This piece is part of a series on the “Rethinking Sisterhood” webinar panels. Take a look at our articles on the first panel, the second panel, the third panel, the fifth panel, and our article on the series as a whole for more about Mrs. America and activism.
Generation Ratify, in collaboration with agnès films, Directed by Women, Equal Means Equal, Media Equity, and Women Occupy Hollywood, has hosted a five-part webinar that brings together powerful activists and discusses the ways in which we can all work to have gender equality under the law. With speakers who have been front line advocates for the Equal Rights Amendment, I had very high hopes for this week’s webinar titled “Making inequality visible: The fight for the ERA, and title IX.” After joining the webinar, I can say that the discussions between this week’s speakers exceeded all of my expectations, but that would be a major understatement. The conversation I witnessed was groundbreaking, and the women behind it — Kamala Lopez, Wendy Murphy, and Senator Pat Spearman — are forces to be reckoned with.
With each panelist having done trailblazing work in their fields, it is only just that I give them a proper introduction. Kamala Lopez is a filmmaker and actress whose award-winning documentary Equal Means Equal started a national media campaign to raise awareness for the need for women’s equality under federal law. Lopez is also the founder and president of Equal Means Equal, an organization and movement whose main goal is to complete the ratification of the original Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution. Wendy Murphy is a lawyer, specializing in child abuse and interpersonal violence, and she also co-directs the Women’s and Children’s Advocacy Project under the Center for Law and Social Responsibility. Her victories as a lawyer include cases against Harvard College in 2002, as well as Harvard Law School and Princeton University in 2010, who violated Title IX regulations. These cases led the way to reforms such as the April 2011 “Dear Colleague Letter.” Nevada State Senator Pat Spearman is an ordained minister, a former Army lieutenant colonel, and a Democratic politician. She became the first openly lesbian member of the Nevada Legislature and spearheaded the ERA efforts in Nevada, leading to Nevada’s ratification of the ERA in 2017.
With these inspiring women, there was never a dull moment in the conversation. Kamala Lopez started the webinar with these words: “We won. We did it. Congratulations. Now get ready for the next fight.” We are so close to the finish line, and now is the time to fight like hell. The ERA has officially been ratified, as Virginia became the 38th and last state needed to ratify the ERA in January. Unfortunately, that does not mean our work is done. The ERA is officially a proposed constitutional amendment, but it is currently being blocked under the Trump administration from being added to the Constitution on arguments that the deadline had passed and that five states currently want to rescind their ratification (learn more about the current state of the ERA).
Women in the United States have waited over 200 years for the basic right to equality and that’s enough. Wendy Murphy gave an eloquent timeline of women’s rights’ struggles and achievements in the US. From Reed v. Reed to Frontiero v. Richardson, women have proven that our voices matter and that we can make inequality visible. Personally, Murphy’s words really put into perspective the strength women have. We have had to fight for every little basic right under the law to prove that we are equal. This can be seen in Reed v. Reed, the first Equal Protection case that applied the Fourteenth Amendment to women’s rights and ruled that the administrators of estates cannot be named in a way that discriminates between sexes. It is also seen in Frontiero v. Richardson, a Supreme Court case that decided that benefits given by the United States military to the family of service members cannot be given out differently because of sex. In 1973, Frontiero v. Richardson made the ERA seem unnecessary because it guaranteed high scrutiny on cases related to discrimination on the basis of sex. It slowed things down for the ERA because it suddenly seemed less vital.Then, in 1976, Craig v. Boren lowered strict scrutiny to middle tier scrutiny, but by then much of the damage had been done. It’s painful to think about how we have had to and continue to tirelessly prove that we deserve what others are given under the law, but at the same time, it is immensely empowering to see that our courage is endless and we will not stop until we are equal under the law. This necessary persistence can be seen in both Wendy Murphy, Kamala Lopez, and Natalie White’s efforts in filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration, which has refused to officially record the ERA as the 28th Amendment. In January, Equal Means Equal and its co-plaintiffs filed the lawsuit, which argues that congressionally imposed deadlines for states to ratify the ERA are unconstitutional and that the courts should reject any attempts by states to rescind their prior ratifications of the ERA.
The part that hit home for me even more clearly was Senator Pat Spearman’s contribution to the discussion. Tying in the horrific passing of Goerge Floyd, Spearman spoke on how the anger that people are feeling and the change that they are demanding is not disconnected from the fight for gender equality. As a woman of color myself, intersectionality is key to what I believe in as a feminist. For me, achieving gender equality is one part of an intertwined goal to have all people equal. Gender equality for all cannot be achieved without equality that also encompasses race, sexuality, class, ability, and other aspects of oppression, or else there will always be a minority that is oppressed. This is something Spearman got to the core of when she said, “When my womanness is free, so is my blackness, so is my queerness.” These words fueled my fire even more. These elements of Senator Spearman’s identity are what make her a “triple threat.” When she walks into a room, she challenges every preconceived notion about who can be a leader and challenges a system that aims to have her silenced. To see how she’s turned what normally puts her at a disadvantage into what defines her greatness is so powerful.
In this political climate, it’s disheartening to fight for something so hard and feel like it’s not enough, but seeing these women and hearing about all they’ve done in their lives was really motivating. My favorite line of the night came from Senator Spearman when she said, “Look at this screen, there ain’t no quit in us.” No matter how many heartbreaks and setbacks that are thrown our way, we will not quit. Women are resilient and there is no stopping us from getting the basic rights we deserve.
As you can probably tell, this webinar series has recharged my drive to take action and has shown me so many ways that I can join the fight. Small things such as filling out the 2020 Census and participating in local elections have a huge impact. The webinar emails a tool kit for taking action to anyone who wants to learn more ways to join the fight. If you get the chance, I highly recommend signing up for the final webinar, “Approaching Filmmaking and Content Production From a Feminist Perspective to Create Change,” Thursday, June 4th from 5:00-6:00pm EDT. If you’re unable to make it, you can catch all the webinars on Generation Ratify’s YouTube channel.
Visit the Equal Means Equal website and read more about their lawsuit. Connect with Mimi on her profile. Be sure to check out our coverage on “Rethinking Sisterhood” with the first panel, second panel, third panel, fifth panel, and our article on the series as a whole.