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Phyllis Schlafly

Phyllis Schlafly

SOURCE: August Pollak

One of the most outrageous but effective conservative efforts in the last few decades has been the transformation of “feminism” into a dirty word. What began as the label for those who proudly worked on the frontlines to ensure equal rights for women has now been twisted to serve as a code word for alleged emasculating abortionists who can be blamed for everything from excessive litigation to the gay rights movement to the moral decadence of pop culture (see “Janet Jackson, breast of”).

No one has been more influential in this sleight of hand than the conservative movement’s godmother, Phyllis Schlafly, the Trent Lott of gender equality.

For many Americans, the name “Phyllis Schlafly” conjures up images of her circa 1972 – when she was a Donna Reed doppelganger leading a 10-year battle against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). More than thirty years later, you might think this mother of six and leader of the so-called “pro-family movement” would have long since retired to the kitchen where – she claimed – all women belong.

Alas, she has failed to take her own advice. At 80 years old, she’s still waging the war against equal rights that she began in the 1960s, with the gusto of an overzealous preteen. Her weekly newsletter, The Phyllis Schlafly Report (now in its 38th year) lets her fulminate on everything from gay marriage to feminism in academia. She weighed in on the controversy surrounding Harvard University President Larry Summers’ recent remarks about the place of women in science, saying: “The outburst by feminist professors simply confirms the stereotype … that they are too emotional to handle intellectual or scientific debate.” Her newsletter can be read in 100 newspapers around the country and is accompanied by her radio commentaries, heard daily on 460 stations and on the Internet. Instead of leading the tranquil life of a grandma, darning sweaters and cleaning the oven and taking a few moments out of her day to dash off a bit of punditry, she’s still as hot as any of the fiery young pundits the right has, and she too is working the college circuit. In fact, it seems that Schlafly debates on campuses more frequently than any other conservative.

For a woman who once said, “The flight from the home is a flight from yourself, from responsibility, from the nature of woman, in pursuit of false hopes and fading illusions," Schlafly’s own career outside the home took rapid flight when she was very young. She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, at only 19, having put herself through college as any all-American gal would – working the night shift at the St. Louis Ordinance Plant as an ammunition tester, a job which allowed her to show off her feminine side by firing rifles and machine guns. She went on to get an MA from Harvard directly after college and received a JD from Wash. U many years later in 1978. In 1952, she unsuccessfully ran for Congress as a Republican.

In 1964, she came out with the first of 20 books, A Choice Not An Echo, a pro-Goldwater tome that sold over 3 million copies. In that book, she argued that the Republican Party needed to be wrested out of the hold of Eastern moneyed interests. She took a hard line that quickly garnered support: If Republicans wanted to win and compete on the Presidential level, they’d have to denounce the Easterners’ influence and select truly conservative candidates who would draw sharp contrasts with the Democrats, not try to fudge their differences. Schlafly is credited with helping Goldwater claim the top of the ticket, and, although they lost the election, historians argue that Schlafly’s manifesto played an important role in transforming the Republican Party into the conservative juggernaut that it is today.

In 1972, Schlafly founded the Eagle Forum, a conservative organization of which she is still the President. Eagle Forum members have been active leaders in a number of censorship fights – targeting works by artists including John Steinbeck and Robert Mapplethorpe, while simultaneously criticizing evolutionary scientists as the ultimate censors for keeping creationism out of the classroom. (Her criticism includes this choice quote: “It should surprise no one that the United States, land of the free and home of the brave, has the lowest percentage of evolution believers in the world. The highest percentage lived in the former East Germany.”) In 1999, Schlafly and the Forum urged Congress to halt all funding to the National Endowment for the Arts.

Schlafly is best known for her leadership against the ERA, which would have amended the U.S. Constitution to affirm the equality of the sexes under the law. It was passed by the Congress in 1972, but never ratified. Ms. Schlafly rallied heartily around the argument that the ERA would ultimately lead to the legalization of gay marriage. An early manipulator of the culture of fear, she preached from the highest pulpits that the ERA would lead to the creation of unisex toilets, the weakening of punishments for sex crimes against women, and the inevitable drafting of women into the military. Though feminists fought mightily to contest Schlafly’s scare tactics, over time the prospect of Mrs. Jane Doe tinkling in a stall next to a man doing his manly business was simply too much for many Americans to bear. In 1982, the deadline for ratification came and went, with the ERA falling three votes short of ratification.

This mother of six and grandmother of 14 was mortified when her son John was outed by gay activist Michelangelo Signorile in 1992. As outspoken as she is on the topic of homosexuality, she refuses to talk about John. When Signorile asked her at the ’96 Republican Convention how she could both love her son and support a hideously anti-gay national platform, she responded: "Go! Shoo! I’m not putting up with this, I’m just not! Why can’t you people just leave me alone?” – a hypocritical plea for privacy from a woman who devoted her career to telling others how to live their lives.

Last year, when the Abu Ghraib story broke, Schlafly argued that the pictures – particularly the one of female U.S. Army Pfc. Lynndie R. England holding a prone and naked Iraqi male prisoner by a leash – illustrated the severe consequences of a gender-integrated military. In her May 18, 2004 column, she said: “I suspect that the picture of the woman soldier with a noose around the Iraqi man’s neck will soon show up on the bulletin boards of women’s studies centers and feminist college professors. That picture is the radical feminists’ ultimate fantasy of how they dream of treating men.”

Schlafly continues to champion her extreme causes under the banner of faith and family and recently has banded together with other conservative bigwigs in response to such threatening anti-family developments as the Terri Schiavo case and the threat of legalization of gay marriage, to create a 36-page “Family Manifesto,” in support of the natural family and the “pro-family world-view.” There’s no doubt that this radical granny will continue to wage her eternal battle against women’s rights in the years to come.

Quotes:

"Just because there is a small percentage of women in senior management does not prove discrimination. It proves instead that the majority of women have made other choices – usually family choices – rather than devoting themselves to the corporate world for sixty to eighty hours a week." Feminist Fantasies, 2003

On Sex Education (from various Eagle Forum columns):

"Sex education classes are like in-home sales parties for abortions."

"The facts of life can be told in 15 minutes."

"Just tell them to keep your hands out of what’s inside your swimsuits – that takes care of most girls and boys."

"It’s very healthy for a young girl to be deterred from promiscuity by fear of contracting a painful, incurable disease, or cervical cancer, or sterility, or the likelihood of giving birth to a dead, blind, or brain-damaged baby (even 10 years later when she may be happily married)."

"The atomic bomb is a marvelous gift that was given to our country by a wise God." Mother Jones article, (no longer available online)

“Many years ago Christian pioneers had to fight savage Indians. Today missionaries of these former cultures are being sent via the public schools to heathenize our children.” (Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum)

“I suspect that the picture of the woman soldier with a noose around the Iraqi man’s neck will soon show up on the bulletin boards of women’s studies centers and feminist college professors. That picture is the radical feminists’ ultimate fantasy of how they dream of treating men.” May 18, 2004 column

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