Sex, Gender, and the Politics of ERA: A State and the Nation

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9780195038583: Sex, Gender, and the Politics of ERA: A State and the Nation

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.

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About the Author:


About the Authors
Donald G. Mathews and Jane Sherron De Hart are both professors of History and American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and both have written several books on American history.

Review:


"A fine-grained case study....A brilliant analysis of the rhetoric and political styles of proponents and opponents of ERA....Illuminates the continuing power of politicized cultural identities and the fierceness with which people cling to them."--American Historical Review


"The most comprehensive analysis of the politics of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) thus far....Historians of feminism and antifeminism, students of recent American politics and social movements, as well as participants on both sides of the ERA battle throughout the country will find much to admire and to enlighten them in this book."--Journal of American History


"A finely detailed study of the struggle for ratification of the ERA in North Carolina....Mathews and DeHart's thoughtful analysis...sheds new light on the dynamics of the ratification effort....Provides fresh insights into the defeat of the ERA."--Reviews in American History


"Reveals the deeply felt meanings that activated participants on both sides of the battle....A fine contribution to our understanding of the increasingly salient politics of gender in the United States."--Frances Fox Piven, City University of New York


"Much more than a narrative account of the ratification process at the state level....A compelling examination of the relationship between politics and culture in modern American society. The authors are to be commended for their balanced, dispassionate treatment of a topic for which no middle ground exists."--North Carolina Historical Review


"Vital, compelling, and frightening....It really makes credible the issues that were central to the battle--especially as seen from the point of view of the opponents."--William H. Chafe, Duke University


"Astute and fair-minded political history, illuminating the impasse reached over the ERA and offering new insight into the mind-set of the North Carolina women who opposed it."--Nancy F. Cott, Yale University


"This study is interesting because Mathews and De Hart use the failure of the ERA to examine weaknesses in the liberal democratic conception of equality and in the quality of public discourse in a liberal democratic society."--Signs


"There are several other books on the ERA....But few are as elegantly written as this book, and none provides an in-depth case study of the women's movement and its opponents at the state level during this crucial stage of mobilization. This book should be read both by social movement scholars, for its superb documentation of the dynamics of mobilization, and by gender scholars, for its stunning portrayal of the history of feminism."--Contemporary Sociology


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Mathews, Donald G., De Hart, Jane Sherro
Published by Oxford University Press (1990)
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Donald G. Mathews, Jane Sherron De Hart
Published by Oxford University Press, USA (1990)
ISBN 10: 0195038584 ISBN 13: 9780195038583
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