The Daily Telegraph

Mrs America Phyllis Schlafly’s son on why his mother would be a feminist now

The son of conservati­ve activist Phyllis Schlafly sets some records straight to Susannah Goldsbroug­h


Andrew Schlafly enjoyed Mrs. America, the drama series about his mother, conservati­ve activist Phyllis Schlafly, that’s currently airing on BBC Two.

“The acting was phenomenal,” he tells me from his home in New Jersey. “And the show had tremendous detail. They really did their homework. The interior of our kitchen was precise, down to a tee, and the hairdos and make-up on the actresses, too. When I see a picture of Cate Blanchett, I have to do a double-take – is that my mother or not?”

Such enthusiasm is surprising. Schlafly is a Harvard-educated lawyer, a Christian conservati­ve and the creator of the open-source reference site Conservape­dia, which offers an alternativ­e to what he considers Wikipedia’s liberal bias. He is not the obvious target audience for a drama that highlights the wrongheade­dness of Phyllis and her Seventies campaign to stop America’s Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a Bill designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens, regardless of their sex.

Creator Dahvi Waller has said one of her motives for writing the series was to understand Phyllis’s appeal and tactics – the ERA caused controvers­y for a decade and was never ratified – so that America can be ready the next time a conservati­ve action group tries to stop a “movement forward in this country”.

But this doesn’t seem to bother Phyllis’s son.

“I think what [Waller] says makes sense,” he tells me. “My mother’s tactics were very effective, and the Left would do well to take stock.”

This is not to say that he’s happy with every element of the show. “There are a couple of unfortunat­e smears,” he says, pointing to the scene in the first episode when his father Fred, played by John Slattery, effectivel­y forces sex on a tired, uninterest­ed Phyllis.

I suggest that that scene was making a broader point about the inequality within traditiona­l marriages, the types of marriages championed by Phyllis. But Schlafly isn’t convinced. “[Waller] may have been trying to make that point, but I think that shouldn’t be done by superimpos­ing untruthful stereotype­s onto what is otherwise portrayed as an historical, truthful miniseries.” In fact, he thinks the show’s portrayal of both his parents leans too heavily on stereotype­s.

“In one scene,” he says, “my father comes home and my mother dutifully helps him take his jacket off and hang it in the closet. That never happened. That’s a stereotype of the housewife – it wasn’t their relationsh­ip at all. When my father came home, my mother was usually still working at the typewriter, and she wouldn’t even notice.”

It was this sort of behaviour that led her critics to accuse her of hypocrisy. In her 1972 newsletter essay What’s Wrong With Equal Rights for Women, dubbed the Phyllis Schlafly Report, she wrote: “The women’s libbers don’t understand that most women want to be a wife, mother and homemaker – and are happy in the role.”

Yet Andrew and his five siblings didn’t wake up each morning to the sound of a sewing machine. Phyllis was at her typewriter, engaged in political activism. Did she really believe “most women” wanted to be homemakers when she didn’t want to be one herself? “What she was fighting against,” he says, “was an attempt to marginalis­e the homemaker, an attempt to discredit people who stayed home. But she never said women should like housework more than a career.”

In any case, when it came to stopping the ERA, Andrew’s mother focused on a different argument: the fear that the new law would make women subject to the military draft. Although many proponents of the ERA – such as the campaignin­g journalist Gloria Steinem (played by Rose Byrne in the series) and the activist Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman) – disagreed with this assertion, few today would object if it did. Women comprise about 17 per cent of America’s active-duty military, and the extension of the draft system to women is widely considered a matter of time.

What is Schlafly’s view? “There are some difference­s between men and women,” he says, which would make the military “a bit more suitable for a young man than a woman.

“If you look at little boys and girls, and what they’re interested in, boys are interested in toy guns and cars and mechanical things, and girls have their own set of interests that are different.”

Up until now, Schlafly has come across as nothing more than right-ofcentre. But his work as the founder of Conservape­dia takes him into much

‘My mother never said women should like housework more than a career’

wackier territory. Establishe­d in 2006 as a counterpoi­nt to what he saw as the liberal bias of Wikipedia, it has around 50,000 pages including “Obama’s Religion” (detailing the conspiracy theory that the former president is a Muslim) and “Overcoming Homosexual­ity” (about “converting” people to heterosexu­ality).

And far from taking an objective view of such content, or making a Facebook-like argument about free speech, Schlafly describes the site as “truthful”. He is an ardent Creationis­t and an unabashed fan of Donald Trump.

His mother, too, was a defender of Trump, endorsing his candidacy for President a few months before her death in 2016.

But I can’t talk to Andrew Schlafly without getting his opinion on feminism. Phyllis did not like feminists and considered them an overly vocal minority, writing in the Phyllis Schlafly

Report: “Women’s libbers do not speak for the majority of American women.” But according to a recent opinion poll, 61 per cent of American women “consider themselves feminists”. So would this champion of the majority be on their side?

Schlafly wants to know what I mean by “feminist”. I offer a dictionary definition: “A feminist is someone who believes in equal rights for men and women.”

His response is surprising. “She may have agreed with that sort of general statement – as stated like that, yes.”

It seems that – as her opponents always maintained – the matriarch of American antifemini­sm was deep down a feminist herself.

Mrs. America continues on BBC Two next Wednesday at 9pm

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 ??  ?? Feminist debate: Phyllis Schlafly, left, in 1977, and as portrayed by actress Cate Blanchett in Mrs. America, above. Right: Schlafly’s son Andrew
Feminist debate: Phyllis Schlafly, left, in 1977, and as portrayed by actress Cate Blanchett in Mrs. America, above. Right: Schlafly’s son Andrew

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