Studies of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and its eventual defeat are by no means in short supply. However, the scholarly research in this area has paid little attention to the five states that initially ratified the amendment but later rescinded their votes, choosing instead to count them amongst the 35 states that officially ratified the amendment. This simplistic “ratified/non-ratified” approach runs the risk of masking crucial decisions and patterns that are unique to the five rescinding states, and which may have helped shape the eventual defeat of the amendment. In this comparative historical study, I examine the factors that explain why and how Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota, Kentucky, and Tennessee rescinded their initial votes for ERA ratification. I employ content analysis of primary and secondary sources from each rescinding state from the period between 1972 through 1982. The data presented here consist of historical documents from state-level chapters of three pro-ERA organizations, legislative documents, and newspapers. Drawing on multiple social movement perspectives, I find the decision to rescind reflects a retrenchment of pro-feminist ideology followed by a backlash of the conservative gendered order. In this paper I demonstrate how the opposition, through a process I call constructed confusion, or the social manufacturing of confusion, exploited uncertainty and propagated misinformation to reframe rescission as a moral and social corrective. Aided by the slow and ineffectual response by proponents to combat these efforts, rescission was used to maintain inequality by preserving the very power structures that legitimized it. Ultimately, the decision to rescind is a story of hegemonic power and its reproduction.
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Last updated March 23, 3016