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Do U.S. Laws Fail to Protect Women?

Equal Means Equal is a documentary by Kamala Lopez that analyzes where American women find themselves in terms of issues like the wage gap, discrimination in the workplace, and rape culture, while also looking at how the present law is working, or not working, to solve these problems.

Lopez, an American director, actress, and activist, was inspired to uncover the shortcomings of America’s legal system in regards to civil rights for women after conducting research in preparation for her film A Single Woman, which tells the story of America’s first Congresswoman, Jeanette Rankin.  

The documentary follows Lopez as she interviews professionals, victims, and activists alike, gathering an inside perspective on the unfortunate current state of women’s rights in the United States. The film also explores and reveals the social and legal ramifications left behind by a Constitution that neglected to include women.

During the Prohibition era, a potentially revolutionary piece of legislation known as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was drafted to rectify this constitutional shortcoming. The amendment stated that civil rights could not be denied based on gender. The legislative act ultimately failed in the 1980s by a landslide when three states refused to ratify it. This event marked a major turning point in the women’s rights movement, and according to Lopez’s film, a negative one.

“Ratifying the ERA would put American women’s civil and human rights on a solid immovable foundation, impervious to the winds of political change,” Lopez explains in her director’s statement. “Equal Means Equal makes the strong argument that full legal equality for women is a solution that has the potential to truly
transform the United States and the world.”

Following the ERA’s defeat, generations of women have arguably been failed and excluded by America’s legal system and “half measures,” such as the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, Title IX, Title VII, the Equal Pay Act, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

The ringleaders and central villains of the discriminatory legislative, according to the documentary, are unfair Supreme Court justices whose rulings are supported by “legal loopholes.” Lopez also specifically blames the late Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, who argued that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not protect against discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation.

Supporting the documentary’s claims are actual cases of women who have fallen victim to a law system riddled with loopholes, especially in regard to gender equality. One case cited was pregnant supermarket employee Reyna Garcia, whose boss forced her to lift seventy-pound boxes. The physical stress exerted resulted in a premature birth and the tragic loss of Garcia’s baby.

Another case included rape victim Leesha Gooseberry, who shot her rapist and kidnapper (a 39-year-old drug dealer) in self-defense. Gooseberry served 26 years until the USC Post Conviction Justice Project came to her rescue and successfully campaigned for her release as a victim of domestic violence.

The documentary, while highly controversial, has earned many positive reviews. Publications such as Vogue and The New York Times commend the film for opening important conversations regarding women’s places in society and in our legal system, whether or not they are being adequately represented, and reform methods to change these policies for the benefit of all genders.

Featured Image by Joe Gratz on Flickr
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