Political InQueery: Where in the World is Phyllis Schlafly?

Everett Maroon
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Everett Maroon is a memoirist, essayist, and fiction writer originally from New Jersey and now living in Walla Walla, Washington. His blog is transplantportation.com and he tweets at @EverettMaroon.

If Alice Paul had gotten her way, the United States Constitution would read:

Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Alice Paul on the telephone linesThis, her proposed text of the Equal Rights Amendment, has never come to pass. Drafted by Paul and introduced by two Republicans in 1923—one of whom was Susan B. Anthony's nephew—the ERA was introduced by the GOP in every congressional session thereafter, until 1980. Nearly 60 years of finding a sponsor, and for all but three of those years, ERA died in committee. In those other three years,  it either failed on a close vote in the Senate, or it passed, but with a rider that none of its supporters could stomach.

Much of the Democrats' resistance to the amendment was due to their belief that it would effectively take away gains made for labor unions, giving anti-unionists justification to abolish labor laws accorded to men or women instead of extending them out to both sexes. Eleanor Roosevelt believed that women deserved specific protections from the government as part of the New Deal—she'd worked to limit the number of hours women could be required to work—and she decided not to support the ERA rather than see these protections removed.

Decades after these conversations regarding equal rights began, the ERA finally got some traction. In 1970 Congress agreed to hear testimony regarding the need for an equal rights amendment, and here is where Gloria Steinem, then a journalist and a member of the Democratic National Committee, made an impassioned plea to the Senate. This is interesting to me for many reasons, not the least of which is I kind of can't see anyone caring about anything a journalist would say to the Senate regarding the justification for a new constitutional amendment. What's that you say, Geraldo? We'll get right on that, Ms. Stahl.

ERA states who did and did not ratifyThe bill passed both houses of Congress and received an official endorsement from President Nixon; now it needed ratification by two-thirds of the states within seven years.  Here is where a certain woman named Phyllis Schlafly entered the picture. Schlafly had been a vociferous conservative for years, authoring, by that point, nearly half a dozen books about Presidential selection and arms control. When states began ratifying the ERA, Schlafly spoke up and warned against its passage, saying it would lead to drafting women into the military and end dependent benefits from Social Security. Although five states ratified the ERA after she launched her campaign against it, five more rescinded their ratification, and with only 30 of 38 states in support, the amendment failed. While the amendment would not have say, insisted on parity in men and women's salary compensation, it could have had an effect not conceptualized in 1972: it could have invalidated restrictions on taxpayer-funded abortions.

Case in point: New Mexico. In 1998, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled 5-0 that the state ERA, which is very similar to the proposed federal ERA, prohibited the state from restricting abortion differently from any other "medically necessary procedures" sought by men. The court ordered the state to pay for abortions under the state's Medicaid program. Fifteen other states have state-level equal rights amendments similar to the New Mexico and proposed federal amendments.

So where in the world is Phyllis Schlafly these days?

Well, in 2007, support for an ERA began to swell up again, and this time Schlafly popped up to argue that it would lead to same-sex marriage and, again, deny dependent benefits for housewives and widows. At this point, I think someone should let Ms. Schlafly know that women often now get Social Security benefits off of their own work records, and not that of their husbands, and there are a hell of a lot fewer "housewives" out there. 

Phyllis SchlaflySchlafly is one of the first among the far-right to speak of "moral conservatives," driving social issues to the top of the GOP's priority list. She is also the person who coined the term "activist judges" that we've heard so much about and that seem to be shorthand for "judges who write moderate to progressive briefs in their judgments." Through her own publishing house, Pere Marquette Press, she continues to put extreme conservative opinions out in the market place, and with Texas's recent changes to its social studies curriculum by its Republican Board of Education, Schlafly now will get a lot more air time in their schools. And I'll note here that Texas sets the unofficial standard for most of the country's primary and secondary schools, insofar as Texas is one of the largest textbook purchasers; publishers look to see what Texas wants in the way of lesson plans and content, and those preferences trickle down to books sold for schools in other states.

Schlafly still makes news, even at age 85. As an octogenarian, she received an honorary degree from her alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis. Many of the graduates stood up during her acceptance speech and turned their backs to her in protest. Dude, I just wouldn't go. I try not to spend quality time around people who say that getting married is automatic consent, making marital rape impossible.

Founder of the Eagle Forum, her vehicle for her newsletter and a funding machine for right-wing political candidates who are even more reactionary than Mike Huckabee, apparently. The Eagle Forum's positions are against vaccinating infants, but are pro-life, should babies make it through a Hepatitis B infection, for example, for women to be homemakers—continuing her justification for resisting the ERA (so clever of her!), and against same sex marriage. So I guess it's no marriage for her eldest son, who is out, proud, and conservative. Isn't there a Law & Order episode about a family like this?

Her viewpoints will continue on, not just in Texas, but via her other son Andrew's Web site, Conservapedia. (I swear I am not making this up.) But don't take my word for it, listen to him explain the "portal" on The Colbert Report.

So, Phyllis Schlafly is alive and well, and working on the next generation of haters—I mean, social conservatives. I wonder if she's receiving those Communist Social Security checks.


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16 Comments Have Been Posted

Ugh, it's like she's Sarah

Ugh, it's like she's Sarah Palin's mother or something.

Not really. She has scarily

Not really. She has scarily educated herself in the hateful rhetoric and effective "logic" arguments of her party and presents a compelling and "sympathetic" case/face for conservatism. Her fire is often equated to Texas politician Ann Richards for whom she bears no similarities to. She's <em>worse</em> than Sarah Palin and oddly enough the reason for her existence.

