THE PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY EFFECT

Schlafly at a protest against the Equal Rights Amendment. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Schlafly at a protest against the Equal Rights Amendment. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In 2015, Democratic Representative of New York Carolyn Maloney reintroduced the Equal Rights Amendment to Congress. An amendment that had seen this floor, and championed before. One that came up three states short of ratification decades ago, mainly due to one very conservative lady.

The cause is dead. I don’t mean feminism of course, I mean Phyllis Schlafly, the social conservatism activist, the reason the amendment did not pass. With her passing on September 5th, talk around her affect on the progress of feminism has come back around, as many wonder if we could pass the ERA today.

From leading a crusade against communism in the second red scare, to rejecting anything that may disrupt tradition family life (abortion, gay marriage, etc.), Schlafly proved that her definition of what it is to be American had little to do with liberty for all, but simply the freedom to have privilege.

Many who opposed the amendment were women who didn’t think they needed anything else. Schlafly was perhaps the strangest kind of privilege: a working woman and lawyer who still prided herself most in being a homemaker. Who needs protection when you have your own income, a husband’s non wage gap income, and you prefer to identify with housewives more anyway?

Schlafly looked out for her kind and her kind only. The white, middle upper class women who think that once they can own property and vote they have everything they need. If it doesn’t fit into the concept of a traditional family life the issue doesn’t matter. Paid family leave? The working husband gives support. Abortion? We need more children in the home. Gay marriage? That’s not a mother and father.

Schlafly endorsing Donald Trump for president in St. Louis photographed by Seth Perlman/AP.
Schlafly endorsing Donald Trump for president in St. Louis photographed by Seth Perlman/AP.

Even in the current election, before her death, Schlafly didn’t see the importance of a woman president, of the representation and championship of women in power. On the matter she said:

“Our greatest presidents have all been men, and they’ve been very good for our country.” -Phyllis Schlafly

Schlafly’s endorsement of Trump’s presidential bidding shows that she would have been forever out of touch with her own benefits from any progressive notion. For somebody who is heralded as a true American, she seemed to struggle with the concept of freedom, that it is unconditional, not the freedom to live a life chosen and dictated by one standard of tradition.

By endorsing Trump, after previously helping elect Reagan, Schlafly serves as a symbol for the social conservatism finding a revival in the past few years coinciding with the end of an eight year democratic presidency. Now many ask: will her influence after her death continue to prompt a lack of necessary progress?

On one hand, the current eight person Supreme Court seems to lean towards the left with the Texas sham law decision earlier this summer. There is a female presidential nominee representing a party for the first time in history. Marriage for any queer couple is now an indisputable right. Even pop culture has openly accepted the feminist cause.

Schlafly's receiving of an honorary degree from the University of Washington St. Louis caused protests. Photographed by Bill Greenblatt/UPI Photo.
Schlafly’s receiving of an honorary degree from the University of Washington St. Louis caused protests. Photographed by Bill Greenblatt/UPI Photo.

But just because there is no Phyllis Schlafly does not mean there is nobody else who aligns with her views. We have Trump, we have Tomi Lahren, we have Bill O’ Reilly. The country isn’t without problematic public political figures who would also probably assert that the amendment is “unnecessary” or “dangerous”.

What Schlafly does not get is that equality isn’t dangerous. Wanting further protection for women, in a constitution that only explicitly states rights for women in the 19th amendment, is not radical. It is not a political tool used to forward liberal agenda. Protection/defense is not an offensive attack. And if change seems like an attack, there might be something wrong there.

So with how we stand right now, do we ever have a chance to finally accomplish what Schlafly somehow singlehandedly blocked? I’d like to think that with feminism so accessible, even trendy now, we could put such momentum to good use, and overturn her actions. It would only take three more states than her protest years, and we’ve got the #GirlPower to do it.

Article by Cassandra Gagnon for The Untitled Magazine

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