The unspoken assumption is that women are different. They do not
have executive ability orderly minds, stability, leadership skills,
and they are too emotional.
It has been observed before, that society for a long time,
discriminated against another minority, the blacks, on the same
basis - that they were different and inferior. The happy little
homemaker and the contented "old darkey" on the plantation were both
produced by prejudice.
As a black person, I am no stranger to race prejudice. But the truth
is that in the political world I have been far oftener discriminated
against because I am a woman than because I am black.
Prejudice against blacks is becoming unacceptable although it will
take years to eliminate it. But it is doomed because, slowly, white
America is beginning to admit that it exists. Prejudice against
women is still acceptable. There is very little understanding yet of
the immorality involved in double pay scales and the classification
of most of the better jobs as "for men only."
More than half of the population of the United States is female. But
women occupy only 2 percent of the managerial positions. They have
not even reached the level of tokenism yet No women sit on the AFL-CIO
council or Supreme Court There have been only two women who have
held Cabinet rank, and at present there are none. Only two women now
hold ambassadorial rank in the diplomatic corps. In Congress, we are
down to one Senator and 10 Representatives.
Considering that there are about 3 1/2 million more women in the
United States than men, this situation is outrageous.
It is true that part of the problem has been that women have not
been aggressive in demanding their rights. This was also true of the
black population for many years. They submitted to oppression and
even cooperated with it. Women have done the same thing. But now
there is an awareness of this situation particularly among the
younger segment of the population.
As in the field of equal rights for blacks, Spanish-Americans, the
Indians, and other groups, laws will not change such deep-seated
problems overnight But they can be used to provide protection for
those who are most abused, and to begin the process of evolutionary
change by compelling the insensitive majority to reexamine it's
It is for this reason that I wish to introduce today a proposal that
has been before every Congress for the last 40 years and that sooner
or later must become part of the basic law of the land -- the equal
Let me note and try to refute two of the commonest arguments that
are offered against this amendment. One is that women are already
protected under the law and do not need legislation. Existing laws
are not adequate to secure equal rights for women. Sufficient proof
of this is the concentration of women in lower paying, menial,
unrewarding jobs and their incredible scarcity in the upper level
jobs. If women are already equal, why is it such an event whenever
one happens to be elected to Congress?
It is obvious that discrimination exists. Women do not have the
opportunities that men do. And women that do not conform to the
system, who try to break with the accepted patterns, are stigmatized
as ''odd'' and "unfeminine." The fact is that a woman who aspires to
be chairman of the board, or a Member of the House, does so for
exactly the same reasons as any man. Basically, these are that she
thinks she can do the job and she wants to try.
A second argument often heard against the equal rights amendment is
that is would eliminate legislation that many States and the Federal
Government have enacted giving special protection to women and that
it would throw the marriage and divorce laws into chaos.
As for the marriage laws, they are due for a sweeping reform, and an
excellent beginning would be to wipe the existing ones off the
books. Regarding special protection for working women, I cannot
understand why it should be needed. Women need no protection that
men do not need. What we need are laws to protect working people, to
guarantee them fair pay, safe working conditions, protection against
sickness and layoffs, and provision for dignified, comfortable
retirement. Men and women need these things equally. That one sex
needs protection more than the other is a male supremacist myth as
ridiculous and unworthy of respect as the white supremacist myths
that society is trying to cure itself of at this time.
Shirley Chisholm Speech
Equal Rights For Women