An Equal Rights Amendment Would Be Harmful
Myra Wolfgang
Testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments

May 6, 1970

My name is Myra Wolfgang. I reside in the city of Detroit. I am the international vice president of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union, AFL-CIO, and also the secretary-treasurer of its Detroit local. I bring to this hearing 35 years of experience in representing the interests of service workers, both organized, and may I hasten to add, unorganized as well. I am a member of the Michigan Minimum Wage Board representing service employees thereon. I have been a member of the mayor’s committee on human relations, and ... I am a member of the current Governor’s commission on the status of women and was a member of the mayor’s committee on human relations, and ... I am a member of the Governor’s commission under the previous two administrations. I am quite proud of the fact that I made the suggestion to Gov. John Swainson that we have a commission of the status of women, and Michigan was the first State to have such a commission.

Service Workers

The service industries which I represent comprise more than 5.5 million women workers. There are an additional 5 million women employed in wholesale and retail trades industries. I represent unskilled and untrained women workers, the majority of whom are not organized into trade unions. They also are not burdened with the necessity of holding philosophical discussions on whether women should or should not be in the work force. They are in the work force because of dire, economic necessity and have no choice in the matter.

My concern with the equal rights amendment, Senator, is not an academic one. It embodies the problems that I work with day in and day out, year in and year out. My concern is for the widowed, divorced mothers of children who are the heads of their families and earn less than $3,500 a year working as maids, laundry workers, hospital cleaners, or dishwashers. And there are millions of such women in the work force. Now is as good a time as any to remind you that only 1 out of 10 women in the work force has had 4 or more years of college, so I am not speaking of, or representing, the illusive "bird in the gilded cage." I speak for "Tillie the Toiler."

I am opposed to enactment of the equal rights amendment. I recognize that the impetus for the passage of the equal rights amendment is the result of a growing anger amongst women over job discrimination, social and political discrimination, and many outmoded cultural habits of our way of life.

And the anger is justified, for certainly discrimination against women exists. I do not believe, however, that passage of the equal rights amendment will satisfy, or is the solution to, the problem. The problem of discrimination against women will not be solved by an equal rights amendment to the Constitution; conversely, the amendment will create a whole new series of problems. It will neither bring about equal pay for equal work, nor guarantee job promotion free from discrimination. It will not compel the partner of a senior law firm to hire a woman lawyer if he has prejudice against a woman lawyer. And may I point out at this time that if threat law firm employs fewer than 25 persons, they are not even covered by title VII of the Civil Rights Act. And I would suggest that would be a good place to start a fight against law firms that won’t hire lady lawyers.

The amendment is excessively sweeping in scope, reaching into the work force, into family and social relationships, and other institutions, in which, incidentally, "equality" cannot always be achieved through "identity." Differences in laws are not necessarily discriminatory, nor should all laws containing different provisions for men and women be abolished, as the equal rights amendment would do.

Being opposed, as I am, to the equal rights amendment certainly does not mean that I am opposed to equality. The campaign for an equal rights amendment, in many instances, has become a field day for sloganeers and has become as jingoistic as the "right to work" law campaign did. The "right to work" laws do not guarantee a job, any more than the equal rights amendment will guarantee equality. To assume that it would is as invalid as to assume that because women have suffrage they are independent.

Threat to Labor Legislation

Representing service workers gives me a special concern over the threat that an equal rights amendment would present to minimum labor standards legislation. I am sure you are aware of the influence of such legislation upon working conditions. And I am sure you are aware that many such laws apply to women only.

They are varied and they are in the field of minimum wages, hours of work, rest periods, weight lifting, childbirth legislation, et cetera.

These State laws are outmoded and many of them are discriminatory. They should be amended where they are. They should be strengthened and they should be handled on a case-by-case basis.

It is difficult to unite women against vague philosophies, so the new feminists look for a focus in the law. Thus, the revived interest in the equal rights amendment. The feminist movement in the main is middle class, professional woman, college girl oriented....

Differences Between Men and Women

Some feminist groups have concluded that since only females reproduce – and to be a mother is to be a "slave eternal" – that nothing short of the destruction of the family and the end of internal reproduction will do. Having discovered "artificial insemination," all that is missing now, in order to do away with women entirely, is discovering an artificial womb.

You will be hearing, I am sure, from many who will contend that there are no real differences between men and women, other than those enforced by culture. Has culture created the differences in the size of the hands, in muscular mass, in respiratory capacity? Of course no. The differences are physical.

Let me add some more. Women on the average – these are averages, Senator – are 85 percent as heavy as men have only 60 percent as much physical strength. Therefore, they cannot lift as heavy weights. They cannot direct as much weight or have the same strength for pushing or pulling of loads.

One can take any cell from a human being and determine whether it came from a male or female. This does not suggest superiority or inferiority among the sexes, it emphasizes differences. Because of the physical – and I emphasize physical – differences between men and women, the questions of protective legislation for women must be reviewed. In addition, the dual role of women in our modern society makes protective legislation necessary.

The working mother has no "wife" to care for her or her children. She assumes the role of home maker and worker and must perform both these roles in a 24-hour period. Even in the two parent households, there is an unequal division of domestic chores. While much could be done to ease the burden of the working woman by men assuming the fair and equal share of domestic chores, they are not prepared to do so. And I am not prepared to become confused with what should be and what is.

If the community does not take action through protective legislation to enable women to work outside the home, then the expressed desire for equal rights is an empty promise and a myth. The equal rights amendment would make it unconstitutional to enact and would repeal legislation embodying this protection for working women. You must ask yourself this question: Should women workers be left without any legislation because of State legislature’s failure and unwillingness to enact such legislation for men?

The elimination of laws regulating hours women may work permits employers to force them to work excessive overtime, endangering not only their health and safety, but disrupting the entire family relationship.

The women in the work force who are in the greatest need of the protection of maximum hour legislation are in no position to fight for themselves....

Unanswered Questions

In this mad whirl toward equality and sameness one question remains unanswered: Who will take care of the children, the home, cleaning, the laundry, and the cooking? Can we extend this equality into the home? Obviously not, since the proponents of the equal rights amendment are quick to point out the amendment would restrict only governmental action an would not apply to purely private action....

I am aware of the recent position taken by the Citizens Advisory Council on the Status of Women [a committee appointed by and advising the president] in support of the equal rights amendment. Since it differs with the 1963 report of President Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women, what has occurred to explain this change? You know, as it is said, in order to know the players, you have to have a scorecard. Well, have women changed since 1963? No. Have the 5th and 14th amendments to the Constitution been changed, repealed, or amended since 1963? The only thing that has changed is the personnel of the Citizens Advisory Council. The new business and professional women whose knowledge of proper labor standards for workers is negligible. And if you don’t believe me, ask the domestics that work in their homes. Not one labor representative is on that Council.

You have been reminded in strong and ominous tones, and I was here yesterday and heard it, that women represent the majority of the voters. That is true. But there is no more unanimity of opinion among women than there is amongst men. Indeed, a woman on welfare in Harlem, a unionized laundry-worker in California, and an elderly socialite from Philadelphia may be of the same sex and they may be wives and mothers, but they have little in common to cause them to be of one opinion.

Whatever happens to the structure of opportunity, women are increasingly motivated to work – and they want to work short hours on schedules that meet their needs as wives and mothers. They want fewer hours a week because emancipation, while it has released them for work, has not released them from home and family responsibilities.

I oppose the equal rights amendment since the equality it may achieve may well be equality of mistreatment.

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