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Equal Means Equal

Documentary sheds light on gender inequalities in the workplace, politics, and the courts, showing us how women have a long way to go in being equal to men.

Mimi Li, Staff Reporter

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96 percent of Americans believe that men and women are equal, according to the 2016 documentary Equal Means Equal. However, the documentary, which is written, directed, and produced by women’s rights activist, filmmaker, and actress Kamala Lopez, shows us how far women are from being equal to men. In all areas of women’s lives, from the workplace to the home to college campuses, they face a myriad of legal obstacles to achieving equal rights and justice. The film was shown in the University-Student Union Theatre last Thursday as part of the Independent Visions film series hosted by the Cross Cultural Centers at Cal State LA.

The documentary includes key figures from the past and present feminist movements such as Ms Foundation for Women Founding President Gloria Steinem, Feminist Majority Foundation Co-Founder and President Eleanor Smeal, and Huffington Post writer Soraya Chemaly. The film won the Best U.S. Documentary Audience Award at Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival in 2016.

Women and men are still not equal under the Constitution, Lopez states in the film. While the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause states that a person cannot be denied equal protections of the law within its jurisdiction, women in sex discrimination cases do not receive the highest legal protection in the courts. The solution, Lopez says, is to revive the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which was introduced in Congress in the 1970s but failed to be ratified.

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” the proposed amendment states.

A recurring theme in the documentary is that women often do not receive justice with the current existing laws. One of the areas in which the law fails women the most is in the field of domestic violence. For example, while domestic violence victims can get a restraining order against their abusers, law enforcement does not have to enforce it, and about 75% of women who are domestic violence victims who kill their abusers in self-defense serve long terms in prison.

One of the film’s subjects is Isabel Diaz, artist and co-founder of Heart of Art, an art gallery in East Los Angeles that provides a space for women, queer, and transgender artists to heal from trauma. Diaz tearfully recounts the aftermath of her sexual assault — She had to walk home with blood on her face while no one around her cared. Later, she was put in a psychiatric hospital, which she felt was punishment for being assaulted.

A discussion was followed by the film screening. Stephanie Abraham, Cal State LA Housing Services Communications and Technical Support Coordinator, recalls a conversation she had with a lawyer in regards to modern legal rights. “What would you say to a person who thinks that the law and the Constitution is BS?” she asked the lawyer. The lawyer replied, “Well, I would say that it is BS but it will affect your life more than you realize.”

Cross Cultural Centers Director Fred Smith noticed that the film differs from usual conversations on inequality, which tend to focus on individual actions.

“What I really appreciated about this film, especially since it’s related to women’s rights, equality, and equity, is that it helps us to see things from a structural and institutional view, looking corporations, boards, and lawmakers, and all sorts of larger structures, which can then help motivate all of us to work not only on an individual level but on a structural level,” said Smith.

Abraham, who is involved in the planning of the Cross Cultural Centers’ annual Take Back the Night, encouraged audience members to attend, volunteer, or speak at the event. The event empowers sexual assault survivors to tell their stories and ends with a rally around campus. The event is on April 26 at 6pm at the University-Student Union Plaza.

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Equal Means Equal