Rep. Ayanna Pressely, a Massachusetts Democrat, said on the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday that American women are “still shackled” because the U.S. Constitution is “sexist by its very design.”
Pressley, a member of the “squad” of progressive first-term congresswomen, used “Morning Hour,” when lawmakers are allowed to speak on any topic, to advocate for a House bill that would eliminate the deadline for ratification of the Equality Act. The decades-old proposal would make unconstitutional discrimination based on sex, gender or sexuality.
After quoting black feminist activist Audre Lord, Pressley declared that in 2020 women in the United States are “still in so many ways not fully free, still shackled.”
“Women are strong, hardworking, bright, and resilient,” she said. “We are the backbones of our families, our communities, and our democracy,” she said. “We do not live in checked boxes; we live in an intersectionality of lived experiences and identities. Our issues are everyone’s issues because our destinies are all tied.”
Pressley went on to bemoan the “gender pay gap” — which has been shown to have little or nothing to do with sexism — and to add a racial twist.
“In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, women are paid 83 cents for every dollar paid to a man, but nationally, women are paid only 80 cents for every dollar a man is paid,” she said.” Even worse, the modern day wage gap disproportionately impacts women of color with black women earning 61 cents, Native women earning 58 cents, Latin X women earning only 53 cents, and [Asian American and Pacific Islander] women making as little as 50 cents per dollar paid to a white man.”
Ayanna Pressley blames the “sexist” Constitution
In conclusion, Pressley said that the alleged oppression of women was determined at America’s founding.
“In addition to pay discrimination, we face pregnancy discrimination, discrimination in the criminal legal system, sexual and domestic violence, and inadequate health care access,” she said. “But this isn’t an accident, the American Constitution is sexist by its very design, this country’s laws have historically treated us like second-class citizens, depriving us of the right to vote, enter most jobs, and to own property.”
During Donald Trump’s presidency, Democrats and liberal activists have renewed the effort to push through the Equality Act, a decades-old proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee voted in November to approve a measure that would retroactively remove the ratification deadline.
However, last month, the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued a legal opinion saying the deadline had long passed for additional states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel wrote in the opinion that while Congress “had the constitutional authority” to set the deadline, it cannot now reopen the issue.
“Congress may not revive a proposed amendment after the deadline has expired,” he wrote.
“Should the people of the United States wish to adopt the ERA as part of the Constitution, then the appropriate path is for Congress … to propose that amendment once more,” Engel added.
Too little, too late?
The amendment, which was first proposed in the 1920s and gained traction during the rise of the feminist movement, states in part: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”
In the 1970s, 35 states backed the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, three short of the required number.
The House and Senate both supported the measure in 1972 but set a seven-year deadline, later extended until 1982, for it to be ratified.
Nevada belatedly signed on in 2017 followed by Illinois in 2018. Now, Virginia could, under the theory proposed by supporters of the amendment, become the 38th state as it is expected to vote this year
The National Archives and Records Administration, a federal agency that has a role in certifying ratification, said in a statement that it would abide by the Justice Department opinion “unless otherwise directed by a final court order.”
(Reuters contributed to this report.)