Minnesota Feminists Speak Out!

The unofficial blog of Minnesota NOW


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Women’s History Month, Minnesota Edition: Nellie Stone Johnson

In honor of Women’s History Month we’re writing a series of blog posts about famous (and not so famous) women from Minnesota history. Our second post in the series is about African American union and civil rights leader Nellie Stone Johnson.

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Nellie Stone Johnson was born on a farm in Lakeville, MN on December 17, 1905. Her mother was trained as a teacher, though she spent much of her time working on the farm. Her father was a farmer, organizer, and a school board member in Dakota and Pine County. He helped organize the Twin Cities Milk Producers Association and was a member of the Non-Partisan League. Johnson and her family re-located to a larger farm near Hinckley when she was a teenager.

At the age of 17, Johnson left Pine County to finish her high school education by taking extension courses at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. She got involved with the Young Communist League while she was a student and used some of what she learned in her later work organizing labor.

Johnson got a job as an elevator operator at the Minneapolis Athletic Club in 1924, but was fired several years later for labor union activities. She moved on to the West Hotel, where she worked until new owners decided that they no longer wanted to employ African Americans. She returned to the Athletic Club in 1933 and started her (official) work as a labor organizer the next year when her employer decided to cut wages.

Johnson’s life was one of many firsts, despite her assertion that she was simply “a farm gal from Minnesota”. In 1936, Johnson was elected as the vice president of her local union, the Minneapolis Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union. She was the first woman elected to that position. She was also the first woman vice president of the Minnesota Culinary Council and the first woman to serve on a national contract committee where she helped negotiate equal pay for women.

Johnson was active in the Farmer-Labor party in the 1930s and 40s and helped facilitate the merger of the Democratic and Farmer-Labor parties in 1944. She became the first African American elected to a city-wide office in Minneapolis when she won election to the Minneapolis Library Board in 1945. She helped create Minneapolis’ first Fair Employment Practices Commission, which was established by executive order by Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey in 1946, and also spearheaded passage of Minnesota’s Fair Employment and Fair Housing Laws in the 1950s.

Johnson opened her own business, Nellie’s Alterations, in Minneapolis in 1963. In 1972, she campaigned for Van White, the first African American elected to the Minneapolis City Council.

Johnson received an honorary doctorate from St. Cloud State University in 1995. She was a long-time member of the NAACP and the National Council of Negro Women and served on the Minnesota State University Board for eight years. She was also a member of the National Coalition of Labor Women, the National League of Women Voters, the DFL Affirmative Action Commission, and the DFL Feminist Caucus, a former board member of the Minneapolis Urban League, and recipient of the Urban League’s Cecil E. Newman Humanitarian Award.

Nellie Stone Johnson died in Minneapolis on April 2, 2002, at the age of 96.

Sources:

1. Johnson, Nellie Stone, and David Brauer. Nellie Stone Johnson: the life of an activist. Saint Paul, MN: Ruminator, 2001. Print.

2. “Who was Nellie Stone Johnson?” Who was Nellie Stone Johnson? N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

3. “Johnson, Nellie Stone (1905–2002).” MNopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

4. Minnesota, Barb Kucera Workday, and RUSA Leighann Wood. “A Nellie Stone Johnson Timeline.” Workday Minnesota. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

5. “A Brief History of Civil Rights Protection in Minneaplis.” http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/www/groups/public/@civilrights/documents/webcontent/convert_253586.pdf. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.


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Looking Back on 2016, Moving Forward in 2017

Last year was a busy one for Minnesota NOW!

In January we celebrated the anniversary of Roe v. Wade with cupcakes and feminist fun. Here’s a photo of one participant getting their “declaration of bodily autonomy” signed by a Supreme Court judge (AKA Repro Rights committee member).

In March activists attended ERAMN’s Day of Action on International Women’s Day (March 8th). Minnesota NOW also had a presence at Planned Parenthood’s annual solidarity event.

We held our state conference in April at Normandale Community College. Attendees discussed the presidential election and heard from nonprofit organizations like Planned Parenthood and Communities United Against Police Brutality/the Committee for Professional Policing. Awards were given to deserving MN NOW activists and new board members were elected.

