Explain to your students the context of the last major effort to pass the ERA, which took place in the 1970s. Share with them that Congress passed the ERA in 1972 with broad bipartisan support. For the ERA to become a part of the Constitution, however, it needed to be ratified by a minimum of 38 (three-quarters) of the states. Within a year, 30 states ratified the ERA, but then conservative activists organized in opposition to the ERA, most notably Phyllis Schlafly. Congress extended the deadline for ratification to 1982, but by that year, only 35 of the 38 required states had ratified the ERA.
Use the Big Paper discussion strategy to help students explore some of the historical arguments for and against the passage of the ERA. Write the following questions on the board:
- What were some of the arguments for and against the passage of the ERA in the 1960s and 1970s?
- What information in the texts do you find surprising, interesting, or troubling?
Place students into small groups and explain the Big Paper strategy to them. Give half of the groups the first text and the other half the second text. Ask them to discuss their text silently for ten minutes, using the question on the board to guide their conversation. Then, ask the groups to swap their paper with another group that has the other text. Students should then spend five minutes silently discussing the second text. After students finish with the second text, allow them to discuss the two texts out loud in their small groups. Finally, discuss the two texts as a class. Ask your students:
- What is the state of women’s rights in the United States today?
- Can you think of any current examples relating to women’s rights that either support or refute any of the arguments made in the two texts?
The following is an excerpt from a speech Representative Shirley Chisholm made to the US House of Representatives in 1969.
As in the field of equal rights for blacks, Spanish-Americans, the Indians, and other groups, laws will not change such deep-seated problems overnight but they can be used to provide protection for those who are most abused, and to begin the process of evolutionary change by compelling the insensitive majority to reexamine its unconscious attitudes.
It is for this reason that I wish to introduce today a proposal that has been before every Congress for the last 40 years and that sooner or later must become part of the basic law of the land—the equal rights amendment . . . .
Existing laws are not adequate to secure equal rights for women. Sufficient proof of this is the concentration of women in lower paying, menial, unrewarding jobs and their incredible scarcity in the upper level jobs. If women are already equal, why is it such an event whenever one happens to be elected to Congress?
It is obvious that discrimination exists. Women do not have the opportunities that men do. And women that do not conform to the system, who try to break with the accepted patterns, are stigmatized as ''odd'' and "unfeminine." The fact is that a woman who aspires to be chairman of the board, or a Member of the House, does so for exactly the same reasons as any man. Basically, these are that she thinks she can do the job and she wants to try.
The following is an excerpt from a newsletter that the anti-ERA activist Phyllis Schlafly wrote in 1972:
In the last couple of years, a noisy movement has sprung up agitating for “women’s rights.” Suddenly, everywhere we are afflicted with aggressive females on television talk shows yapping about how mistreated American women are, suggesting that marriage has put us in some kind of “slavery,” that housework is menial and degrading, and—perish the thought—that women are discriminated against . . . .
Why should we trade in our special privileges and honored status for the alleged advantage of working in an office or assembly line? Most women would rather cuddle a baby than a typewriter or factory machine. Most women find that it is easier to get along with a husband than a foreman or office manager. Offices and factories require many more menial and repetitious chores than washing dishes and ironing shirts. Women’s [rights advocates] do not speak for the majority of American women. American women do not want to be liberated from husbands and children. We do not want to trade our birthright of the special privileges of American women—for the mess of pottage called the Equal Rights Amendment.