After a Generation of Extremism, Phyllis Schlafly Still a Leading General in the War on Women
Photo Credit: Peter Montgomery
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On a damp spring evening in Washington, DC, a general in the Republican war on women was dispatched to deny its existence. "The real war on women," Phyllis Schlafly told a gathering of the Young America's Foundation at George Washington University, "is by the feminists who demean women who choose the career path of homemaker, and mislead young women into believing...that a job in the workforce will be more significant and rewarding than marriage and motherhood."
With that, all of the young women in the front row marched up the center aisle and the out of the room, holding protest signs with slogans like, "Stop Sexism," "Stop Bigotry," "Stop Homophobia."
"Oh, I'm so sorry you're not going to stay around and let me convince you that you're wrong," Schlafly said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
A 40-Year War
For all of the shouting about a Republican war on women, you'd think it was a bright, new, shiny phenomenon. But Schlafly's celebrity was born of her brutal and shameless tactics in that theater of war some 40 years ago, when she mobilized the fearful and bigoted against the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment which, but for her efforts, would likely be the 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Today, at 87, Schlafly is still on the warpath, gracing any podium that will have her with a font of barbed quips, bad facts and bitter resentment of women who seek to change a social order that she herself navigated in its most unyielding form, with the help of no one, as she sees it, thank you very much.
"Let me tell you, I worked my way through college and got my college degree at a great university, Washington University of St. Louis, in 1944 -- no discrimination of any kind," Schlafly said. "I then went to the Harvard Graduate School and competed with all of the guys -- no discrimination whatsoever -- got my Harvard degree in 1945. And my mother got her bachelor's degree at a great co-ed university in 1920. So all those opportunities were out there before you all were born, and the feminists had absolutely nothing to do with it."
In truth, Schlafly would have been barred from entry to Harvard's undergraduate programs in 1945, as well as from its law school. And while she studied with the men (Harvard, under pressure from feminists, had just begun admitting women to some of its graduate programs), her degree was conferred not by Harvard, but by the women's college with which it was affiliated, Radcliffe. Schlafly also failed to mention that at the time her mother earned her degree, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which -- thanks to the efforts of first-wave feminists -- granted women the right to vote, had not yet been ratified.
For 45 minutes, Schlafly held her young charges in rapt attention, beginning with a prepared text typed on paper, but improvising as she moved through her remarks. She wore a crisp aqua linen-textured jacket with a dyed-to-match button-down, v-neck silk blouse that had little silk streamers at the top that she tied in a bow like a choker. Below the bow lay a heavy gold chain and a thick rope of pearls from which hung a three-inch gold cross. The left shoulder of her jacket was adorned, in the Washington fashion, with a gold brooch in the shape of an eagle, and closer to the collar, the jacket was pierced with a barely perceptible gold pin, smaller than a dime, in the shape of the bottom of a pair of baby's feet. (The anti-feminist organization founded by Schlafly is called the Eagle Forum; the tiny feet are a symbol of the anti-abortion movement.) Her face was framed by her trademark halo of an updo, with an immovable swirl of golden hair molded just above the forehead.