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Michelle Gross from Communities United Against Police Brutality and the Committee for Professional Policing talks about police brutality and accountability

Volunteers tabled at the Pride festival in June, while other Minnesota NOW activists attended the National NOW Conference and the Whole Woman’s Health rally in Washington, DC.

In August we hosted our Women’s Equality Day Happy Hour at Fabulous Fern’s. State Senator Dick Cohen stopped by to talk about state efforts to pass an Equal Rights Amendment.

In November, Donald Trump was elected President and Republicans maintained control of Congress. The Minnesota House and Senate are now controlled by Republicans as well.

We played board games and ate yummy food at our holiday party in December.

We also hosted several activist open houses, volunteered on political campaigns, and ramped up our committee work in 2016.

This year we’re going to be playing a lot of defense. Our governor, Mark Dayton, is a pretty strong ally on most of our issues but those in power at the federal level are not. Stay tuned to our website for upcoming events and action alerts.


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I’m with Hillary

by Beth Anderson, MN NOW Treasurer

I’m With Hillary. Always have been. She’s a woman who has been in public life for as long as I can remember. Her issues have been my issues over the years; women’s rights, healthcare, international affairs. And now she is seeking to be the first woman President of the United States.

As a feminist and a woman in a predominantly male field, I can identify with the sexism both subtle and overt that comes with that territory. The first women who dared to enter the fields of science and engineering were punished for their ambition and interests. For many of them their work was stolen, they were under-employed and underpaid, and they faced sexual harassment in the workplace. I can tell you that some things haven’t changed that much over the last 200 years. My electrical engineering class at North Dakota State University graduated under a dozen women in 1983. Most of us have gone on to have successful careers, but we have all faced obstacles rooted in sexism. Some drop out, some change jobs, some challenge the sexism head on. It has been a struggle, though not as bad as it was a generation ago. And the reason for that is the many brave women who went before me, opening doors, demanding rights, and mentoring the next generation.

So when I see a woman actually leading us into new political territory in this country, I can’t help but smile! Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination by a major political party to be the next President of the United States fills me with pride. It has taken a long time, 240 years from that first Independence Day in 1776, to get this far.

However, you can still see the sexism at work. Hillary Clinton is one of the most qualified candidates running for President––ever. Yet she is vilified, made fun of, and scorned by so many. I sometimes think the worst sexism is the more subtle sexism that permeates our society, the damning by faint praise. We hear people say, “Well, she wasn’t my first choice, but I’ll probably vote for her because the alternative is worse.” Really? Why not “Yay! We have a qualified, woman candidate who has worked hard for our issues over the last 25 years and I can’t wait to vote for her in the next election!” If either party had produced a male candidate with Clinton’s credentials he would have been crowned nominee early in the process. That is sexism at work.

I’m not one to say that Hillary Clinton has never made a mistake. Nor will I vote for her just because she is a woman. But I do think she should be judged by the same standards you would a male candidate.

People criticize Clinton for being “dishonest.” Yet PolitiFact, a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims of politicians, has rated her the most truthful presidential candidate running in either party in 2016. If you check out her ratings compared to those of her opponent, there is no question which candidate is the more truthful in their statements. Clinton is held to a different standard; that is sexism at work.

People criticize her for being paid for her speeches, particularly those given to potential constituent groups. As a person who has attended several professional conferences, I can tell you that this is normal. Celebrities, politicians, and experts in their field give speeches to all kinds of groups and are generally paid for their time. For example, in the last several years, both President Bill Clinton and Justice Antonin Scalia spoke at separate National Conferences for the DRI, an organization of Defense Attorneys. I attended both speeches and they couldn’t have been more different. I’m sure they were both paid for their time and for giving those speeches. And yet, I doubt if either Justice Scalia or President Clinton felt beholden to the members of the DRI because they received those speaking fees. Hillary Clinton is held to a different standard; that is sexism at work.

