The debt the conservative movement owes Phyllis Schlafly is one that can never be repaid. It was Schlafly who wrote the bestseller A Choice Not an Echo, the book used to promote the candidacy of Barry Goldwater, the man many argue paved the way for the Reagan Revolution a little over two decades later. For years she also worked as an influential defense policy analyst and was responsible for the highly regarded study of Henry Kissinger’s foreign policy, Kissinger on the Couch.
Her legacy, however, will be her opposition to feminism and her role in the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment. Although she’s best known as the movement’s most prominent foe, it’s ironic to note that Schlafly nearly skipped the fight. Back in the early 1970s, a current events program needed someone to oppose a feminist in a debate. A friend persuaded a reluctant Schlafly to take up the challenge, and since then she’s been the movement’s most persistent intellectual opponent.
That’s readily seen in Feminist Fantasies (Spence Publishing, 262 pages, $27.95), a collection of Schlafly’s newspaper and magazine articles covering some of the most contentious issues raised in the debate over the feminist agenda. Divided into themed sections, the book takes on all of feminism’s primary tenets, whether it’s the role of women in the workforce, marriage and motherhood, or the suitability of women in combat.
It is Schlafly’s conclusion, one she came to in the early 1980s after her successful battle against the Equal Rights Amendment, that the feminist revolution has failed. The movement began with the promise of equality only to give way to bitterness and an anti-male and anti-family agenda. Today’s mainstream woman, Schlafly writes not without some foundation, refuses to use the feminist label and is moving back into traditional roles.
It’s an interesting argument but it may be Schlafly’s weakest one. She fails to consider that we, to paraphrase a famous declaration, are all feminists now. We have traveled so far down the road away from her view of what a woman’s role in society is that we can never recover those halcyon days that she remembers. Women are having fewer children while those that do often wait until later in life — essentially limiting the number that they can have — and many of those children spend their days in the prison of daycare while their parents fight the good corporate fight.
Schlafly is more convincing in her explorations of the media’s role in promoting feminism. Without willing media assistance, the feminist movement never would have been able to get out its core message that feminism was the path for the liberation — primarily emotional, financial and sexual — of women. As Schlafly relates, the other half of the coin sees the media fail to investigate feminism’s negative impact on women and families.
From there Feminist Fantasies moves on to other controversial and interrelated subjects. Like a hammer on a nail, Schlafly repeatedly drives home the same point. Feminism is an artificial ideological construct that is at odds with reality and human nature. It denies the special status that is accorded women by society because of the unique gifts that they offer. It’s an argument that resonates deeply with both women and men.
Despite decades of attempted social engineering by feminists, it seems that some traditional structures refuse to die. Most women today want to be married, to have children and stay home to raise them. Economic and social changes in society may have robbed many of the opportunity to stay at home but it doesn’t change the reality that many women suffer an emotional wound by being separated from their children. Worse still are the regrets of women — whose ranks include many prominent feminists — who bought into the belief that having children isn’t necessary and due to their age will never have any.
Agree or disagree with Schlafly, it’s undeniable that she brings a passion to her opposition to feminism. Feminist Fantasies is a convincing series of retorts to the accepted dogma of the feminist movement and a compelling defense of the values that many people continue to hold. Whether the feminist movement is indeed on the wane only time can tell — but if it is its foes know who to thank.
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