Representative Keith Sommer
216 – N Stratton Office Building
Springfield, IL 62706
Dear Representative Sommer:
I am sending this letter to both your Morton and Springfield offices in the hopes that one of them will reach you (and that you actually read it) before you have the opportunity to vote on a historic constitutional amendment, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which will affect not only citizens in your district, but all of Illinois, and the nation.
As you are aware, the national spotlight is once again on Illinois for at least two reasons. First, the Illinois General Assembly will vote on ratifying the ERA in the near future to amend the U. S. Constitution to assure that women in America are treated under the law equally to that of men. This vote, granting equal rights to men and women, has huge significance for your daughters, my five grand-daughters (who all live in Illinois), and millions of others’ daughters in our country.
It was with enormous distress that I heard from ERA advocates last week that you informed people that you intend to vote no on the ERA. When I asked “Why would he do such a thing?” I was told, and please correct me if I am wrong,” that you said that in custody issues, “women should have custody because women are the nurturers.” That’s your answer to why women shouldn’t have equal rights to men? Not only am I distressed, I am appalled at such a simplistic response . People tell me it’s your age speaking, but it sounds like some thoughtless, throw-away line, and it doesn’t suit an elective official of our well-educated county.
Apparently, you as a father of two daughters, don’t think you have a nurturing role, and perhaps you have not exercised such a role in your family. Again, men of your age and generation have held very stereotypic views of what it means to be a man or a woman. However, the more enlightened. including Thomas Jefferson, founder of your alma mater of the University of Virginia, noted that society changes and evolves, and as knowledge expands, so must our laws adapt to this new knowledge. (The quotation is on the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D. C.) My own mother placed her four children in an orphanage and abdicated her custodial and parental role to a bureaucratic institution. My own husband, raised in an Italian-American family, was as nurturing to our children as any human could be. Nurturing is a function of learning and caring, not of gender.
I am surprised that you haven’t noticed that some biological mothers have abandoned their children, abused them, neglected them, or even “pimped them out.” (Read “The Glass Castle,” a best selling true-life story of such a non-nurturing family, written by Jeannette Walls.) Some fathers do indeed win custody of their children because that parent is healthier and better able to act in the best interest of their children. The point is that the needs of the child are the paramount subject of concern, not the parent’s gender! Any qualified social worker can give you more details on this issue.
The ERA will also deal with economic inequities between men and women doing the same work. That your vote against the ERA would perpetuate the obvious earning inequality is unacceptable. Assuring equal pay for equal work strengthens families by lifting their ability to provide for more than basic food and shelter. Further, educational achievement of children is directly linked to family income. I can hardly believe that you would vote to limit your own daughters’ future earning capacity and that of their families. Do they know that you are willing to have their male counterparts be paid more than they are paid simply because of their gender? Further, women are less likely to be promoted even when they have equal credentials. Women are more likely to be burdened with debt and required to have co-signers on car loans and mortgages. How can you think that this is fair and right? You did not strike me as a man who would want less for his daughters than they are capable of achieving for themselves and their own families.
Legislators in 36 other states have ratified the ERA. The fact that your proposed vote of no would correspond to the actions of those in southern states that historically have fought against civil rights in all categories—racial and gender—is un-American. Is this what you want as a legacy for yourself? Is this what you want your future grandchildren to read about you? Surely, not.
A second reason a spotlight is on Illinois has to do with the sexual harassment charges made by other legislators, lobbyists, and staff from under the Capitol dome about their bosses’ and colleagues’ behavior toward them as females. When women are viewed as lesser, that is, they are viewed as not having equal status with men, the workplace culture allows and promotes women being treated inappropriately. Do you want your own daughters, and my granddaughters, to be treated as lesser beings—as merely sexual objects? Are you aware that sexual assaults on women in general are not treated as quickly or as thoroughly as assaults on men? Or, that women are often viewed as asking for or promoting their own attacks? Do you really believe this is fair? Law enforcement practices should treat crimes against women as seriously as they treat crimes against men. The workplace culture –wherever that is—a business, university, the Capitol dome—should treat men and women humanely, fairly, and honorably.
You probably heard that others of your colleagues, including Senator Jason Barickman and Representative Dan Brady, have or are changing their previous votes of no on the ERA to yes. I am asking that you reconsider your previous intent and vote yes on the ERA for your district, your state, and your country. Some of my friends have said they have given up on you. I am not yet ready to do so. I am hopeful that when you look at the faces of your two daughters, you will see that they deserve to be treated equally under the law to any others. If you won’t do this for my five granddaughters, please do this for yours.
Representative Sommer, vote yes on the ERA and be on the right side of history this time.