Phyllis Schlafly's Battle against the ERA and Women in the Military(1)

Article excerpt

Raped American female POW's in Iraq, Kelly Flynn, and the Tail Hook scandal, these are some of the phantoms that haunt any discussion of women's service in the military. The debate has lasted over thirty years coveting a variety of issues in an attempt to reach a final resolution; Those opposed to having women serve in combat are still arguing their case, and the battle is far from over. The history of the issue shows more or less a steady progression of acceptance for women. For most of American history, women served only in the most urgent cases, then recently finding a larger role in a peace time army. It now appears that with women having served in Panama, the Persian Gulf War and the Balkans, the debate is waning, but reality is rarely so simple. There have been some significant obstacles for the acceptance of women in combat. Among these roadblocks one name keeps appearing: Phyllis Schlafly. More than remaining one of the major leaders of the antifeminist movement, she is one of the only leaders of the Christian Right who was able to make a lasting change in the American political landscape. Like Carry Nation and the Prohibitionist movement before her, Schlafly has been able to use a grassroots movement to influence the government at the highest levels.

By and large, the leaders of the Christian Right have been against women serving in the military in combat roles. Although opinions varied among the leadership, there is no one who has been consistently opposed to it as Phyllis Schlafly. She is known to most Americans as the woman who helped to kill the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). However, since the day Schlafly held a rally to declare the ERA movement dead in 1981, she has continued to fight the feminist agenda. She is unique in that her rhetoric in the debate about the role of women in combat is different than almost any other leader of the Christian Right. Instead of talking about the biblical role of women, she is a defense hawk who sees the use of women in combat positions as a liberal-led attempt to destroy the American military. While many think her opposition to the ERA was due to her fears of gender role swapping, a close analysis of her works shows that it was a fear of a weakened military more than anything else, that drove her forward.

While other Christian Right leaders focus on sexual harassment and rape as the primary reasons for disapproving of women in combat, Schlafly takes a different tack. That is what makes her opinions so unusual and important to understand. While men like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, use religious talk and biblical admonitions, Schlafly's more secular reasoning carries more weight outside Evangelical circles. Another significant point is that while her male contemporaries have sought to work within the system as power brokers, