Film of an ERA: Film showing Monday at Tampa Theatre examines women's equality

click to enlarge Kamala Lopez, director of Equal Means Equal, at a 2012 event. - Lindsay Aikman/Michael Priest Photography
Lindsay Aikman/Michael Priest Photography
Kamala Lopez, director of Equal Means Equal, at a 2012 event.

Whether it's a Facebook rant or a frightening bout of road rage, activist Wendy Cartwright has noticed what seems like a change in attitudes toward women since November 8.

The presidency of Donald J. Trump — and the surprising defeat of the the first female major party nominee — has ominous implications for women who fight for concrete policies that make equal pay and protection the law of the land, as well as less tangible forms of equality, like challenging sexism.

In her own daily life, she said, she's seen an uptick in misogynistic comments and confrontations since Trump's election — including a man who tried to intimidate her after her car door bumped his SUV in a parking lot in the days following the election.

She thinks the frightening confrontation that ensued probably would never have happened, had it not been for her being a woman of small stature, or, perhaps, the Hillary Clinton sticker on the back of her small car.

“They can go out and they can say whatever they want. It's sort of a freedom. It's like they've let this monster out of the box and we're fighting,” said Cartwright, a cofounder of the group We are Woman. “If you look at Facebook it's happening all over. It's open season on women. And minorities.”

That's why she is helping organize a screening of the documentary film Equal Means Equal, as well as a panel discussion, on Monday night at Tampa Theatre. Directed by Kamala Lopez, the documentary is an examination of the lack of equal protections (and equal pay) for women as a way of underscoring the need for the Equal Rights Amendment, for which activists have long but unsuccessfully fought. Known colloquially as the ERA, the amendment, if ever ratified, would guarantee equal pay and treatment regardless of sex. The ERA was three states shy of ratification in 1972 (35 of 38), but the effort was thwarted by Phyllis Schafly, who mobilized conservative women against it.

In the era of Trump and VP Mike Pence, at a time when most states have Republican governors and legislatures, the amendment isn't likely to see ratification anytime soon. Those who are screening the film see it as a chance not only to remind women that there is still a long way to go, but also to inspire everyone to keep the clock from turning backward.

“We're losing rights,” Cartwright said. “And you know what? People died for our rights. They died so that we could have the lives that we have. And we owe it to them, and we owe it to our children and we owe it to our children's children. And over my dead body will these guys get away with this.”

Specifically, she's referring to executive, legislative and, possibly soon, judicial attempts to erode programs and policies that help women: the Trump administration's possible abandonment of Violence Against Women Act grant programs, Congress's likely repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the ongoing attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“How many people are going and stocking up on their birth control now because they're afraid?” Cartwright said. “Mike Pence passed the most restrictive law on abortion in the country when he was governor of Indiana... It was unconstitutional. Now the man is vice president. He's totally anti-abortion. They go and change these laws, here again, it's women. Women will die. We're talking life and death. Domestic abuse? We're talking life and death. Rape? You can be ruined forever. Some people never recover.”

Monday's event starts with a VIP reception featuring introductory remarks by Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-Tampa) and Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren. A panel discussion follows; WFLA anchor Rod Carter moderates, and panelists include USF women's studies chair Diane Price-Herndl, Tampa Bay Business Journal reporter/WMNF host Janelle Irwin and Susan Smith, president of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida.

The screening and related events begin at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 20 at Tampa Theatre, 711 N. Franklin St. Tickets are available at tampatheatre.org.

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