“It’s been an especially rough few years for women in America,” began John Oliver in his main story on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight. “Yeah, no shit, Zazu” responded fed up American women everywhere. And fair enough. But Oliver’s got a very obvious point, as unavoidable realities like attacks on abortion rights, the Republican-led scuttling of the Violence Against Women Act and weakening of Title IX protections, the GOP-steamrollered confirmation of a Supreme Court justice with a long history of sexual assault allegations and “resting beer face,” and the election of one Donald Trump, a president “who thinks of [women’s] genitals as handles,” provide plenty of proof. And while there are millions upon millions of American women fighting back against this overflowing septic system of toxic masculinity, Oliver looked to one, long-thought-lost battle for women’s rights that remains tantalizingly within reach of victory, the Equal Rights Amendment.
Giving his signature tight history lesson peppered with cheeky Britishisms and mock-furious asides (take that, pigs), Oliver laid out the reasons why passing the ERA now is both possible and necessary. On the possible front, he explained how, in 1972, the proposed constitutional amendment (codifying the koo-koo idea that women are born with all the same rights as men) sailed through Congress, and was ratified by 35 of the necessary 38 states for passage. (Oliver noted that Hawaii won the not-being-reactionary-assholes race by okaying the ERA some 20 minutes after it left Congress.) Even Richard Nixon signed off, for crying out loud, despite the proto-Trump-ian efforts of noted anti-woman woman Phyllis Schlafly to tell baldly ridiculous falsehoods to prop up bad-faith justifications for hurting lots of people. And while it is now near a half-century since that initial passage, Oliver explained that two more states (thanks for finally joining us on Planet “No Shit,” Nevada and Illinois) have ratified the ERA, leaving the country just one state away from officially recognizing that slightly more than half of the people on Earth aren’t just malformed man-creatures.
As to why we need the ERA, Oliver pointed to people like the—according to Oliver—thankfully-late Supreme Court “originalist” Antonin Scalia, who famously denied that the 14th Amendment’s protections for American citizens apply to the ladies. And how Donald Trump’s stated goal of putting a passel of little Scalias on every court in the land means a judicial system peopled with jurists whose interpretation of the law rests on “jumping inside the long-dead brains of history’s various misogynists and racists.” So Oliver, displaying the state flags of the 13 states still mulling over that whole pesky “are women people?” dilemma, sent out a rousing, if shade-throwing, call to action. From Virginia (which birthed Chris Brown, Pat Robertson, and Rick Santorum, and therefore owes women a whole lot), to Missouri (whose state flag of “two bears fucking a Christmas ornament” could use some good press for a change), to Alabama (“It definitely won’t be you,” conceded Oliver), to Mississippi (whose displayed flag with its Confederate hate-symbol caused Oliver to cry, “The actual fuck, Mississippi!”) Or to any of the other states (Louisiana, Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, South and North Carolina, Utah, Oklahoma, and Florida) still waffling on whether women are whole humans. Concluding his patriotic pitch with one last spur to act now, Oliver told people in those states that at least they want to get on the basic human rights train before Florida since, as Oliver noted, “I do not want to give them credit for this.”