- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 2, 2003

Anyone who has lived through the late-20th century culture wars has heard the name Phyllis Schlafly. But outside of some conservative ranks, suchrecognition is as bound to entail ridicule and caricature as the adoration she encounters within them.
In this collection of short pieces written by Mrs. Schlafly over the last 30 years, the reader has the opportunity to judge whether the prevailing caricature of the author, at least among critics of a rather shrill crusader for the idea that woman's place is in the home has any merit or whether her ideas offer more substance than such a view betrays.
Ranging from essays against "androgynous trends" in women's studies courses on college campuses to congressional testimony against women's service in the military, these writings bear the stamp of their times. Each responded to an event or issue, from the publication of new findings about daycare's damaging effects to the Anita Hill controversy. There is little that seems unable to interest Mrs. Schlafly, who casts her eye over everything from movies like "Baby Boom" to anti-sexist computer software, searching for and usually finding hidden or blatant anti-family messages.
The theme that rises to the top in this potpourri is that feminism is the culprit for most, if not all, that ails contemporary families. Everything from divorce to lack of preparedness in the Army ultimately comes down to the handiwork of feminist ideologues who insist on doing away with the notion that any differences exist between men and women. In Mrs. Schlafly's definition, feminism rests on the monolithic view of omnipresent male oppression of women, belief in the necessity of "identical treatment for men and women in every phase of our lives"," and an orientation toward jobs and careers over motherhood.
Mrs. Schlafly is perhaps at her best when she shows the extremity of many of the feminist positions and the miscalculation that led many feminists to think they spoke for all women. For example, she cites the federally funded National Conference of the Commission on International Women's Year, which in 1977 advocated issues like the Equal Rights Amendment, government funded abortions, and universal daycare, all of which proved hotly contested among both men and women. By the 1990s, she says, it was clear the feminist movement was over. Polls and interviews showed that many women did not call themselves feminists and that the word feminist itself had bad connotations.
Mrs. Schlafly shows that many women, even some of them who had participated in the women's liberation movement of the 1970s, felt betrayed by feminism's message that they could "have it all" career and family both. Some single women with careers, now around age 40, spoke of feeling lonely and isolated and of wanting nothing so much as a husband. Mrs. Schlafly contends that these disappointments prove that the "love-and-success" formula is nothing short of a "high-risk lifestyle" that comes with intrinsic costs perpetual singlehood or divorce.
Her view is that the skyrocketing divorce rate of the late-20th century resulted from women's attempts to combine marriage and work, a task the author suggests is inadvisable if not impossible (despite what seems to be her own remarkable success at combining a hard-driving career and a marriage with six children).
The book is frustrating, given that one of the challenges of our time is the very real question of how to combine the demands (and pleasures) of family and the necessity (and desire) for other work. A basic contradiction besets Mrs. Schlafly's examination of this question (and many others). She can praise women's entry into employment "It's splendid to have women in all these positions" then describe family and work as incompatible.
At best, this way of thinking promises to raise our awareness of the importance of motherhood and the dignity of women. Indeed, the author waxes eloquent when she insists that motherhood is the "most socially necessary role" and should be taken as a fulfilling mission and source of accomplishment. She rightly warns against full-time daycare's effect on children and interference with parental attachment, against the devastating effects of divorce on children, the inadvisability of early schooling (such as that proposed for the 0-3 crowd).
Sometimes she even takes up issues associated with feminism, such as domestic violence and the romanticization of rape in soap operas. She argues forcefully for the need to outlaw pornography, which is reminiscent of the work of feminist Catharine MacKinnon, who takes much heat from other feminists on this position.
And Mrs. Schlafly's discussion of the ways in which women often bear the brunt of the promiscuity brought on by the sexual revolution resembles Barbara Ehrenreich's view in her 1983 book "Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment," that sexual liberation can allow men a life free of commitment but leave women as single mothers less well-off and with the lion's share of responsibility.
Mrs. Schlafly's political leanings lead to some provocative insights not available in the more leftist treatments of such subjects.
