Fight for women’s rights far from over

In the turbulent ’70s, some women were burning bras and demanding passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). I was especially tuned into this fight because my second cousin, Eleanor Smeal, was president of the National Organization for Women (NOW).

Just last week I received an appeal from her current organization, Feminist Majority, again pursuing the elusive goal of providing the same constitutional protections to women as are guaranteed for men, who “are all created equal” in the constitution.

Some of the same conservative forces against the ERA amendment in the ’70s are now waging war against a woman’s right to chose whether she bears a child or not. Could the 1973 Supreme Court Justices have imagined, after ruling in favor of the hard-won right of a woman to have an abortion in Roe v. Wade, that red states would be chipping away at this right, virtually eliminating this option for rural citizens?

Can you believe that an embryo the size of a peanut has accrued all of the rights it’s taken women centuries to earn?

Concurrently, there is still the glass ceiling when it comes to pay equity. Even “liberal” Hollywood doesn’t give women their fair share, as evidenced by leaked emails in recent years.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 guaranteed equal pay for the genders under the law, but laws only apply if they are enforced. As late as 2007, the conservative Supreme Court did not rule in Lilly Ledbetter’s favor by not forcing Goodyear to award her backpay.

Ledbetter sued Goodyear for paying her less than her male counterparts for years. However, President Barack Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, allowing for backpay to accrue in cases such as these.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, “Women today are paid, on average, only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men. And the gap is even worse for women of color — African-American women earn only 64 cents, and Latina women earn only 55 cents for each dollar earned by males.”

That’s why it’s important for women to run for more legislative, executive and judicial bodies. Fair pay is an issue any woman should get behind, regardless of party. Additionally, paid family leave and flexible working hours should be priorities.

Women’s priorities, agendas, and experiences are equally important as our male counterparts. Although we may share many of the same goals and attributes as men, I believe it’s only when women proudly espouse their differences, and when society rewards these differences, that we will really be equal.

But most fundamentally, it’s important for women to believe in their own equality: the kind of equality that isn’t based merely on a woman performing just like a man but the kind that acknowledges our differences and says, “So what?” Yes, we can perform as well as male (insert profession of your choice here). But we also bring a different narrative and worldview, perhaps, even, intrinsic values.

And they are equal.

Our differences also are reflected in the science that has determined the portion of the brain that creates empathy is generally larger in women than men, proving there are more than reproductive anatomical differences between the sexes.

In our world that overvalues war and undervalues compassion (hyper-hedge-fund-capitalism being an example), there is plenty of room for more empathy.

I look forward to the day when the phrase, “You’re such a girl,” isn’t an insult but is a compliment. And I look forward to that time when women’s work pays as well as men’s work.

Donna Steele of Greenfield is a member of a variety of community organizations aimed at bettering the city, including Greenfield Main Street and the Greenfield Coalition.