Ev, this was fantastic. That last line was a zinger.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

she is a model for Palin's

she is a model for Palin's rhetoric, though I think if she were her actual mother, Palin would have turned out to be a die-hard liberal out of sheer teenage rebellion. ;)

ha. Very true, Ev. Her

ha. Very true, Ev. Her rhetoric makes sense in so far as it clearly outlines the conservative viewpoint.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Her oldest son, John, is a

Her oldest son, John, is a die-hard liberal - and, he's also gay. Remember her gem of a statement to the AP years ago? "[John] thinks he's always been. But about this thing of being born gay, he doesn't know that. I don't
know if anybody knows that.''

On an unrelated note, Ev, I love this blog!

where is Phyllis Schlafly?

A few years back she was speaking at my college and stirring up trouble. One little poster defacement and suddenly the dean is involved. Not my fault the old bat looks good with mutton-chops...


I'm all for small acts of resistance against an institution doing something foolish like inviting Phyllis Schlafly to speak, but as Everett has detailed above, there's plenty of reasons to hate on Schlafly without resorting to ageist ("old bat"), and transphobic language ("looks good with mutton chops"). Let's keep it classy.

throws arms into the sky...

Sometimes I think you go out looking for something to be offended by. Drawing facial hair on a picture is a common form of defacement not a comment on gender.

Something to be sensitive about

I don't think it's the drawing of the mutton chops, but the way you posed it in your comment...that a woman looking masculine, or vice versa, is an acceptable way to cut someone down is transphobic/problematic.

Lighten up, folks. A) she

Lighten up, folks.

A) she IS old, the article mentions her age, no one is trying to oppress her or take away her rights or means of making a fair living, etc. Calling this toxic, evil person an "old bat" seems remarkably restrained to me.

B) Gender-bending as a gag is as old as the hills and crosses cultures. It has nothing to do with transpeople - it's theater of the grotesque, and not as "oh wow, that's gross." These knee-jerk reactions to what like-minded people say is not only embarrassing, it's infuriating because I don't see HALF of that energy out there on the streets at protests and demonstrations and in real efforts to change things as I see online.

Holy crap, I don't know what's become more exasperating, fighting the power or fighting each other.

With all due respect,

With all due respect, there's a difference between citing one's age, and calling someone an "old bat," which is a particular way of dismissing someone for their sex and age in one fell swoop. I don't think we on the Left can afford to dismiss Schlafly or other ultra-conservatives because their arguments are too appealing to too many people. Further, I'd rather debate her on the merits of our respective arguments instead of resort to sexist or ageist catcalls.
I would never call drawing mutton chops on a picture of Phyllis Schlafly "gender-bending." Gender-bending is an intentionally subversive, performative act taken up by individuals for the purposes of casting doubt on the traditional gender binary. Drawing a mustache on a woman, while enacted many times by primary school children—myself included, at that age—is done to poke fun at or otherwise deface representations of people one does not like. And in the context of calling Schlafly an old bat, drawing a mustache on her, as an act of mocking her, does strike me as more than a mite transphobic. It may not have been the "artist's" intention, but as a transperson myself, I would be inclined to read it that way.
Finally, these aren't knee-jerk reactions. I intimated to Kjersten that I wasn't comfortable with the comment, and I'm grateful that she addressed what was problematic with the comment.
All of this is to say, I wouldn't have been happy about seeing posters of Schlafly as a speaker on my campus, either.

Not fighting words

My comment was not meant to be antagonistic, it was a reminder and enforcement of our <a href="/comments-policy">comments policy</a>, which says "Think about the language you’re using."

And just because people are like-minded on one issue does mean they have the same understanding of oppressions across the board.

I think she (Schlafly) would

I think she (Schlafly) would be particularly offended by being turned into a "man" with a marker mustache. It's like if someone gave her a mohawk--a lot of people don't mind mohawks but would agree it's funny to imagine her with one, knowing she'd never do such a thing. From what I've read, she's big on pointing out the differences between the sexes: to suggest she's a man or has "male" traits could be quite offensive to her, which is what the moustache-drawer wants.

The moustache could also be a commentary on how little she follows her own beliefs/advice for women. I read she says it's a tremendous sacrifice for her to have a career, be out in the "male" world, etc., but she sure seems to enjoy it.

Didn't she also say the ERA would lead to single sex bathrooms? The ridiculous claims she came up with were mind-boggling.

And it worked.

Not only did she say it would lead to single-sex bathrooms, that argument was taken very seriously by many people. Discussions of pay inequity would be sidetracked into the bathroom question and thus the ERA was lost. But, it is not too late. A new generation of voters raised in a world that respects equality will pass it. The irony being, it will pass as soon as it is no longer needed.

current information

Love this piece on Phyllis. She is indefatigable. I met her in 1982 and I thought she was a senior citizen then.
You may be interested to know that in 1948, Alice Paul rewrote the ERA, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." This proposed amendment has been introduced into every Congress since including the current 111th. Introduced by Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) it is HJ Res 61.
You can call her office and offer your support. for up to date info - see http://eraonceandforall.com

Thanks, Zoe! I am interested

Thanks, Zoe! I am interested in that language. I did get a chance to look at Rep. Maloney's Web site the other day, and I think it's possible that the ERA will get some traction in Congress again at some point, though as I discovered researching Schlafly, the stakes have changed over the years, and I expect any real progress on that front will be met with severe, organized resistance from anti-abortion folks.

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