High Desert Sketches: Skip chocolate, support women’s rights

Art by Valerie “CrowCrumbs” Howard

Of all our holidays, Valentine’s is one of the mildest, but that has not always been the case. It was once called Lupercalia. The festival celebrated the rescue of the legendary founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus by a she-wolf. It began as a Roman festival, and quite a rowdy one according to the internationally renowned holiday expert and illustrator Valerie “CrowCrumbs” Howard. She recently wrote, “Historical festivities weren’t any tamer. In ancient times the celebration began by getting drunk and naked and then running around randomly whipping others with strips of sacrificial goat or dog skin. Anyone who wanted a baby would line up for a lashing because it was believed to improve fertility and promote an easy labor. People also chose names at random to couple up with for the duration of the festival. If the match happened to be a good one, the couple stayed together until the following year’s festival. Some would even fall in love and get married. As with the fate of most pagan festivals, a pope, Pope Gelasius I, was upset by all the fun. At the close of the 5th century, he replaced Lupercalia with the tamer celebration of Valentine’s Day.”

The sweet cards and sweeter candy did not begin until the late 1700s. Most modern women would settle today for their full rights as American citizens rather than a bunch of expensive flowers that will wilt in a few days.

The Equal Rights Amendment is a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. It seeks to end the legal distinctions between men and women in divorce, property, employment and other matters. Although introduced in 1923, the ERA did not pass both houses in Congress until 1971 and 1972 when it was sent to the states for ratification.

Congress had originally set a ratification deadline of March 22, 1979, for the state legislatures to consider the ERA. Through 1977, the amendment received 35 of the necessary 38 state ratifications. With wide, bipartisan support (including that of both major political parties, both houses of Congress, and presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter) the ERA seemed destined for ratification until Phyllis Schlafly mobilized conservative women in opposition. These women argued that the ERA would disadvantage housewives, cause women to be drafted into the military and to lose protections such as alimony, and eliminate the tendency for mothers to obtain custody over their children in divorce cases. Many labor feminists also opposed the ERA on the basis that it would eliminate protections for women in labor law, though over time more and more unions and labor feminist leaders turned toward supporting it.

Five state legislatures (Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee and South Dakota) voted to revoke their ERA ratifications. Four claim to have rescinded their ratifications before the original March 22, 1979, ratification deadline, while the South Dakota legislature did so by voting to sunset its ratification as of that original deadline. However, it remains an unresolved legal question as to whether a state can revoke its ratification of a federal constitutional amendment.

In 1978, Congress passed (by simple majorities in each house), and President Carter signed, a joint resolution with the intent of extending the ratification deadline to June 30, 1982. Because no additional state legislatures ratified the ERA between March 22, 1979, and June 30, 1982, the validity of that disputed extension was rendered academic. Since 1978, attempts have been made in Congress to extend or remove the deadline.

In the 2010s, due, in part, to fourth-wave feminism and the Me Too Movement, interest in getting the ERA adopted was revived. In 2017, Nevada became the first state to ratify the ERA after the expiration of both deadlines, and Illinois followed in 2018. In January 2020, Virginia passed the ERA, making it the 38th state to ratify the ERA counting the five that have voted to rescind their ratifications. However, experts and advocates have acknowledged legal uncertainty about the consequences of Virginia’s ratification, due to the expired deadlines and the five states’ purported revocations.

The ERA will have a rough time, but I think it would make it because I remember immortal lines from Kipling:

When the Himalayan peasant meets the he-bear in his pride,

He shouts to scare the monster, who will often turn aside.

But the she-bear thus accosted rends the peasant tooth and nail.

For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.