So it turns out that the Equal Rights Amendment had nothing to do with laundry detergent.

Or baseball.

But when you're a kid and you see ERA signs in neighbors' yards and you hear grown-ups arguing about it, you work with the info you have.

So in my world, Era laundry detergent was apparently quite controversial - the Garrecht family used whatever was on sale - and Cardinals baseball fans were adamant about earned run averages.

The real explanation of the ERA, once I finally asked my mom about it, and the need for it, didn't make a lot more sense.

Why would anyone think it's OK to treat boys and girls or women and men differently? Why should a boy get paid more because he's a boy? What if a girl wants to play football? What if a boy wants to join the Girl Scouts because he likes cookies and camping?

In music class I didn't understand why "America the Beautiful" implored God to "crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea." Why wouldn't God crown thy good with sisterhood? I sang it with "sisterhood" and nobody else seemed to notice.

Discovering that girls can't be Catholic priests didn't make a heck of a lot of sense, either. Didn't God make everyone? Why would some of us be more valuable than others? Who is making these rules, anyway?

Mr. Light Blue Sport Coat Teacher told me during school scheduling that I really wanted to take home ec instead of small-motor shop in eighth grade because "girls don't take shop." I remember thinking, "that's weird," but I must have gone along with it. I spent an entire quarter trying to sew one skirt, which of course I never wore.

These few trifling examples are nothing compared with the hardships, true inequality and abuse that many, many women have endured at school, at home and in the workplace as they made progress for us all.

A debt is owed for the fact that many women, myself included, never even thought "but that's a man's job" when making life decisions like marriage, college and career.

Many young women today don't have that frame of reference at all, even as a historical precedent.

If we forget what's gone before to get us where we are, no matter who the "we" are, then we've lost valuable knowledge for the present and future.

President Obama marked the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act with a speech earlier this week. He spoke about the clear injustice of women earning 77 cents to every dollar a man is paid. It's bad for communities, bad for the economy, bad for families, he said. Those statements are all true.

But how about that it's bad for humans?

Framing women largely within the family, arguing that women should earn equal pay because they're financial contributors to middle-class families is a twist on the old rationalization for unequal pay: Men should earn more than women because they had families to support.

Women shouldn't earn equal pay for equal work because they're mothers.

Women and men should earn equal pay for equal work because they are equals.

If the justification for equality includes parenthood, then men and women who don't have children become, or perhaps continue to be, an automatic, if unstated, second class.

Arguing for economic justice for one group of women, while ignoring, even unintentionally, another, isn't progress.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen writes opinion for the Arizona Daily Star. Email her at