My husband Fred says a woman’s place is in the house—the U.S. House of Representatives. —Phyllis Schlafly
Phyllis Schlafly, who died a few days ago at the age of 92, is known as a heroine of grassroots conservatism and anti-feminism. She famously helped defeat the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the 1970s and she was an outspoken critic of second wave feminism. However, a look at a few aspects of her life and career reveals that she is a flimsy example of an anti-feminist.
First, Schlafly, like so many feminist-oriented women, handed over her responsibilities as a housewife to professionals, which her husband’s wealth allowed her to do. While Schlafly claimed that woman’s most important job is to be a wife and mother, she herself rejected the role of housewife to become a political activist. When her children were still young, she embarked on a busy schedule of speaking engagements, writing projects and activism.
During the woman suffrage campaign in the U.S. in the early 20th century, a group of women formed an anti-suffrage league and began campaigning against suffrage in defense of traditional values. The women who began speaking and writing against suffrage were criticized by their counterparts in the suffrage camp because “antis” had taken on the role of political activist, the very work they claimed women shouldn’t do. However, these women were not professional political activists but were amateurs whose “careers” as activists started and ended with the anti-suffrage campaign.
Schlafly, on the other hand, who claimed she was essentially a housewife, was never simply a housewife, not even when her children were very young (she was only 27 when she volunteered to run for Congress).
Schlafly was fond of opening speeches by saying, “I want to thank my husband, Fred, for letting me come here,” but she also admitted she liked saying it because it irritated feminists. It’s doubtful that during her career as a political activist there was ever any real threat that her husband would keep her from doing anything she wanted to.
Schlafly was one of a brand of feminists—“closet feminists” who want to have their cake and eat it too. They disassociate themselves from the aspects of feminism that are ugly to them, such as abortion, and embrace the aspects that suit their personal ambition. (I discussed these “closet feminists” at length in the essays, The Many Faces of Feminism and Why Catholics Can’t Be Feminists.)
Second, Schlafly was championed for being instrumental in defeating the infamous ERA, a piece of legislation that was set to enshrine feminist ideology in the Constitution. While Schlafly did run a successful grassroots campaign to defeat the amendment, the “success” only put off the implementation of all the things Schlafly feared the ERA would enable if passed. What does it matter if women aren’t forced into combat roles if they choose such roles willingly, for example.
And here we come to the crux of the problem that Phyllis Schlafly represents. Conservatism in the U.S.—grassroots or establishment—and liberalism are two sides of the same liberal democracy coin. The reason things get worse and worse in the U.S., from a conservative “family values” point of view, is not because liberals have the power, but because the U.S. is a liberal democracy founded upon the Godless ideals of the Enlightenment. America’s downward spiral into moral decadence has reached new heights at the very time social conservatives have become politically savvy and mobilized.
The problem is liberal democracy, not liberals. As long as “conservatives”—a term that is becoming more and more meaningless with each passing day—continue to agree to the terms set out by liberal democracy with its false cry of liberty and its rejection of the Social Kingship of Christ, things will continue to worsen for “family values” in America.
Trying to wrest power from the liberals in an endless stream of lobbying and political activism cannot change the trajectory of decadence and degradation that the U.S. was put upon by its founding fathers who embraced deism, religious pluralism and separation of church and state. A people that ascribes to separation of church and state becomes a people governed by Godlessness. Regardless of what political party is in power, where separation of church and state exists moral decay follows.
Phyllis Schlafly, like so many conservative activists, spent her life trying to stop the moral decay of society through political activism—but such efforts are futile in the end because they attempt to use political means to address what is essentially a spiritual issue. The battle in America is not right vs. left or “family values” vs. liberal ones, but good vs. evil—it’s a spiritual battle, the battle for souls, and Satan laughs at the sideshow that politics is.
One final note about Schlafly: as a Catholic and pro-life she made an unwise choice in supporting Barry Goldwater as the Republican nominee for president in 1964. Goldwater’s first wife, Peggy, co-founded Planned Parenthood of Arizona in 1937 and Goldwater himself helped procure an abortion for his daughter Joanne in 1955. Later in his political career he was openly pro-abortion.