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.show more