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

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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, the efforts of ERA supporters could neither outweigh the symbolic actions of its opponents 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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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was a legal/political issue that touched a raw national nerve. Using North Carolina as a case study, the authors see the ERA as a heavily loaded social symbol that catalyzed women and men into translating very personal definitions of sex and power into political action. The first half of their study details the history of the ERA in North Carolina, the scene of six intense ratification battles. The remainder is fiercely analytical, examining what the ERA meant to the three main parties in the drama--the feminists, the anti-ERA women, the male state legislators--and the dynamic interplay of individual feeling and public discourse. There is little room for bias in this perspective; the authors present each point of view as legitimate. The research is stunning in its exhaustiveness. A worthy addition to graduate-level social science collections.-- Donna L. Schulman, Cornell Univ. ILR Lib., New York
From the Publisher
"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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195038583
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 10/18/1990
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.15 (d)

Meet the Author

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.

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Table of Contents

1. Parable: Woman Suffrage and "Manhood" in North Carolina 3
2. "Physiological and Functional Differences": Sam Ervin on Classification by Sex 28
3. "We Just Didn't Realize It Was Going To Be That Difficult": Political Socialization the Hard Way 54
4. "Idealistic Sisterhood Has Gotten Us Nowhere": Dressing for Political Combat 91
5. "We Are Called and We Must Not Be Found Wanting": ERA and the Women's Movement 124
6. "We Don't Want To Be Men!": Women against the Women's Movement 152
7. Men Besieged "On Account of Sex": Bargaining in the General Assembly 181
8. ERA and the Politics of Gender 212
Acronyms 227
Notes 229
Appendixes 267
Index 277
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