Did you know that women are not protected against discrimination despite what we thought the United States Constitution said? Most people – most women (even highly educated ones) are ignorant of this fact. Yet daily, and in many ways, the female gender does not receive equal treatment.
Watching the Emmy Awards last night I was disappointed but not really surprised at how few women were even nominated for writer, director or producer awards. Then I thought about what Patricia Arquette had said in her 2015 Academy Awards speech and was eager to see the new film that she helped executive produce with Heroica Films - Kamala Lopez (writer-director) and Gini Sikes (co-writer), Liz Lopez and Jyota Sarda (exec producers), and Joel Marshall, (producer).
Equal Means Equal is an eye opener! Despite what we believed, things are not good for American women. 70% of American women live in poverty. Many of them have faced domestic violence and abuse; many are single parents. Welfare pays a pittance of what they need to survive.
While we say we value our children, parking attendants, who are often male, are paid more than child care workers. Depending on color and culture, women can make as low as .53 cents per the dollar that the males – doing the exact same job - are paid. 98% of businesses have gender pay differences. Women who complain, as Ms. Arquette and Ms. Jennifer Lawrence, find their careers blocked on several levels. Think then about women who do not have the power or voice that these women do.
President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act For Equal Pay (2009) – but unfortunately that is seldom enforced. The courts have ruled that intent to discriminate must be proven AND the woman must file a complaint within 180 days of her initial hire. Many victims don’t realize that their male counterparts are paid higher for months after and even when they attempt to fight it, the corporations (which are treated as people by the court system) often win not only because they have the money and the powerful attorneys, but they also have the time.
It’s been over 40 years now since Alice Paul in 1923 started the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) and tried to get women protected. It went nowhere. In fact, Susan B Anthony, who helped women achieve the vote, was booed by abolitionist because she assisted wives of domestic violence to run away. They were considered property of their husbands.
In 1972 the amendment was brought up again. 35 states were needed to ratify this, yet only 30 did so. In 1979, we still lacked three votes and so the issue was marginalized. Nixon had endorsed it, but Regan opposed it bringing it up again.
When the issue of gender discrimination and protection was presented to the Supreme Court, the late Justice Antonin Scalia declared that women have no right to expect equal treatment or protection under the law. If we want change, we must change the law. The Constitution, as many know, says “men are created equal.” At that time, women were (and in some places still are) chattel and property of their husbands.
Candidate Donald J Trump, himself, has said on several occasions that women need to be in the home and bragged that he would not even change a diaper because it was woman’s work.
Discrimination against women happens not only in pay but in so many other ways. In self defense a majority of domestic violence victims –which happens in ALL cultures, races and economic status - who protect, or attempt to protect, themselves are imprisoned. When authorities are called in, the women are pushed back to their abusers …and often murdered afterwards. Even with restraining orders – really mere pieces of paper – they have no rights. The police have the “option” of enforcing them or not. One woman in Florida, who merely fired a shot in the air to warn her abuser to stay away, was given a 20 year sentence by the same judge who freed George Zimmerman when he was accused of killing Trayvon Martin – merely for protecting herself.
Once in jail, they might be raped by the guards and have no recourse. In fact, rape – which is a violent not a sexual act – is often ignored or treated lightly. Women are called crazy and belittled. Of 100 rapes maybe 32 are reported and of those only 2% of the rapists are punished. (Gosh, they might even get a 6 month sentence reduced to three! Might hurt the poor boy’s career!) When rape kits are used, a majority of them languish in the police evidence room unprocessed for years. The victims are forced to pay hundreds of thousands for their own medical treatment – tests, stitches, etc.
Despite military and college statements that rape victims are given due process and the rape investigated, the violent act is common both in the service and on many campuses. Those who fight for rights are discharged or threatened and shamed away. Even with our Violence Against Women Act, justice can only be had at a state by state level. Depending where you are, that is often nil.
Human traffickers, which is not only a foreign problem, kidnap, and drug, or lure youngsters as young as eleven or twelve, many who have already suffered sexual abuse, from foster homes. When arrested as prostitutes, the girls are jailed, but the 47 year-old Johns are given a slap on the wrist and a minor fine. Many victims, if not used for sexual slavery, are forced into menial jobs as massage workers, cheap child care, and other demeaning work. They have no means to escape and the lives of their families are threatened if they attempt it. One group who tried to help the girls break free was told by the system that no funds were available to assist them. “We need to change the law so that underage girls can be labeled victims instead of prostitutes,” says Kamala Lopez.
With today’s economy very few parents have the option to stay at home with their children. They must work one, sometimes two, jobs to make ends meet. Women who are pregnant are discriminated against. Pregnancy is often not covered by insurance. Representative Jon Kyl (R –AZ) told the hearing that since he had no intention of getting pregnant, he didn’t think that it needed to be included in insurance policies. The pregnant women lose their jobs if asked for lighter loads and are not allowed to return to work once the child is born. Unlike men who are fathers, women with children, are often considered a “bad risk” for employers.
One such Albertson’s Grocery worker (2012) had asked for extra assistance in her department. Instead, they piled more work on her. She continued lifting because her family needed the money, went into premature labor, and while the baby survived, it died 10 days later.
An international organization which tries to assist women says that the Sudan, Congo, the United States and two other countries are among those who refuse to sign the agreement to better women’s status. They ask that 33% of the government be women. Our Congress has less than 20%!
Equal Means Equal is an unflinching look at how women are treated in the United States today. Our current laws are inadequate. This isn’t a date night popcorn movie but a crash course on the nightmare that many women live. (The link takes you to the trailer.)
Don’t be one of the 72% Americans who falsely believe women have equal rights. Don’t be ignorant about gender equality. The documentary film can only do so much. We need to ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) now. Without the ERA, women are not legally entitled to the same rights or protection as men.
With the help of California Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) The Fair Pay Act passed in California and took effect on January 1, 2016, but we still have a long way to go for equality in all the areas.
The film is available in NY at Village East Cinema or on digital platforms: iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, Fandango Now, and Xbox. It does not yet have a distributor, but it is worthy of being distributed!