Meryl Streep takes crusade for women's rights to Capitol Hill

Actress Meryl Streep has mailed members of Congress a plea to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Hollywood is helping to resurrect the issue.

Shuji Kajiyama/File/AP
Actress Meryl Streep arrives for a photocall for her film 'Into the Woods' in Tokyo in this March file photo. She is pushing for Congress to revive the Equal Rights Amendment.

Members of Congress received a package in the mail Tuesday addressed from three-time Academy Award winner Meryl Streep.

The packet, which included a letter and a book, is part of the actress's efforts to revive the debate around the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which among other things, guarantees equal pay for women in the workplace.   

"I am writing to ask you to stand up for equality – for your mother, your daughter, your sister, your wife or yourself – by actively supporting the Equal Rights Amendment," Ms. Streep wrote in the letter. "A whole new generation of women and girls are talking about equality – equal pay, equal protection from sexual assault, equal rights."

Gender equity issues have long been an top issue in the entertainment industry, where critics say unfair and discriminatory workplace practices have been endemic for decades. Fewer than one-third of characters in American-made films are women, and there are three times as many male directors, writers, and producers as women, according to Gender in Media, an advocacy group.

Patricia Arquette vaulted gender equity to the top of the headlines in February, when she dedicated her best supporting actress victory speech at the Academy Awards to the issue.

"To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation: We have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America,” Ms. Arquette said in the speech.

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union called for state and federal investigations into the hiring practices of film and television studios, alleging "dramatic disparities in the hiring of women directors in both television and big-budget films."

More broadly, the United States Department of Labor says on its website: "Today, women earn about 81 cents on the dollar compared to men — a gap that results in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost wages. For African-American women and Latinas, the pay gap is even greater."

The ERA sought to amend the US Constitution to state 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."

Written in 1920, the amendment was introduced unsuccessfully in every legislative year in Congress from 1923 until it was finally passed in 1972.

But it also needed to be ratified by 38 states; it fell three states short in 1982. Periodic attempts to revive the amendment have been unsuccessful.

Streep has a record of being an outspoken advocate of equal rights for women, signing onto a letter calling for an end to poverty for women and girls by 2030.

By publicly announcing her support for the ERA, Streep joins a list of luminaries calling for the amendment, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

"I would like my granddaughters, when they pick up the Constitution, to see that notion – that women and men are persons of equal stature – I’d like them to see that is a basic principle of our society," Justice Ginsburg told US News and World Report.

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