Conservative women taking charge
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.