Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
It is time…
For my documentary, Equal Means Equal, I spoke to women across the US to argue that full equality under the law must be enshrined in the constitution
September 7, 2016
These words were uttered to me in 2009 by an actor in full early 20th century suffrage costume at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.
I was stunned. Americans didn’t have sex equality in their constitution? How did I miss that? I was educated, graduated Yale – in fact, I was at the Smithsonian to screen my film about the first US congresswoman Jeannette Rankin (A Single Woman).
Could it really be true, I wondered? I decided to take a closer look at the status of women in the United States and the myriad of issues that affected them. With the help of my mother and husband, as well as executive producer Patricia Arquette, co-writer Gini Sikes and participating experts such as journalist Gloria Steinem and congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, I crossed the nation and spoke to hundreds of women. Activists and housewives, survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking or rape; victims of corporate discrimination from vice presidents to minimum wage workers.
My documentary Equal Means Equal, which was released on Tuesday, is the fruit of this work. The film is a comprehensive argument for finally giving American women what everybody thinks they already have, a basic principle that the United States exports all over the rest of the world: equal rights for women.
When our constitution was written in 1787, women had no rights whatsoever. We were chattel – owned first by our fathers and then our husbands. In fact, the legal model of wives was used as the basis for the legal model of slaves. In 1920, women achieved the right to vote.
Absolutely nothing has changed in our constitution since then to provide women with additional rights. This fact contradicts the ubiquitous rhetoric of American female “empowerment” and the general consensus that women today can be/do/have whatever they want. We can have it all! We can be president! We can swipe right on Tinder!
The reality is that women in the US are in perilous waters. Three women a day die at the hands of their intimate partners; only 3% of rapists will ever see a day in prison; in Los Angeles County last year, the pay for Latina women dropped to 44 cents on the white male dollar; 13-year-old victims of human trafficking are criminalized while their 47-year-old male johns get a ticket and a slap on the wrist; pregnant women are routinely fired for needing an extra bathroom break. The list goes on.