- ERA’s Legacy Calls for Intersectionality in Words and Action
Reflecting on the movement for equal rights, the question before us is how to envisage the campaign, how to address the ways in which inequalities intersect on the issues of fairness, equity, and parity. If justice is concerned with respect and opportunity and endeavoring to provide resources to realize democracy, then a continued campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment should take the shape of addressing and connecting sexism with race, class, and homophobia.
My own perspective comes from my experience working as a community organizer in the 1970s, as I worked through the Chicano civil rights movement and worked toward defining a Chicana feminism that articulated class, gender, and race as a response to a masculinized discourse of national liberation and to a depiction of women’s liberation as a white middle-class endeavor.
The current assault on women can be traced to the rise of the “New Right” and Reaganism. Much like the “postracial” myth, women in these movements do not have equal rights. The slogan of “family values” is deep-rooted in the ideology against feminism. So, my thoughts focus on how we can connect issues, bring greater context to issues of parity.
As I followed the case of Ellen Pao’s 2012 suit against the venture capital company in Silicon Valley, I kept thinking of the way in which race and gender intersect—exoticizing Asian women in masculinized spaces. Pao filed suit in 2012 against the firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, and Byers, where she had been a junior partner. Charging gender imbalance and bias, the trial revealed embarrassing disclosures about how Pao and other women were treated at the firm, as well as Silicon Valley’s corporate culture and its lack of diversity. [End Page 287]
Could the legal team have brought race and gender together in the lawsuit? Pao was criticized simultaneously for being too timid and for being too aggressive, for speaking up too much and for not speaking up enough. Her performance ratings were vague and unspecific. This unclarity speaks to the catch-22 for women of color in the workforce. Had her legal team presented these annual evaluations as framed by gendered and racial discourse, perhaps the analysis of discrimination would have revealed a complex understanding of what women of color in the work force confront. Issues of justice must be concerned with how wealth, respect, and opportunity are distributed. Considering gender inequity alone limits the way in which women of color are restricted from multiple and simultaneous oppressions that must be remedied.
Employment inequality isn’t the only inequity that cuts through women’s lives in complex ways. Statistics of incarcerated women show more than one million women are currently under the supervision of the criminal justice system in the U.S. Remarkably, black women represent over 30 percent of all females incarcerated under state or federal jurisdiction and Hispanic women represent roughly 17 percent of all incarcerated women in the criminal justice system. According to the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, “Black women are more than three times as likely as white women to be incarcerated in prison or jail, and Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely to be institutionalized (Sayers 2014). The statistics underscore systemic racial bias, the school-to-prison pipeline, lack of access to mental health treatment, co-occurring disorders, domestic violence, and poverty. The racial disenfranchisement must be tied to the fight for equal rights as issues of distribution of power are connected.
Equal rights is about the distribution of social benefits. The National Women’s Law Center reported that “American women who work full time, year round are paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. But the wage gap is even larger for many women of color working full time, year round, as African-American women are paid only 64 cents, and Hispanic women only 54 cents, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. These gaps translated into a loss of $18,650 for African-American women and $24,111 for Hispanic women in 2012” (2015). Equity and parity are the key issues of...