Even if you have not heard of Phyllis Schlafly, you might have heard about her passing. More importantly, you probably have not noticed how her legacy affected the way the Republican Party approaches its stance on women’s rights in the United States.
She did not think the GOP had to worry itself with something she thought was essentially figured out long ago. Schlafly was the icon for U.S. women’s conservatism, an average mom who felt she represented the silent majority’s pinnacle of womanhood. In her declarations against feminism and the more liberal sectors of the Republican Party, she became an important piece of the second New Right, the normative strain of U.S. conservatism that emerged in 1964. To Schlafly, the role of the United States was to remain a sovereign power in the world and the role of the U.S. woman was to be a mother first and everything else second.
It is easy to see her ideas take hold in the GOP’s current party platform and social stratagem, a mix of a social infantilization of women and political control over the way women want to lead their lives. Schlafly became a pocket reference for the modern Republican approach to women’s rights. Most of her thoughts went back to women taking care of babies instead of doing anything else. It is not hard to see why the GOP’s blunders toward gender equality in the United States seem less like blunders and more like a guide from an outdated playbook. Most of her thoughts went back to women taking care of babies instead of doing anything else.
When the Equal Rights Amendment, a constitutional amendment that was designed in the hopes of guaranteeing equal rights for women, went up for ratification in Congress, Schlafly wasted no time. While the ERA was already fairly controversial for having been an internal strife within the feminist movement since its original drafting in 1923, Schlafly’s involvement made it seem like an attack on what she believed were privileges enjoyed by housewives. With Schlafly’s mobilization, the ERA died in Congress.
The same year, Schlafly began her crusade against the ERA. She founded the Eagle Forum, an interests group designed to promote conservative values within the United States. Eagle Forum became Schlafly’s conduit for influence within the GOP, with ideologies ranging from U.S. disinvolvement from the United Nations to the defunding of Planned Parenthood. In some ways, Eagle Forum acted as her personal megaphone. In a piece written for their newsletter, she argued that the ERA meant not only the end of financial support for housewives, but also government-funded abortions and the rise of homosexual teachers in the education system.
This old-school brand of ‘50s Americana that Schlafly tried to wrap her ideals in was as effective as it was destructive. Unfortunately for Schlafly, the educational system has not been corrupted by LGBT teachers in the classroom nor has the moral fabric of the United States been torn apart by legal birth control.
The struggles of women demanding legitimacy and the associated feminist movements have been tremendous and, in some ways, forgotten. Hunger strikes answered with feeding tubes and incarceration, photographs of public assemblies and signs demanding the vote and stories about young women dying because of back-alley abortions because they could not safely terminate their fetuses are still vivid memories. More recently, the moment Donald Trump accused Megyn Kelly of being on her period after she gave him tough questions on a panel remind many of the plights that are still left for many women.
The world does not need any more petty binaries, especially ones that Schlafly happily propagated for some imaginary social strength that she claimed the United States was in danger of losing. The moments where she would thank her husband for allowing her to speak, specifically to annoy feminists, were a slap in the face of every woman who struggled to take control of their personhood. The demand to return to an older social order is usually called by those who have nothing to lose and nothing to gain. The change is nothing—it is the power to create such a change that drives these people.
Schlafly undoubtedly believed that what she did was for the better of her country. Her spiritual successors in the GOP, however, imagine that it is just the way that social order should be. It is almost as if there is an underlying societal structure that they believe grants them such a power. Perhaps Schlafly could have provided a more articulate answer.