People in the United States talk a lot about rights. Nothing wrong with caring about rights, but it doesn't have to be at the expense of caring about fairness.

I was born and raised in the U.S. but lived and worked in Canada for 19 years, and I have both U.S. and Canadian citizenship. Since my return to the U.S., people have often asked me how Canada has long had the equivalent of what in the U.S. is called the Equal Rights Amendment, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of one's sex, when the U.S. has never managed to adopt the ERA. My explanation is that Canadians have a long tradition of caring about fairness as well as about rights and do not see the two as mutually exclusive.

Last month, I had the privilege of attending the educational and inspiring event about women and media that Veteran Feminists of America (http://www.vfa.us/) held in Los Angeles, and I want to tell you what I saw onscreen there. I urge you to have a look at this one-minute video right now, before reading the rest of this essay, because no attempt to describe it could match the powerful impact of watching it. It is at

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Zs0-n2q6Gac

It is shocking but sadly unsurprising, given the rollbacks in race-based civil rights and the upsurge in racism in recent years in the U.S., that we are also far behind many other countries, even some that Americans regard as less civilized than our own, in eradicating bias against and mistreatment of girls and women. Our Voices of Diversity project — funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and reported at http://www.hks.harvard.edu/var/ezp_site/storage/fckeditor/file/pdfs/cent... — revealed a tendency for sexism, including violence against women, to be taken less seriously than racism. As long as we have no federal Equal Rights Amendment, it will continue to be harder to eradicate the significant and appalling discrimination in hiring and wages, in the prosecution of sex-and-gender-based crimes, in the military, and in education, as well as in many other arenas.

It is unconscionable that the country that touts itself as the exemplar of freedom has not managed to pass legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex. Happily, there is organizing aimed to revive the ERA and get enough states to vote their approval to make it finally the law of the land. To learn more about why it is so sorely needed, I urge you to have a look at

http://eraeducationproject.com/about/

to learn about the film-in-progress called "Equal Means Equal." I heard the smart and impassioned filmmaker, Kamala Lopez, speak at the women and media conference, and as you will see in the above link to her 1 1/2-minute video, she is driven partly by the fact that between 75 and 90% of Americans mistakenly believe that our Constitution already prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. As she says in the video, "235 years is a long time to wait for equal rights." Her website is full of detailed information about the scope and manifestations of sexism.

After you watch these videos, please post the links, and urge everyone you know to watch them and to go to http://eraeducationproject.com/

©Copyright 2013 by Paula J. Caplan                                                     All rights reserved

About the Author

Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D.

Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D., a clinical and research psychologist, is an associate at Harvard University's DuBois Institute and former fellow in Harvard Kennedy School's Women and Public Policy Program.

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