Cover image for Sex, gender, and the politics of ERA : a state and the nation
Sex, gender, and the politics of ERA : a state and the nation
Mathews, Donald G.
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New York : Oxford University Press, 1990.
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xv, 283 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
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HQ1236.5.U6 M38 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Feminism has changed the United States -- but not to universal applause. The defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1982 not only suggested the extent of anti-feminism in our nation; it also triggered a remarkable range of emotions. To its supporters, the amendment meant equal opportunity and individual freedom; it was the logical extension of the highest American ideals. To opponents, however, it meant the destruction of "womanhood"; it was "a dangerous virus cultured in the pathology of American life," an insidious outgrowth of the sixties. Partisans were shocked that a debate about equality should become a debate about gender, and that the ERA should become a symbol of impurity and danger.
Sex, Gender, and the Politics of ERA is the most profound and sensitive discussion to date of the way in which women responded to feminism. Drawing on extensive research and interviews, Mathews and De Hart explore the fate of the ERA in North Carolina--one of the three states targeted by both sides as essential to ratification--to reveal the dynamics that stunned supporters across America. The authors insightfully link public discourse and private feelings, placing arguments used throughout the nation in the personal contexts of women who pleaded their cases for and against equality. Beginning with a study of woman suffrage, the book shows how issues of sex, gender, race, and power remained potent weapons on the ERA battlefield. The ideas of such vocal opponents as Phyllis Schlafly and Senator Sam Ervin set the perfect stage for mothers to confess their terror at the violation of their daughters in a post-ERA world, while the prospect of losing ratification to this terror impelled supporters to shed the white gloves of genteel lobbying for the combat boots of political in-fighting. In the end, however, the efforts of ERA supporters could neither outweigh the symbolic actions of its opponents--who reassured male legislators with gifts of homemade bread tagged "To the breadwinners from the breadbakers"--nor weaken the resistance of those same legislators to further federal guarantees of equality. Ultimately, opponents succeeded in making equality for women seem dangerous. In thus explaining the ERA controversy, the authors brilliantly illuminate the many meanings of feminism for the American people.

Author Notes

Donald G. Mathews is Professor of History at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Jane Sherron De Hart is Professor of History at University of California, Santa Barbara

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was a legal/political issue that touched a raw national nerve. Using North Carolina as a case study, the authors see the ERA as a heavily loaded social symbol that catalyzed women and men into translating very personal definitions of sex and power into political action. The first half of their study details the history of the ERA in North Carolina, the scene of six intense ratification battles. The remainder is fiercely analytical, examining what the ERA meant to the three main parties in the drama--the feminists, the anti-ERA women, the male state legislators--and the dynamic interplay of individual feeling and public discourse. There is little room for bias in this perspective; the authors present each point of view as legitimate. The research is stunning in its exhaustiveness. A worthy addition to graduate-level social science collections.-- Donna L. Schulman, Cornell Univ. ILR Lib., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Mathews and De Hart offer readers a survey, from the perspective of North Carolina, of the failed effort to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. By using one state that both sides viewed as essential, the authors provide concrete examples of the issues, the personalities, and the organizations that participated in the political struggle over women's rights. Because North Carolina is a southern state, and a conservative one at that, the past ideology of women's separate sphere framed much of the discussion. Although northern states may have shared the debate over whether women would be drafted as a result of ERA, few of them had to cope with the deep-seated views that women still belonged exclusively in the home, not in the public sphere; just as the races should remain separate, so should the sexes. The authors devote attention to Senator Sam Ervin, the Democrat from North Carolina, who led the anti-ERA forces. As a southern gentleman Ervin saw ERA as endangering the whold way of life in the South. The prose style of the authors is difficult at times but the book is a worthwhile addition to libraries with extensive women's studies collections. -J. Sochen, Northeastern Illinois University

Table of Contents

1. Parable: Woman Suffrage and "Manhood" in North Carolinap. 3
2. "Physiological and Functional Differences": Sam Ervin on Classification by Sexp. 28
3. "We Just Didn't Realize It Was Going To Be That Difficult": Political Socialization the Hard Wayp. 54
4. "Idealistic Sisterhood Has Gotten Us Nowhere": Dressing for Political Combatp. 91
5. "We Are Called and We Must Not Be Found Wanting": ERA and the Women's Movementp. 124
6. "We Don't Want To Be Men!": Women against the Women's Movementp. 152
7. Men Besieged "On Account of Sex": Bargaining in the General Assemblyp. 181
8. ERA and the Politics of Genderp. 212
Acronymsp. 227
Notesp. 229
Appendixesp. 267
Indexp. 277