ERA supporters

Supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment are greeted in the gallery during floor session of the Virginia House of Delegates on Feb. 6.

Can a man get pregnant? Apparently, some believe so.

This General Assembly session, Virginia legislators were expected to treat seriously an effort to replace the term “pregnant woman” with the term “pregnant person” to reflect the apparent belief of some that pregnancy applies equally to men or women. This is lawmaking driven by semantics, raised to the level of silliness, not science. Despite the efforts of legislative wordsmiths, women remain, in very important ways, fundamentally different than men.

Days later, lawmakers considered the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution, a Nixon-era proposal ostensibly intended to pave the way for “equal pay for equal work,” which failed to be ratified by the necessary 38 states prior to the March 22, 1979, deadline. Like me, some of these legislators were not even born when Congress sent the amendment to the states.

I’m a third-generation opponent of the ERA. I’m sure that women were not always treated equitably when my grandmother opposed the ERA. I don’t doubt that some women are still not equitably treated. Most women have a story. But if we’re honest, we have many more amazing success stories to share, when we aren’t insisting we be treated like victims.

Did my grandmother, while opposing the ERA, envision that I would someday lead an organization, earning the same pay as my male colleagues, while having four children with associated maternity leave and a permanent family-friendly schedule? Probably not. But did I do it without the ERA? Yes, I did. What she knew, even then, was that women didn’t need a vague amendment promising vague rights. The ERA was and still is an imprecise tool to solve precise problems.

The ERA claims to offer women equality with men, but does so by declaring a “sameness” of men and women. “Equality” and “sameness” are not synonymous. Embracing diversity means recognizing and appreciating our differences, rather than pretending there are none.

Yet the same people who insist we pretend that women aren’t the only ones who give birth, demand our lawmakers ratify the ERA 40 years too late. When Gloria Steinem and Phyllis Schlafly, the great protagonist and antagonist of the ERA, respectively, went state-by-state battling over its consequences, neither had any concept of “gender identity.” In those days, Target wasn’t allowing men who felt like women to enter their bathrooms, nor were boys winning medals in girls’ wrestling matches. Today’s world was certainly never contemplated by the original ERA supporters.

Women should receive equal pay for equal work without having to create a “genderless” world. Virginia law already can and does demand that a man and a woman who perform the same task with equal skill, and with the same background and experience, merit equal wages. It does so without demanding a false notion that women are like men in all ways. Our republic is more than capable of ensuring this. My daughter need not be drafted into combat military service, nor must sororities and women’s colleges be abolished or filled with men to achieve merit pay — all of which are potential outcomes of the ERA.

True feminism does not fear the use of the word “woman,” insist upon androgynous symbols on bathroom doors, nor tolerate men who insist on dominating in our sports because they can’t win in their own. Gone are the days of outdated feminism that claimed to earn a “male” salary I must be exactly like a male. Sophisticated, modern feminism must allow me to be fully feminine and yet equally respected and rewarded for my contributions — a status, by the way, I earned entirely without the ERA.

Yes, men and women are distinct. Ignoring it, running from it, or passing some overly broad statement of “sameness” does not move us to equal ground. Women don’t need to play the victim or hide behind a 40-year-old failure to do so. Why should I sacrifice my womanhood — for sameness and mediocrity — on the altar of equal pay?

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Victoria Cobb is president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, and may be contacted at victoria@familyfoundation.org.

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