons Gloria Steinem and Crystal Lee Sutton, and all the other women who protested at rallies burned their bras in the street and blew up mailboxes for causes they believed in, but never received acknowledgement for their contributions. Equality is universal issue that transcends social, political and economic barriers. Help make the term “feminist” archaic centuries from now. Let there not be a need for someone to identify as a feminist. If you believe in equality for all citizens, you are human and if not, you are an asshole.