By Erin Matson, NOW Action Vice President
A woman walks into a bar, sits down and orders a glass of water. She wants to order some pizza. She is pretty hungry, as pregnant women sometimes are. A bouncer kicks her out.
It sounds like a joke, but it’s not. In fact the Coach House Restaurant in Roselle, Illinois, kicked Michelle Lee out last Thursday evening with one explanation: “no pregnant women allowed.”
This incident occurred just hours after Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), flanked by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), NOW President Terry O’Neill, Feminist Majority President Ellie Smeal and several national women’s rights leaders in support of adding an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, said:
In 2011, I can do my banking on my cell phone, I can have all of my music and photos in the palm of my hand, I can even video chat with friends and families thousands of miles away — but I still can’t guarantee to my daughter that our legal system will protect her against discrimination. It’s time to fix this.
Recently, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia reiterated his belief that the Constitution does not prohibit sex discrimination. His statements led to widespread disbelief. Really? people often say. In 2011? Michelle Lee’s story tends to provoke similar reactions. Really? That can happen?
Yes. It can. And it does. We need to acknowledge that however much as sex discrimination has been reduced in the past few generations, there are still a lot of sexist views out there. They are held by real people. When those real people have some degree of power, ranging anywhere on the food chain from bouncer to Supreme Court justice, they use those sexist views to make decisions for women.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial segregation, notably in areas of public accommodation, and several forms of discrimination, including most employment discrimination against women. It’s not widely known that women were added to the employment title by foes of the entire legislation, who believed no one could possibly want to outlaw discrimination against women in the workplace. It was considered a joke. It passed.
Let’s say that Michelle Lee takes her case to the courts. Let’s say that case makes it all the way up to Justice Scalia. Given his stated interpretation of the 14th Amendment (which states all persons are entitled to equal protection under the laws) as not including women, and the text and legislative history of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it’s not crazy to imagine him saying it was just fine for the Court House Restaurant to kick her out.
That’s one of so many reasons why it remains more urgent than ever to ensure our Constitution includes an explicit guarantee of equality for women. Sex discrimination is not a joke, and the results of sex discrimination are often far worse than getting turned away for a slice of pizza — it can include getting turned away from health care that only women use, or getting paid less, or not having proper recourse for rape or sexual assault. We must remember sexism still exists and people with sexist views, when in power, continue to make bad decisions for women. Not opinions. Decisions. It’s more urgent than ever to make sure our Constitution includes these necessary words:
“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”