A joint resolution of Congress in 1971 signified one of those rare moments when both liberals and conservatives, persons of different races and religions and, most telling, members of both sexes were in uniform agreement: “... the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled to full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States.”
That quote helped to usher in Women’s Equality Day which since 1972 has been recognized by a presidential proclamation each year on Aug. 26. It is a famous date in American history—stretching back 95 years when women were granted the right to vote by virtue of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—but it wasn’t until 1972 that Women’s Equality Day was fully recognized as a turning point in the battle for social progress for American women.
Occupying new seats of power
More than 40 years ago, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was proposed as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would guarantee women equal rights under the law. It wasn’t a new idea. The amendment was first proposed in 1923 following years of struggle to secure for women the right to vote. The 15th Amendment reportedly guaranteed the right to vote regardless of race (many state legislatures would devise methods to circumvent this language, particularly in relation to African Americans), but finally having the right to cast a ballot meant that [most] American women saw opportunities for advancement not only at the ballot box but in a variety of arenas previously limited only to men.
American women today occupy some of the most prestigious positions in the land. From political powerbrokers, leaders in law and medicine, military commanders and mega-celebrities, some women are realizing the hard-earned promises that the early suffragists and feminists campaigned for so vigorously. In 2015, a woman is a front-runner and, some may consider, the odds-on favorite to be the next president of the United States. There are more women serving in the United States Congress (77 women in the House of Representatives, 20 in the Senate at the start of the 113th Congress) than ever before. Three women occupy seats on the U.S. Supreme Court. African American women can look to the Los Angeles District Attorney, the California Attorney General and the United States Attorney General as evidence of the advancements which have taken place, specifically after passage of landmark civil rights legislation decades ago. This past weekend, a woman was among the officiating crew and another was serving as an assistant coach during a National Football League pre-season game.
Why the ERA failed
However, women still lag far behind men in terms of wages, job security, property ownership and right of personal decision, all of which fall under the famous precepts of “... life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The proposed ERA of the 1970s was supposed to remedy some of the inequities women have faced since the founding of the nation, but the struggle for true equality remains elusive. Even after serving [and dying] in foreign wars, holding families together during great financial calamities, doing a “man’s work” in factories to help ensure the “world’s highest standard of living,” and even orbiting the earth, some American women today often occupy second-class status in terms of socio-economic achievement and prosperity. Today, full-time women workers generally make only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, representing a gender pay gap of 22 percent, according to a report issued in March by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR).