In Tribute to Phyllis Schlafly's Unintended Inspiration

By Connie Schultz

September 7, 2016 5 min read

Phyllis Schlafly founded her conservative Eagle Forum the year I graduated from high school, in 1975.

So I can't summon a renewed sense of outrage after her death this week, at age 92. As much as I loathed Schlafly's politics, I have to acknowledge her impact at a crucial time in my development. I aspired to be like Gloria Steinem, but Schlafly was a potent motivator, too — a reminder of what I was trying to escape. Sometimes those furtive glances over one's shoulder are a great incentive to keep moving.

Schlafly is most famous for successfully derailing the Equal Rights Amendment, mostly by casting the women who supported it as man-hating traitors. She was infamous for building a career as a public speaker and writer while admonishing other women to stay home.

"In the scale of liberal sins, hypocrisy is the greatest, and they have always considered me a hypocrite," Schlafly told The New York Times' Ginia Bellafante in 2006, insisting that she had never told women they shouldn't work. "I simply didn't believe we needed a constitutional amendment to protect women's rights. I knew of only one law that was discriminatory toward women, a law in North Dakota stipulating that a wife had to have her husband's permission to make wine."

She was 81 at the time — and still pursuing at full throttle her habit of making little sense so much of the time.

Writer Sarah Harvard collected some of Schlafly's most offensive ramblings in an essay for Mic. It's eerie how similar they sound to Donald Trump's nonsensical rants.

She opposed sex education classes, likening them to "in-home sales parties for abortions."

In 2011, she claimed that "false allegations of domestic violence" break up marriages and saddle taxpayers with "an estimated $20 billion a year to support the resulting single-parent, welfare-dependent families."

It is impossible, she insisted, for a wife to be raped by her husband. "By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don't think you can call it rape."

The Equal Rights Amendment, she said, "means abortion funding, means homosexual privileges, means whatever else." Let us never forget that Schlafly waged her war on gay men in a time when so many of them were dying of AIDS.

And oh, how she hated the feminists. Always she insisted that our goal is to obliterate the menfolk.

"There is a war on men, and (feminists) are very open about it," she said. "They don't conceal it; they brag about it. You read all of their material — they're always saying they want to abolish the patriarchy. They said that husbands are not necessary in a marriage, they're not necessary in raising children."

I've been a feminist from the time I could define the word — a definition, by the way, that never included hatred for men. I don't know any feminists who claim that men are irrelevant to our lives, and that includes the many lesbians who are my friends.

This false narrative about strong women has always been a big part of Schlafly's attraction for two groups of people: men who think women's equality comes at their emasculation and women who'd rather not have so many options for their lives. Both groups, then and now, seek permission never to change.

In 1981, just as my generation of women was entering the workforce, Schlafly insisted that a "virtuous woman" is rarely the victim of sexual harassment. Soon enough, so many of us learned otherwise and were onto her, big-time. This would be her undoing. She could kill the ERA, but she would never prevail in stopping who we were destined to become. Blinded by her bottomless need for attention, she eventually became irrelevant.

I do not celebrate her death, and I admit to discomfort as some fellow liberals dance on her grave. I am my mother's daughter. Whenever I am tempted to let resentment darken my soul, I am stopped in my tracks by my mom's long-ago question: Who do you want to be?

Phyllis Schlafly didn't believe in women like me. On many a day as a young woman, knowing that about her was all I needed to keep going.

For that, and only that, I thank her.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: Jesse Wagstaff

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