And of course there are the “scandals.” Clinton has been criticized for everything from her lack of interest in cookie baking to her use of a private email server when she was Secretary of State. Yet in investigation after investigation she has been cleared of wrong doing. She has been grilled by journalists, congressional members, and the FBI about everything from her relationship with her husband to her financial practices. Why does Hillary Clinton continue to be the target of scandal after scandal when there has been no evidence of wrong doing on her part? That is sexism at work.

Hillary Clinton has answered to the Senate, to Congress, and to the President of the United States. She has been a role model for women who face extra hurdles competing in a male dominated field. She conducts herself with integrity and never gives up. With all the criticism and challenges that Hillary Clinton has faced over her career, one could forgive her for quitting the field. Yet she has not.

Hillary Clinton is pushing the envelope. She has faced the challenges of sexism head on and won. She has opened doors for the next generation. Hillary Clinton is challenging the status quo and our image of what a President looks like, just like Barack Obama did. It is a privilege in our current time to have this kind of choice. For these reasons and many others, I’m with Hillary. She will forever change what is true and real for our daughters and our next generation of politicians.


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Women of Color Opportunities Act is a Good Investment

This piece was written by our treasurer, Beth Anderson, and published on the Savage Pacer website on April 25, 2016.

Minnesota’s 2016 legislative session is well underway in St. Paul and our Legislature is discussing difficult issues like transportation funding and the copper/nickel mining prospects up north. But I want to draw your attention to a lesser-known series of bills introduced by Representative Rena Moran in the House and Senator Sandy Pappas in the Senate, addressing the educational and economic disparities of women of color in our state. Known as the Women of Color Opportunities Act (WOCOA), this legislation is designed to develop programs for women and girls of color in order to increase their economic success in our state.

The legislation consists of five bills that develop programs in key areas of education and employment and economic development. These bills are common sense ideas and programs that promote the tools that all of our young people need to succeed in our city and state. Yet these same tools have been disproportionally unavailable to women and girls of color. Here is a brief summary of the bills proposed:

  • Increase academic success by decreasing the school suspension rate for girls of color, increasing on-time high school graduation rates, and encouraging girls of color to pursue post-secondary education. (HF 3031/SF 2885)
  • Educate women and girls of color in financial literacy to lay the groundwork for an economically secure future. (HF 3032/SF 2865)
  • Encourage girls of color to explore and pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers by funding competitive grants to community-based, STEM-affiliated organizations experienced in serving girls of color. (HF 3033/SF 2916)
  • Increase the number of women of color in high-wage, high-demand, nontraditional jobs through job skills training and apprenticeships. (HF 3098/SF 3056)
  • Provide small business loans and technical assistance to businesses owned by women of color. (HF 3099/SF 2931)

Here in Savage, with an 82 percent white population, you might ask, “Why should Savage care about the Women of Color Opportunities Act?” My answer is several-fold.

Increasingly our business community relies on a diverse, skilled, and educated workforce. If we hope to attract world-class businesses to Savage and the surrounding communities, we have to be able to provide a workforce that is well-trained and ready to produce. This may mean an apprenticeship in a skilled trade, it may mean a two-year college degree, or it may require an accredited four-year college degree. Any way you slice it, high school drop-outs and illiterate citizens do not cut it in today’s work force.

Our community is changing. In 2000, the city of Savage was 10 percent non-white, in 2010 we were 18 percent non-white, and 2013 estimated statistics showed Savage to be 20 percent non-white. These numbers are pretty typical at state levels, too. As our population ages, more diverse communities are following. According to the Minnesota State Demographic Center, younger Minnesotans are more racially diverse than older Minnesotans. There are three counties in Minnesota where the children under 5 are over 50 percent children of color. More people of color are living in Savage than ever before. This brings diversity and vibrant cultures into our local melting pot. It’s a good thing. But we in Savage must make sure that the necessary components for a successful education and successful employment are also available for this growing community.

