If you love gender equality and can’t get enough of clever internet memes, then the #passtheERA campaign is perfect for you.
The digital initiative wants to wipe the dust off an old idea and make it feel fresh to a generation that may not realize gender equality isn’t enshrined in the nation’s Constitution. It plans to do this by appealing to younger Americans in their native language: memes.
One image features Supreme Court justice and feminist hero Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a small asterisk in the corner that reads: “is not equal to men in the eyes of the law.” Another image simply presents the text: “Dear Thomas Jefferson, you forgot something.”
With more than three dozen memes and images, the campaign aims take on gender inequality with irreverence, humor, and wit. It also hopes to go viral.
The project is meant to draw attention to the Equal Rights Amendment, the nearly century-old language that would declare the sexes equal in the eyes of the law. Congress passed the amendment in 1972, and a majority of states had to ratify it within a decade. By 1982, the deadline passed with the amendment just three states short of ratification.
Since then, the ERA lost its prominence but never its champions. Legislators re-introduce the amendment every session in Congress. The ERA Coalition, which advocates for the amendment’s adoption, has 50 nonprofit partners, and dozens of celebrity supporters like Ashley Judd, Jane Fonda, and Joss Whedon.
The ERA even went viral in 2015 when Patricia Arquette demanded its passage in her Oscars acceptance speech. Now activists are trying to capitalize on the heightened awareness with the #passtheERA campaign.
Kerry Stranman, head of insights at the “mission-driven” consulting firm enso, helped lead the efforts as a “passion project.” The idea for the awareness campaign came together last year, when it looked like Americans would elect their first female president.
At first, Stranman and her collaborators envisioned a video with celebrities talking about the importance of the ERA and finishing each other’s sentences.
When Donald Trump won the election, suddenly that idea suddenly felt “tone deaf,” Stranman says. As the resistance began pouring into the streets earlier this year, the group drew inspiration from their own participation in events like the Women’s March and decided to create tools to help people start their own conversations about gender equality.
“Instead of making a campaign with a brand, let’s just get people communicating in the language they’re speaking in,” says Stranman.
In April, enso helped convene 35 people from tech and advertising for a hackathon, where they came up with dozens of memes that translate well online. A few of them treat the “men” in the Constitution’s “all men are created equal” as a typo to be fixed with Whiteout, spellcheck, or autocorrect. Others contrast the achievements of famous women like Sheryl Sandberg and Serena Williams with the fact that they don’t enjoy full gender equality.
While Stranman hopes some of the images go viral, they’re not yet equipped with widgets for social sharing. Instead, people must download them and manually upload them to social media platforms. Stranman is hoping to make sharing instantaneous soon. The campaign’s toolbox does offer sample phone scripts so people can lobby their elected representative.
Stranman knows the odds of reviving the ERA are tough in the current political climate. It’s hard enough to get the president of the United States to stop tweeting grotesque insults about women he dislikes.
Nevertheless, Stranman sees an unexpected opening for the ERA in the ongoing heated debate over American politics in the 21st century.
“Now is the time to assert what we demand in terms of what democracy looks like — and frankly to protect ourselves,” says Stranman. “This is so important, so fundamental to our values.”
Now it’s up to the notoriously fickle internet to decide whether it agrees.