THE IMPACT OF EQUAL RIGHTS
One of the most profoundly libertarian pieces of legislation ever proposed—the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution—moved a step closer to implementation in October when it passed the House on a 354 to 23 vote. The proposed amendment is limited specifically to government actions; it would prohibit any law or policy on any level of government that treated women differently from men. House supporters beat back an amendment designed to emasculate the bill, by retaining "protective" legislation and draft exemption for women.
This was the second year that the bill has passed the House (after being introduced every year since 1923), but supporters predict another difficult time in the upper chamber. The Senators, generally older, nearly all male, and much more insulated from the public, don't seem to comprehend the demand that women be treated as people. Or perhaps their resistance stems from an inability to cope with the far-reaching changes in our social structure which would result from full sexual equality.
The impact of the Amendment was the subject of a special issue of the YALE LAW JOURNAL. The issue pointed out that the Amendment would have a major impact on domestic/sexual relationships. As legal equals, the age of consent would be the same for both sexes, wives could keep their own names, alimony would be available to either party, and child-custody would go to the best-qualified parent. Changes in criminal law would include invalidation of prostitution laws (unless directed equally at both sexes) and statutory rape laws. "Protective" labor legislation would be wiped out, removing a major argument for paying women less. Maternity/child-rearing leaves of absence would probably become available to fathers as well as mothers. And, yes, women would participate as much—or as little—in the military as men do (and as women now do in Israel).
The authors leave no doubt where their sympathies lie and urge the Amendment's passage because "our legal structure will continue to support and command an inferior status for women so long as it permits any differentiation in legal treatment on the basis of sex."
"Women's Equal Rights Backers Win House Vote for Amendment," LOS ANGELES TIMES, 13 October 1971.
"Facing Equality for Women," TIME, 4 October 1971, pp. 58-59.
UNMENTIONABLES HIT THE MEDIA
Can advertising be a force for social change? When it throws aside old taboos and deals openly with sexual problems, it certainly can. And that seems to be happening with several types of products.
In September television viewers for the first time began seeing commercials for Playtex tampons, a followup to last year's breakthrough for feminine hygiene sprays (begun by Objectivist adman Jerry Della Femina). The new commercials, like those for Scott Paper's Confidets sanitary napkins, are so far being shown only on stations that do not abide by the National Association of Broadcasters puritanical "Code"—the same standard that forbids liquor ads and prohibits drinking any of the beer shown in beer commercials. The manufacturers of feminine hygiene products have repeatedly petitioned for changes in Code policy but so far to no avail. Meanwhile, more and more independent stations are eagerly going after the new advertising dollars.
In the male products area, there has been a new thrust into magazine advertising. Following Julius Schmid Co.'s very low-key ads promoting "birth control for men" in PLAYBOY and similar magazines, competitor Young's Drug Products Corp. has started placing half-page full-color illustrated ads for Trojan prophylactics in such major magazines as LOOK. Although still pitched to the "prevention of disease" theme, the ads are nonetheless a significant departure from tradition. Like the feminine hygiene ads, they may help free this society of some of its destructive hang-ups about sex and the human body.
"Feminine Hygiene and the TV Code," BUSINESS WEEK, 11 September 1971.
A NEW SLANT ON TV NEWS
On November 2, the NET program "The Advocates" presented a significant topic—a debate on "Should Television News Be Exempt from the Fairness Doctrine?" Each week "The Advocates" presents an hour-long debate on a topic of interest and then invites viewers to write in their vote. Past debates have included pros and cons on school vouchers and pro and con on whether the government should drop its case against Daniel Ellsburg (63% said it should). The total number of votes cast is around 8000—small enough for libertarian votes to make a difference.
This particular show was interesting in that there was a libertarian (and former OBJECTIVIST author) on each side of the debate! Star witness of the "yes" team was Edith Efron, author of THE NEWS TWISTERS and staff writer for TV GUIDE. The star witness for the "no" team was Jeffrey St. John, columnist and CBS and NBC news commentator.
The basic position of the "yes" team was that while it was very desirable to get the government completely out of TV licensing, this was not technologically feasible, given the limited number of VHF channels. (No mention at all was made of UHF and only brief mention of cable TV. Miss Efron mentioned only "pay TV".) Meanwhile, therefore, the stranglehold—that liberal viewpoints have in the networks should be broken by FCC extension of the fairness doctrine into news broadcasting.
The "no" team took the position that the fairness doctrine already represented encroachment into free speech and that to extend the doctrine was to extend coercion. The point was made at length that most towns have more TV stations than newspapers and that if the three networks represent a monopoly to be regulated, then newspapers and the wire-services that feed them would logically be subject to the same regulation.
No mention was made by either side of the spectacular failure of the government to apply the fairness doctrine to itself or to "public service" broadcasting. (REASON editor Tibor Machan once tried unsuccessfully to obtain equal time to argue against the government's ads for Savings Bonds and the Peace Corps.) The most important point, however, was that both sides explicitly wanted the government out of any normative licensing—the only quibble was over what to do until that end can be achieved.
TILL THE END OF THE CONTRACT…
One of the holdovers from the days of 40-year lifespans is the ideal of marriage "till death us do part." Mounting divorce statistics (one out of three marriages in California, one out of four nationwide) belie our devotion to this ideal—and were it not for inertia, financial ties, restrictive divorce laws, and of course "the children," one wonders how high the rate might go.
One way of facing reality might be to make marriage contracts for shorter terms, with options to renew. This idea was proposed this year in Maryland. Two female legislators, Lena K. Lee and Hildagardeis Boswell, introduced a bill in the House of Delegates last February that would have permitted three-year, renewable marriage contracts. Delegate Boswell stated, "I'm a firm believer that you shouldn't be shackled to people whom you love. I'm also a firm believer in trying to adjust yourself as easily to marriage as possible, and, if it doesn't work out, getting out as amicably as you can.…I'm quite sure the church won't like this, but with the 18-year-old vote coming in, I think the youngster will look upon this as a totally new approach toward marriage and a family situation."
The bill failed to pass, but Ms. Boswell is now writing a book on the contract marriage concept to lay the groundwork for future legislative attempts.
"Nuptial Vows Would Expire in 3 Years," Associated Press, 26 February 1971.
"Her Bill Failed to Pass But Had Other Results," UPI, 18 October 1971.