Making sure that all of our children have the opportunity to succeed in school and at work benefits all of us. There is a bigger tax base when we are all gainfully employed and there is less reliance on government services. Statistically we have heard a lot in Minnesota about the documented employment gap between white Minnesotans and black Minnesotans — a 2013 study found that blacks were three times as likely to be unemployed as whites. And we have heard a lot about the education disparity between whites and blacks — in 2003, white Minnesotan eighth-graders topped the charts on national math tests while black Minnesotan eighth-graders came in 22nd of the 50 states. This achievement gap has been well-documented and discussed. What has not been clear is how to fix it.

Achievement gaps are often attributed to income level and home environment. Low-income families often have few educational resources. Recent immigrants don’t always have the English language skills needed to keep pace in school or the financial literacy that leads to good economic decisions. The Women of Color Opportunities Act attempts to address these resource gaps head on.

Making sure our women and girls of color graduate from high school, increase their financial literacy, pursue post-secondary education, obtain high-paying jobs, and have the tools available to start their own businesses will go a long way towards ending these disparities and making our communities a better place to live.

The bills introduced in the Women of Color Opportunities Act are administered by two departments: the Department of Education and the Department of Employment and Economic Development. The bills ask for a nominal amount of funding for pilot programs and grants to local community groups to achieve the goals of the bill. In this way, local groups who work with girls and women in the community receive the funds they need to make a difference. Reporting and oversight is at the state level and the pilot programs must be developed so they can be transferred and used throughout the state.

According to the bill’s authors, the estimated cost of this set of bills is about $4.9 million. The Minnesota Management and Budget Office is projecting a $900 million surplus in 2016. It seems to me that this small expenditure — 0.5 percent of our projected surplus — is well worth the investment in our future Minnesotans. You can ask Representative Drew Christensen and Senator Dan Hall for their support at rep.drew.christensen@house.mn andsen.dan.hall@senate.mn.


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Gender Roles: What, Why, and How

This post was written by Colleen, a high school student and new Minnesota NOW volunteer.

Gender roles, defined as “a set of societal norms dictating what types of behaviors are generally considered acceptable, appropriate or desirable for a person based on their actual or perceived sex,” can be found anywhere and everywhere. The concept of gender roles has been around for a loooooong time, beginning with anthropological data of cavemen/women sticking to their pre-ordained duties – hunting for men, housekeeping for women. Fast forward a bit to the Middle Ages when girls prepared to be married off to much older men knowing that the rest of their (most likely short) lives would be dedicated to giving birth, hopefully to sons. Then, of course, the lovely “cult of domesticity” ideal developed in the 1800s, followed by the push against women working outside of the home (because who, then, would cook and clean? M-men?! GASP!).

In today’s society, many people think that feminism is no longer necessary and that gender roles are either a) a thing of the past or b) something rather inconsequential. Gender roles are ubiquitous, widely accepted by many people, and can be detrimental. Gender roles promote heteronormativity (assuming everyone identifies as heterosexual or “straight”) and cisnormativity (assuming everyone identifies with their biologically-assigned sex). Promoting these ideas may seem inconsequential on the surface, but they strengthen institutionalized homogeneity that creates feelings of dissonance in those who identify outside of what is considered “normal.” This leads to an undermining of diversity in all areas that is costly for both the individual and society.

One example of gender roles in action happened just the other day. A few girls in my physics class were discussing Polly Pocket toys they played with in their youth and my teacher asked what those toys were, claiming ignorance because “I’m a boy- I don’t play with dolls.” I was shocked– here was a grown man, using the “I’m a boy” excuse.

Another more global example of gender roles can be seen walking down the toy aisle at your local big box store. The boys’ toys are generally constructed with materials in more masculine colors like blues, reds, and blacks, and showcase “tough” toys like construction trucks, swords, and war-simulating board games. The girls’ options are often pink, sparkly, and affiliated with either princesses or domestic tasks (i.e. play stoves/ovens, baby dolls with fake bottles and diaper kits, etc.). The gender roles reflected in kids’ toys are only the beginning, though – the packaging and advertising of products for adults often reflect stereotypical gender roles as well.

