Archive for Wednesday, April 9, 2003

Jessica Lynch deserves ERA

April 9, 2003


At 19, Jessica Lynch could be Everygirl USA. But in Iraq, she was an American soldier, an Army private first class. And after last week's U.S. special operations forces' rescue of the supply clerk at a Nasiriyah hospital -- a facility replete with what U.S. officials call a "prototype" torture chamber -- Lynch, along with her rescuers, is a true American hero.

With several broken bones, Lynch is now recovering after back surgery at a U.S. military hospital in Germany. President Bush calls her a "daring young soldier." Unnamed U.S. officials told reporters that Lynch fired back at the Iraqi paramilitaries who attacked her group until her bullets ran out and she was captured.

A decade ago, during the Gulf War, many Americans wondered if female soldiers should be part of the action. Today, Jessica Lynch provides the answer with her own grit and blood. Women can be as fierce as men. They may not be as big physically, on average, as men, but in a wretched war, when a dictator has no qualms about turning innocent civilians into human shields, female soldiers are proving they have what it takes.

U.S. military rules that keep female soldiers off battlefields can be meaningless in the dunes of this war. One wrong turn, as Lynch's 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company made two weeks ago, and enemy ambushes can happen.

Which brings us to the curious debate now under way in Florida's halls of government to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Gov. Jeb Bush calls it a "retro subject, like going back and wearing bell bottoms."

Fashion police memo to the governor: Bell bottoms have been back for a few years now. Reviving the fight about this amendment is really about our belles sharing all rights with the beaus.

At first blush, the push to bring back the ERA -- a symbolic gesture that would put into the U.S. Constitution what several U.S. laws ensure: equal rights for all Americans -- seems unnecessary. But if it's so unnecessary, then why all the scare tactics by the amendment's detractors?

What's to fear?

When the Florida Senate dealt the final blow to the amendment in 1982, after a decade-long push to make it part of the nation's Constitution, scare tactics ranged from "equal rights" causing women to have to share public restrooms with men -- oh, my! -- to our being called to the military draft, forced to fight and held prisoners of war.

Reality check: We've had brave women die for our country, held as prisoners of war and forced to fight in our current volunteer military and way before that. As for restrooms, separate but equal is fine.

Now the ERA's detractors are using gay marriages and adoptions as the bogeyman to ratification. Please, spare us the fright tactics.

I was younger than Jessica Lynch when the ERA began its push for ratification by the states in 1972. The best argument for the amendment was to ensure equal pay for jobs of similar worth. Today, the wage gap persists, though it has narrowed, between men and women who have comparable jobs and experience.

Republican Sen. Alex Villalobos, the amendment's sponsor, says he's going out on the limb for the sake of his daughters. You go, boy!

But House Speaker Johnnie Byrd says the women in his home -- including three daughters, one a Navy pilot in training -- don't care for the amendment because "they didn't want to be victims."

I don't know if Jessica Lynch would believe the ERA is about victimhood or empowerment. But on the home front, this Orlando-area gal and many others who have lived through a whole lot of revisionist history see it as nothing more than the right thing to do.

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