Con­ser­va­tive women tak­ing charge

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

Two writers who, in ef­fect, knew Phyl­lis Sch­lafly be­fore she came on the scene were Alexis de Toc­queville and Henry James. Toc­queville em­pha­sized Amer­i­can women’s role in the harsh ef­fort of nation-build­ing, which widened the scope of women’s ac­tion in the world. James ad­vanced the anal­y­sis by per­ceiv­ing that in Amer­ica (un­like in Europe) the women led in mat­ters cul­tural and moral be­cause their wilder­ness-clear­ing, com­merce­ab­sorbed men­folk had left them al­most en­tirely in charge of those ar­eas of life.

Toc­queville and James saw a new kind of woman emerg­ing in a new po­lit­i­cal or­der — a crea­ture ad­mirable in her courage if some­what fright­en­ing in her moral wrath. As a real-life ex­am­ple, we may think of the women’s rights leader El­iz­a­beth Cady Stan­ton; as a stage rep­re­sen­ta­tion, there is Mrs. Eu­lalie MacK- eck­nie Shinn, the mayor’s wife in “The Mu­sic Man.” For­mi­da­ble ladies, both. Toc­queville and James re­sponded to this Amer­i­can fe­male force of na­ture with a charm­ing sort of am­biva­lence. In her pres­ence, they felt un­manned, im­pressed and not a lit­tle amused.

Mrs. Sch­lafly’s be­ing so clearly of this mold ex­plains why, to a cer­tain ex­tent, she has seemed com­i­cal to some men. Amuse­ment, though, has been ac­com­pa­nied by en­light­en­ment. Here I speak es­pe­cially for my­self. Even as I rolled my eyes at this fe­male jug­ger­naut, I be­gan to no­tice at a cer­tain point that she made more sense than those other fe­male jug­ger­nauts — the fem­i­nists — against whom she was for­ever do­ing battle.

The fem­i­nist vi­sion of equal­ity en­tailed mak­ing the gen­ders more or less in­ter­change­able. More­over, the fem­i­nists in­sisted that women could never stand strong, could never se­cure their fun­da­men­tal rights, un­less an Equal Rights Amend­ment were added to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion.

In re­sponse, Mrs. Sch­lafly made the sim­ple point that gen­der roles ex­ist for a rea­son: to rear chil­dren well. She said women in­deed should stand up for their rights, and they can do so un­der the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion as cur­rently writ­ten. Her 1970s grass-roots group, the Ea­gle Fo­rum, mo­bi­lized pub­lic opin- ion in de­fense of that po­si­tion, and the Equal Rights Amend­ment was toast.

I doubt fem­i­nists have for­given Mrs. Sch­lafly for win­ning that one or for con­tin­u­ing to op­pose a po­lit­i­cal pro­gram of “re­pro­duc­tive free­dom,” sex­ual free­dom in em­u­la­tion of the worst habits of men, and gov­ern­ment-en­forced wage ad­just­ments un­der the mis­guided doc­trine of “com­pa­ra­ble worth.”

Or for spawn­ing a ver­i­ta­ble coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion. “The Flip­side of Fem­i­nism: What Con­ser­va­tive Women Know — and Men Can’t Say,” which seems mostly the work of Mrs. Sch­lafly’s niece and co-au­thor, Suzanne Venker, re­lies on snip­pets of re­search and com­men­tary from Maggie Gal­lagher, Wendy Shalit, Myrna Blyth, Carol Platt Liebau and many oth­ers. While it isn’t ground­break­ing stuff , it does make one stop and ap­pre­ci­ate that this body of sound re­search likely would not have been amassed, nor would their wor­thy con­ser­va­tive books have been writ­ten, but for the trail blazed by the 87year-old Mrs. Sch­lafly.

Fem­i­nists claim that she and other women on the right are some­how anti-mod­ern. Not cor­rect. It is not anti-mod­ern to be­lieve, as Mrs. Sch­lafly and com­pany do, that women should be the main care­givers to their off­spring and not hand off that role to day care or their hus­bands. It would even be against women’s self-in­ter­est to do so. The care­giver, af­ter all, is the moral pre­cep­tor, and the pre­cep­tor will pass on to daugh­ters and sons alike the jus­tice of re­spect­ing women as much as they re­spect men.

This is the con­clu­sion, not only of women in Amer­ica who are con­ser­va­tive, but of women in other coun­tries who are dis­si­dents and re­form­ers strug­gling to vin­di­cate their rights. No­bel lau­re­ate Shirin Ebadi, for ex­am­ple, has crit­i­cized the moth­ers of her own coun­try (Iran) for lack­ing the back­bone to throw off pa­tri­ar­chal tra­di­tion and raise their sons to grow up to re­spect women.

This moral-pre­cep­tor point is some­thing ev­ery­one should be able to take in — the ones who seem will­fully blind to it are the fem­i­nists. Po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness be­ing the pow­er­ful force it is, Amer­i­can men might be afraid to openly chime in their agree­ment. How true to Amer­ica’s cul­tural his­tory (in the Toc­quevil­lianJame­sian sense) that the men­folk would just as soon let it lie. In any case, we should all thank Phyl­lis Sch­lafly, grande dame of com­mon sense and fun­da­men­tal truths, for harp­ing on it one more time.

Lau­ren Weiner was a speech­writer for U.S. Sec­re­tary of De­fense Robert M. Gates from 2007 to 2010.

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