Gender roles are reflected in the common assumption that women will be the ones to quit their jobs upon having a child(ren), in Father’s Day commercials promoting grills and toolboxes, and in the gender-based labeling of myriads of products.  They’re reflected in decisions about who pays for dinner on a date and what boys and girls say they want to be when they grow up. For example, a study done by Dr. Janet Shibley Hyde at UW-Madison showed that when the participants were told that their sex wouldn’t be identified, women exhibited more aggression than men. This shows that gender roles are not innate or pre-programmed; they are taught and conditioned by society. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, girls loving to bake and plays with dolls boys playing with trucks are not bad things. Neither is a guy treating his date to dinner or a woman choosing to stay home with her kids.  What makes gender roles an issue is when they become rigid– which they so often do. It’s detrimental to stop a boy from making cookies with an Easy-Bake Oven “because he’s a boy” or to tell a girl not to play kickball with the boys because its “unladylike.” Women should of course stay at home with their children if that is what they want to do– but not because they feel pressured to do so. One of my best friends was raised by a stay-at-home dad while her mother is a high-level and very successful businesswoman; conversely, my mom chose to be a homemaker and has dedicated the past 30 years to raising four kids while my father worked. Both of these choices are valid– because they are choices and reflect personal fulfillment rather than compliance with societal-designated norms.

Gender roles confine and assume. The roles which should be promoted are those that promote the individual pursuit of happiness, not related to one’s gender/sexuality but to one’s personal passions and vocations. Define your own roles – let the boy wear pink shoes and the girl play football; promote people roles instead. Yay inclusivity! 🙂


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Reflecting on 2015, Looking Ahead to 2016

As we ring in the new year let’s take some time to reflect on the great things we did in 2015 and look ahead to 2016.

In January, MN NOW activists attended the Women’s Economic Security Summit. The Summit was a great opportunity to learn more about the advocacy and public policy work that remains to be done following the passage of the Women’s Economic Security Act in 2014.

In March, ERAMN, including several MN NOW activists, lobbied at the state capitol in support of efforts to finally pass the ERA. By the end of the legislative session a resolution asking Congress to remove the ERA ratification deadline was passed by the Senate. Victory!

We held our annual State Conference at St. Cloud State University in April. Attendees worked on feminism-inspired collages, heard from some fantastic speakers, and bid on some great silent auction items. We recognized a few of our awesome Minnesota NOW activists for their efforts and elected new officers to the board. MN Valley NOW hosted a screening of Paycheck to Paycheck in April and MN NOW had a presence at Planned Parenthood’s annual solidarity rally.

A few of our athletically-inclined members ran in NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota’s “Run for Your Rights” 5K in May.

In June we tabled at the Pride Festival in Loring Park. We handed out some snazzy fans made by a MN NOW member that included pictures and info about some amazing LGBT activists. The Cackle of Rads trivia team, featuring MN NOW members, took home their third straight first place trophy at the Minnesota Women’s Consortium’s Trivia Perusal.

We celebrated Women’s Equality Day in August, with a happy hour at Honey in Minneapolis. Senator Sandy Pappas and Representative Rena Moran talked what inspired them to get involved in the fight for constitutional equality and discussed next steps we can take in Minnesota to make it a reality. We also recruited a few new activists at our Activist Open House.

MN NOW participated in the annual SlutWalk event in October. The speakers were powerful, the performers were great, and the solidarity among the marchers was inspiring. We held the first meeting of our feminist discussion group, Feminist Forum, at the end of October. We’d like to continue this group in 2016 – if you’re interested in hosting a discussion let us know!

In November we participated in Give to the Max Day and raised over $1,200 for the MN NOW Foundation. We also held another Activist Open House and set our priorities for the coming year at our board meeting.

Looking ahead to 2016, we’ve got another great state conference in the works. We’ll continue to host our Activist Open Houses and table at events like the Pride Festival. We’re hopeful that we can accomplish more legislative victories on our core issues this year, including passage of the ERA legislation that ERAMN is supporting, a special session to address racial inequalities in Minnesota, and changes to sexual assault and domestic violence policies.


