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The Equal Rights Amendment

Ambivalences about women's roles in the postwar period had shown themselves in national politics in the battle over several legislative initiatives. The most important measure to be entangled in these complex feelings was the Equal Rights Amendment, which served as context for most of the other legislative disputes concerning women.

The Equal Rights Amendment failed because federal policy-makers would hardly approve so significant a proposal without wide and deep support for it. An amendment to grant women constitutional equality bespoke a belief in the right of women to function as individuals. But individual equality, however in keeping it was with traditional American ideals, conflicted with an ideology that considered women as responsible primarily to their families, not to themselves. Historically, the law defined women as wives, mothers, and daughters, placing them under the aegis of their husbands and fathers. Twentieth-


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century innovations gave the state a new role in overseeing the conditions of women's employment, under the rationale of protecting their interests as homemakers. The Equal Rights Amendment, which would remove legal distinctions between the sexes, suggested a reordering of the world, a responsibility the U.S. Congress does not readily assume. By 1960, women leaders had had little to show for their efforts except token offerings of executive appointments, tendered by presidents who were staying out of the fray.


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