ERA. For anyone younger than 50, it's a baseball acronym for pitching success. For the rest of us, it stands for the 1970s-era Equal Rights Amendment. And guess what's planning a comeback on the coattails of Sen. Barack Obama should he emerge victorious November 4? That's right; feminism is speeding back into vogue. "Gains that I thought we had earned in the '70s are being eroded and rolled back," argues New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney. "A lot of our time is spent combating rollbacks, and if we could get the constitutional amendment firmly in place, a lot of our energies would be released to work on other things," says the most ardent House Democratic supporter of renewing the fight for the ERA. A brief history: The ERA passed the Senate in the early 1970s and was sent to state legislatures for passage. But when the 1979 deadline was up, it had fallen three states short of the needed 38. It went nowhere in the Reagan era and, well, didn't seem like a big issue during the past two administrations. Ironically, Maloney says, most Americans just assume it's law. She blames the guys in the media. "There are not enough women reporters out there who might write about it," she says. Maloney and Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal, smelling political victory in Washington for Democrats, say the ERA is needed to cement advances like Title IX and get final approval of the Fair Pay Act. Both think it will have a second chance because Obama has made women's rights an issue and the Illinois senator and his veep choice, Joe Biden, are cosponsors. But before foes start sputtering, let's add that quick passage isn't assured. Says Smeal: "I don't see it passing right away, but it will be moved up."
Illustrations by Joe Ciardiello for USN&WR