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  • ERA Roundtable
  • Mary Frances Berry (bio), Melinda Chateauvert (bio), Katherine Cross (bio), Jan Erickson (bio), Roberta W. Francis (bio), Bonnie Grabenhofer (bio), Bettina Hager (bio), Amy Richards (bio), and Laura Mattoon D’Amore

This roundtable draws from the voices of activists and academics and aims to explore some of the challenges of renewing and sustaining interest in the continued advocacy of the Equal Rights Amendment. To narrow their focus, I asked the roundtable participants to consider their essays as a general response to these questions:

  1. 1. Is the ERA relevant to the twenty-first century?

  2. 2. How does/Does the ERA represent the issues of importance to various populations of women, including young women; women of color; trans women; LGBTQIA; etc?

  3. 3. In the past the ERA served as a beacon connecting generations of feminists. Do you believe the ERA maintains that generational connection today? How do you envision feminists working together to make change in the future?

In their response to the roundtable questions, Mary Frances Berry and Melinda Chateauvert wrote “Reform and Symbolism Are Not Enough: Equal Rights Means Gender Justice and Sexual Equality.” The authors focus on the social and political barriers and challenges that an ERA faces now and caution that ERA activism will not succeed if it does not speak directly to relevance and inclusion. A twenty-first-century ERA must address gender justice, identify and speak to various constituencies who have a stake in the ERA, and reposition itself as fundamentally intersectional. Similarly, Katherine Cross, in “Self-Determination: The ERA as a Human Rights Frontier,” imagines the potential of a gender inclusive movement transforming the ERA into a renewed frontier for human rights. With just a simple change to the amendment’s phrasing, Cross articulates the possibility of a “sacred right to use our human potential to the fullest,” by allowing people to self-determine their own gender. [End Page 1] And Amy Richards, in “ERA: Earning Our Right to Be Activists—Young Women and Their Struggle to Find a Place and Voice in the Feminist Movement,” reminds us that without these conditions of inclusion, immediacy, and relevance, the ERA does not feel crucial to young activists. The younger generation of feminists seek activist causes that offer instant gratification and clear reward, and they have been turned off by condescension from veteran activists whose message can appear to be that only certain messengers are allowed to talk about the ERA.

Bettina Hager, in “Vestiges of the Past,” defines the United States Constitution as the “most fundamental governing document for women today.” As a young feminist, Hager has focused on the development of an inclusive, informed coalition of activists who can benefit from the knowledge of experienced veteran feminist activists while fighting against the elusive task of conquering oppression. Working alongside Hager, Roberta W. Francis, in “Changed Forever by the Equal Rights Amendment,” finds that an ERA is powerful enough to be helpful in the advancement of all women’s issues, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sexuality, or any other category of diversity. She calls for an inclusive feminism to fight patriarchy. And in “Is the Equal Rights Amendment Relevant in the Twenty-first Century?” Bonnie Grabenhofer and Jan Erickson argue that a “constitutional guarantee of equality of rights of women and men, prohibiting governments from discriminating on the basis of sex, is still crucially important.” In support of the case, they explore the ERA’s relevance for equal pay, Title IX, LGBTQIA equal rights, reproductive rights, discrimination in insurance, pregnancy discrimination, military policy, violence against women, and reproductive justice.

Reform and Symbolism Are Not Enough: Equal Rights Means Gender Justice and Sexual Equality
Mary Frances Berry and Melinda Chateauvert

The Equal Rights Amendment, like every other issue in the women’s rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, generated hundreds if not thousands of position papers, resolutions, and critiques from feminist and nonfeminist groups in those decades.1 In deference to the topic and those times, this comment takes the form of a position strategy paper, though of course we use current rather than historical data. Here we outline the political process required under the US Constitution to achieve the policy (the ERA) and...


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