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Phyllis Schlafly: ‘Mrs. America’ Who Opposed Feminism

Rebecca Cook / Reuters

In the words of one Phyllis Schlafly, “The feminist movement is simply not compatible with happiness. They are not for equality, they want to kill everything masculine.”

Recently, FX released a miniseries called "Mrs America" which received a lot of appreciation for it's unique and appealing plot. It is an intense psychological portrait of a conservative American woman who believed that women do not need rights. The story talks about the time when women got together to support the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment but it received an unexpected backlash from a movement which was led by a woman named Phyllis Schlafly, aka, "the sweetheart of the silent majority". 

The second wave of feminism was in its full swing during the 1970s. All the feminists were trying to eradicate the challenges faced by women in their daily lives. One of the major steps taken during this period was the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment or ERA, but it wasn't that easy. Soon feminism hit a roadblock. A woman who was known to open her speeches by thanking her husband for letting her attend the event, because “it irritates the women's libbers", started rallying against the ERA. Her name was Phyllis Schlafly.

Schlafly believed that women did not wish for equality with men; rather they wanted to remain at home and be homemakers. She advocated that feminism was a losing battle and striving for gender equality was “a fight with human nature”. Schlafly was a conservative author and a political activist committed against feminism and communism. She became a household name within the last half of the twentieth century and staunchly demeaned the entire plan of gender equality; as per her this idea was against ‘family values’.

Growing up in a very middle-class family, Schlafly was a formidable figure. Once her father lost his job because of the Great Depression; her mother worked as a lecturer in addition as a librarian to support her family. Schlafly completed her education with a master’s degree in politics from the Radcliffe College and later became an attorney. Schlafly had seen her mother working day in and out because of which she couldn't give her family enough time. After seeing all this Schlafly strongly believed that there was no need for equal rights for women and stood powerfully against the ERA during the '70s.

She was a far-famed anti-feminist icon. However, she was known as a hypocrite in the feminist movement for using the activist framework pioneered by feminism to grow her influence in politics and squaring against that very movement. Schlafly played an awfully necessary role within the 1964 Republican Presidential nomination for the conservative candidate Barry Goldwater. Together with her ‘good woman of the house’ image, she brought thousands of white women supporters for the Republicans. She started an organisation known as STOP ERA—the STOP being ‘Stop Taking Our Privileges’—to fight the ERA. She also founded an organisation known as the Eagle Forum through which she commented against gay rights, abortion rights, pornography—name the social issue associated with women and Schlafly was there to discard it. She powerfully stood against the liberation movement of women in the US, arguing that it was causing same-sex marriages, gender-neutral restrooms and ladies being written within the armed forces. 

As per the feminists, Schlafly had entered politics thanks to her husband's wealth, who was a lawyer himself. She was a savvy politician, who, however, tried to disguise it by saying that politics was simply a hobby for her. She was a staunch conservative Catholic and had no problems arguing against women's freedom, arguing that God had created a distinction between men and women for a reason. Though her arguments were conservative, her language was dominated by the feminist concepts of liberation. 

After understanding the intensity of personal politics, she leveraged her identity as an ‘average housewife’ and a mother of six kids to defend her gender roles. She was even an award-winning author and wrote many books. Out of these, A Choice Not An Echo sold several copies and was considered instrumental in Goldwater's cause. Schlafly spent years painting feminism as a war against men.  She also insisted that “virtuous women aren’t sexually harassed” and that “there was no such thing as marital rape”. According to her, “sex-education classes are like in-home sales parties for abortions” and that the “atom bomb was a marvellous gift that was given to our country by a wise god”. 

Although she was a sigh of relief for the conservatives, her ideologies and beliefs were packed with hypocrisy for the feminists and liberals as she claimed that women ought to stay housemakers while she herself travelled around the country giving speeches, authored many books and even became a lawyer. Betty Friedan, feminist and a liberal, compared Schlafly to a religious heretic and lashed out at her during a debate by telling her that "she should burn at the stake for opposing the ERA". Ms Friedan even called Schlafly an “Aunt Tom”. Liberals and feminists criticised her conservative thinking and hypocritical approach towards women empowerment.

With her death in 2016 at the age of ninety-two, Schlafly’s vision for an America that was conservative and biased towards men came to an end. However, are we actually free from considering women as inferior? As humans we'd like to stay moving forward, learn from our mistakes, get out of our orthodox mindsets and stop living within the past. However, do we actually do that? Is our society nowadays fully gender-equal or is it still a far-fetched dream?






By Anushka Tomar