For instance, she objects to abortion not just for the usual reasons but also because it is another way that women bear the brunt of sexual promiscuity. When abortion is seen as women's right, women's tribulations are overlooked. "The sex act involves two people," she writes, "yet the woman is expected to assume the risk for the 'mistake' the physical risk plus the emotional trauma of killing her own baby. The woman is left with the bitterness of being exploited."
Similarly, contraceptive use supposedly liberates women but, "Again, the responsibility for the worry, the inconvenience, and the physical risk from side effects falls on the woman."
It would be a mistake to conclude, as Mrs. Schlafly does, that men on the right were any less prone to misogyny, when plenty of histories detail the abuse of women supposedly protected by the code of chivalry. But it is worth exploring further the hypocrisy of men whose ideas about equality and justice run directly against their personal treatment of women.
While arguing on behalf of the dignity of women in many places, Mrs. Schlafly elsewhere seems to err on the side of anti-woman bias. In particular, she seems to blame women for the dissolution of marriage and the family. Her answer to the problems people face in finding mates and committing to and following through with permanent unions is a rediscovery of the "natural" traits of masculinity and femininity.
Today, a young woman cannot attract a man because no man would want to end up third in her affections to career and children. Further, she argues, men are not attracted to women who lack femininity or whose commitment to career makes them look for a "wife" in a man.
The problem with such simplistic an analysis, and the simplistic solutions that it provokes Mrs. Schlafly suggests women return to the home, at least for a good deal of the time, retrieve their innately feminine natures, allow men to be men, and turn to a "warrior culture" that dictates our roles is that it offers no viable answers to the confusion that has been created by a world in flux. It also fails to address any of the other major transformations that have led us to where we are today.
The unencumbered market, which Mrs. Schlafly sees as the source of all positive goods, has unleashed what the political writer Kevin Phillips calls a "money culture," which has had a devastating effect on the family. It promotes excessive individualism at the cost of any larger social commitments and encourages just the kind of personal liberationism and careerism Mrs. Schlafly traces solely to feminism.
She rightly argues against the decline of tax benefits to families with stay-at-home mothers but elsewhere rejects any moral responsibility business has over the protection of families, such as in the provision of a family wage or full benefits for part-time work. While citing polls that show that mothers overwhelmingly say they prefer work with flexible hours, she would have women accept the dictates of the market rather than have businesses help families stay together.
Mrs. Schlafly's proposals suggest that it is hopeless to expect men to adapt to changing circumstances. She says that even advertisements that show men doing their share of the housework raise false hopes in young women. Rather than ask men and women to make mutual sacrifices on behalf of the family by reigning in their careerism, and the consumerism that often drives it, she sees childrearing and other domestic responsibilities as ones for women to confront alone. This is clearly outmoded, as many men through their actions have shown.
Fatherhood, like motherhood, is a dignified and all-consuming profession when taken seriously and thus poses conflicts with careerism as well. While many couples with young children speak of their desire to cut back on their work hours so one parent can always be with the children, Mrs. Schlafly is opposed to any changes in the workplace that would accommodate families.
Ultimately, Mrs. Schlafly's more thoughtful ramblings lose out to the simplistic and intemperate tone much of her writing takes. While she raises many of the problems contemporary Americans face, her proposed solutions fall far short of the kinds of answers we need. Her monocausal explanation feminism is the sole culprit and its defeat will spell liberation buttresses critics' caricature of her as someone intent on requiring only women to give up meaningful work beyond the family and become subservient and self-sacrificing. Further, this solution has never been a recipe for contentment and peace in the family, except at the great cost of women's happiness.
In gearing her ideas so much as an attack on the very narrow movement of late-20th century feminism, Mrs. Schlafly does them a disservice, adopting a shrillness and intemperance that bears perhaps too much of a stamp of their times. Her sentiments end up sounding too much like the pro-family corollary to feminist identity politics. Her book is worth reading, both for its passion and its occasional insights, but we will have to wait for real wisdom on these vexing matters.

Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, professor of history in the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, is author of "Race Experts: How Racial Etiquette, Sensitivity Training, and New Age Therapy Hijacked the Civil Rights Revolution" and is writing a book on the modern American family.

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