(CNN) “My name is Alyssa Milano, and I do not have equal rights under our Constitution. I have a three-year-old daughter named Bella. She does not have equal rights under the Constitution, either.”
This is how I began my testimony at a Congressional shadow hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) just a few months ago. At that point, I didn’t think it could be possible to feel more urgency about insisting that women be protected in our government’s highest legal document, the US Constitution. I was wrong.
Now, as I watch Brett Kavanaugh’s likely ascension to the Supreme Court, it feels like a new kind of violation, proving we need an Equal Rights Amendment so that our justice system has the tools to treat women equally under the law.
Our country has allowed men like Brett Kavanaugh to use our founding documents to preserve their power and privilege, while denying women protection from the consequences of their actions. That is because, for most of our country’s history, the Constitution has treated anyone who is not a white, land-owning man to be a second-class citizen — a legacy the document has yet to shed.
According to polls conducted by the ERA Coalition, a group of over 75 member organizations as diverse as the American Association of University Women, Union Theological Seminary, the YWCA, GLAAD and the African American Policy Forum, 80% of Americans think women already have equal rights under the Constitution. They assume that provision is already there, because, of course, it’s absurd for it not to be.
What’s more, they think it’s there because they believe wholeheartedly it should be. The same polls tell us that 94% of Americans support constitutional equality for women.
My question is: Who are the other 6%? And to be clear, that question is not a rhetorical one.
When asked by Sen. Dick Durbin (who has called for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and whose state of Illinois has ratified it) whether he agreed the ERA should be added to the Constitution in his questions for the record, Brett Kavanaugh (as he did on a number of subjects about which he was questioned) declined to provide a substantive answer. I am not asserting that Brett Kavanaugh opposes constitutional equality for women and men, but then again, I do not know. And his actions, I do not trust.
What I do know — what all of us have seen proven beyond a doubt — is that our country’s 200-plus-year history of subjugating women has come at a devastating price. In recent months, we’ve heard an outpouring of firsthand accounts about what life as a second-class citizen in this country is like.
We’ve heard about the injustices women suffer every day — in our relationships, in the streets of our communities, in our court system and our healthcare system, and, especially, in our workplaces.
Survey data tells us that as many as one in three women has experienced sexual advances from a man they work with. Let that sink in: one in three.
I’m not talking only about actresses and celebrities, although those stories tend to get the most coverage. I’m not talking only about women who work at universities and tech companies and in the United States Congress. I’m talking about women who work in hotels and hospitals and farms and restaurants. Women who count on every paycheck. Women who cannot afford an attorney. Women who are targeted precisely because they are vulnerable. Women whose abusers think they can depend on their silence.
It used to be that their stories were told only in hushed whispers. But that has started to change.
So what is the connection among #MeToo, Kavanaugh and the #ERA? Everything.
We’ve already seen that people act differently when they know that they will be held accountable. Even the richest and most powerful men are finally seeing that there will be consequences for their actions. They’re being shamed and fired and ostracized for their predatory behavior.
But when men abuse women, they should be held accountable not only by the media, not only by their employers, not only by the public, but they should be held accountable by our justice system. By enshrining equal rights in the United States Constitution, the ERA would guarantee every woman is protected by the full force of federal law as well.
Ratifying an Equal Rights Amendment would, for the first time in our country’s history, open a pathway toward true gender equality. It would send a message to our daughters.
It would send a message to our sons. It would send a message to every state in the country. And it would send a message to the world.
It would send a message to every state in the country. And it would send a message to the world.
These rights are our birthright, but enshrining them in our Constitution is our responsibility. Democracy requires action by us. Because, at the end of the day, it is us.
In 1776, the year our country declared independence, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John, urging him to “Remember the Ladies” — to be fair to us as he helped write the new code of laws for a new nation.
Today, 242 years later, we no longer have to wait for anyone else to grant us our rights. We are standing up for each other, marching in the streets and running for office in record numbers. We are the ones holding the pen. We are lucky that we get to be the ones to live through this new era — but with that comes a responsibility to ensure this moment lives up to its promise. We must come together today to put the ERA back on the agenda.
I’m part of a movement that’s not going anywhere until the foundational document of our country insists loudly and clearly to us and to the world that: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”