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Consider Equal Rights Amendment this Women’s Equality Day

This piece was written by our treasurer, Beth Anderson, and published on the Savage Pacer website on August 17, 2015.

By proclamation of the president, Aug. 26 is Women’s Equality Day, the day we commemorate the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote. This year marks 95 years since women were first written into the Constitution and 43 years since the second attempt was made in the form of an Equal Rights Amendment.

Women’s Equality Day was established by a resolution passed by Congress in 1971.

The full text is as follows:

WHEREAS, the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled to the full rights of privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States; and

WHEREAS, the women of the United States have united to assure that these rights and privileges are available to all citizens equally regardless of sex,

WHEREAS, the women of the United States have designated August 26, the anniversary date of passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, as symbol of the continued fight for equal rights: and

WHEREAS, the women of United States are to be commended and supported in their organizations and activities,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that August 26 of each year is designated “Women’s Equality Day,” and the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of that day in 1920, on which the women of America were first given the right to vote, and that day in 1970, on which a nationwide demonstration for women’s rights took place.

The nationwide demonstration referenced is the Women’s Strike for Equality that occurred on Aug. 26, 1970. It focused primarily on equal opportunity for women in the workforce. At the time, women were earning 59 cents to the male dollar.

Every president from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama has since issued a proclamation declaring Aug. 26 Women’s Equality Day. The proclamations are interesting reading. At first they focused primarily on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that was passed by Congress in 1972. Thirty-five states ratified the amendment, but 38 are required to make it part of the U.S. Constitution. Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter expressed their full support of the ERA and urged ratification by the states.

Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama’s proclamations acknowledge and honor the perseverance of women in their fight for equal rights, discuss legislation that has improved conditions for women, and urge us to dedicate ourselves to the cause of equal rights for all. Yet none of these presidents after Jimmy Carter specifically mention the Equal Rights Amendment.

Women’s Equality Day was born out of a national movement recognizing that women should be guaranteed equal rights in the Constitution. It continues to be proclaimed by presidents across the political spectrum, with varying emphasis, but without a doubt endorsing the underlying sentiment of equal rights for women. Americans agree. Polling data indicates that 96 percent of Americans think women should have equal rights and 88 percent of Americans think we should have an ERA added to our constitution.

So why don’t we have one? Is there no political will on the part of politicians? Are we satisfied with the progress women have made since 1970 in closing the wage gap to 80 cents on the male dollar? Are there better tools in the equal rights tool box than legal ones?

Maybe all of these things play a role, but I think the underlying reason we don’t have an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is that we, as citizens, haven’t demanded it. There hasn’t yet been enough talk, enough urgency, enough stories both of successes — such as Minnesota’s Equal Pay Legislation, and setbacks — such as the U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming it was OK for UPS to fire a pregnant woman rather than modify her job duties for the last months of her pregnancy. The issue of an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution isn’t forefront in our public discourse. Until the legal discrimination happens to you or someone you know, it’s not discussed or acknowledged. And even then, it may be easy to suggest this one act of discrimination is just an isolated case.

I don’t know that an ERA would change these experiences without the accompanying changes in our collective expectations of how women should be treated in the workplace, but it does give foundation to protest that treatment and enforce equal rights.

If President Obama again issues a proclamation celebrating Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26, take a minute to discuss what an Equal Rights Amendment might mean for you, or your daughter, or your grandmother. Another tool in the tool box to ensure equal pay, equal opportunity, and equal rights for all, per our Constitution.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Richard Nixon’s 1973 proclamation to that captures these sentiments:

“While we are making great strides to eliminate outright job discrimination because of sex in the federal government, we must recognize that people’s attitudes cannot be changed by laws alone. There still exist elusive prejudices born of mores and customs that stand in the way of progress for women. We must do all that we can to overcome these barriers against what is fair and right.

“Because I firmly believe that women should not be denied equal protection of the laws of this nation and equal opportunity to participate fully in our national life, I reaffirm again my support for the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment can represent a giant step forward in achieving full equality for opportunity for all Americans as we approach the 200th birthday of our nation. I hope it will be speedily ratified.”

Me too.