Equal Means Equals: A Film and Panel about Women’s Rights

Jenna Gibson

Opinions Editor

On Sept. 18, Millsaps College hosted a showing of the 2016 film “Equal Means Equal”, followed by a panel made up of female upperclassmen. The film promoted the hopes of passing the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and discussed how women are not actually protected under federal law. It also addressed topics like female incarceration, sexual assault and wage differences.

Two of the panelists, Kendall Hardy, a senior political science major, and Emily Hussey, a senior communication studies major, had legislative fellowships last spring at the Mississippi State capital through the Mississippi Women’s Foundation. The third panelist, Myra Cunningham, is a junior political science major who is currently interning with Planned Parenthood Southeast. The three students were chosen to be on the panel due to their interests and involvement concerning political science and women’s rights.

“I think working in state government as a young female, particularly in Mississippi, gives me a unique perspective about what gender and equality look like today, because it’s much more subtle and socially enshrined than it is legally enshrined,” Hardy said.

The Equal Rights Amendment was an opportunity to give women more protection under federal law and, according to the Equal Rights Amendment website, its main claim was that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” The amendment failed in 1982, as it was only ratified by 35 out of the 38 required states.

The film “Equal Means Equal” addresses the ERA as well as other aspects of the fight for women’s rights.

“I love how the film emphasized the women who were at the lowest social and economic classes, rather than the highest. Those are the people we need to be looking at to judge whether or not we have found equality, which the film shows,” Hardy said.

“Equal Means Equal” showed that many women today are not even aware that the ERA ever existed, and are equally unaware of how little protection we as women have. “We’re lucky here at Millsaps that dialogues about these sorts of issues are pretty open. But there is still this huge issue of stigma, ‘the crazy feminist.’ The fact that over 51% of our population isn’t protected under federal law is outrageous. How can we pride ourselves on being a country of progress and equality when our very own Constitution doesn’t reflect that sentiment?” Cunningham said. The fact itself that two out of the three panelists were unaware of the ERA goes to show how history seemed to gloss over this major step in achieving equal rights for all women.

Emily Hines, a freshman political science major, attended the panel. “Millsaps is all about inclusivity, and if we don’t have women sitting at our executive tables then you’re losing a whole point of view. We need to include women, because when we exclude women, we’re not just excluding white women—we’re excluding all women of any race,” Hines said.

At the end of the film, “Equal Means Equal” suggested all viewers to try to become more involved with promoting women’s rights and equality, because any change starts with the individual.

“My advice would be to pick one specific issue that you’re passionate about and work on that, because with things like women’s equality it can be very hard and scary, and it can be easy to get fatigued and be like ‘I can’t do anything’ and feel like you can’t make a difference. But I think just picking one thing to focus on would really help, so that way something could be done,” Hussey said.

To close the panel, local women’s rights activist Jan Hillegas sang a song, “We Will Come Back” (provided below) that she wrote in 1982 after the Equal Rights Amendment failed. Cunningham was able to read sections of the ERA at the beginning of Hillegas’s song, and as Hillegas sang the chorus repeatedly, she encouraged the members of the audience to join in.

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