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Phyllis Schlafly: telling the truth about woman

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 07, 2016

If a “feminist” is someone who promotes the dignity of women’s role in society, then unquestionably the most influential American feminist of the late 20th century was the late Phyllis Schlafly. Since the word “feminist” has been hijacked by ideologues, to serve the cause of social engineering, we might need another term to describe this remarkable woman.

In a lifetime of political activism, Schlafly’s greatest achievement was the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). It is silly to claim that she conducted that campaign alone—millions of American women rallied to her side—but just as silly to suggest that the ERA could have been beaten without her.

Consider how the lines of the political battle were drawn when Phyllis Schlafly embraced the anti-ERA cause: Congress had approved it, and 30 state legislatures had followed suit. The ERA had sympathetic supporters throughout the mass media and the academic world. The newly powerful “feminist” movement had put all its weight behind the measure. Neither major political party had shown any interest in blocking it. In fact there was no organized opposition. It seemed a foregone conclusion that the ERA would soon obtain the endorsement of eight more states, and become a part of the US Constitution.

In a masterpiece of political organizing, Schlafly convinced tens of thousands of women to become political activists, to lobby local lawmakers. She persuaded wives and homemakers that the real effect of the ERA (indeed the real effect of the feminist movement generally) would be to give women “equal rights” to act like men—not to honor the role of women in the family and the home. Gradually the momentum of the proposed amendment was slowed, then reversed. Instead of winning approval in new states, the ERA lost its endorsement by several state legislatures. Finally in 1982 the time limit lapsed and the ERA was dead.

In Washington, DC, black-tie fundraisers and testimonial dinners occur regularly, and although I am not a party animal, I attended a fair number during my years working in the city. By far the most memorable was the gala at the Shoreham Hotel, hosted by Phyllis Schlafly, to celebrate the death of the ERA. It was huge, it was festive, and it was fun. She knew how to throw a party; more important, she knew how to engineer the massive political victory that put her allies in a celebratory mood.

Unhappily for Phyllis Schlafly and her allies (among whom I include myself), the feminist movement has regained the ascendancy in American politics. Things that Schlafly predicted as likely negative consequences of the ERA, such as gender-neutral restrooms, are now mandated by the Obama administration, without benefit of a constitutional amendment and without effective political opposition. We need another Phyllis Schlafly today: another public voice defending the dignity of women, while emphasizing that women’s dignity does not consist in imitating men.

While we wait for that successor to emerge, we would do well to reflect on the fact that the Catholic Church has always stressed the distinctive role of women, and fought to preserve the understanding that a woman’s role in the home is as important as—in fact, more important than—any man’s role in the business world. Phyllis Schlafly took delight in the public statements and written works of St. John Paul II on the subject; she remarked that he “ceaselessly taught the truth about woman.”

And so—in her inimitable way, in the rough-and-tumble of political combat—did she. May she rest in peace.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: space15796 - Sep. 11, 2016 3:05 AM ET USA

    I absolutely adored Mrs. Schlafly. She helped me figure out how to live as a woman - I grew up in Boston in the 60's and I entered adulthood with a mental list of what I shouldn't be, but no idea of what I should be. I didn't have wise parents. I was lost. Finally I discovered voices like hers that helped me to figure it all out and make sense of my life as a young mother, just in the nick of time! Thank you, Phyllis.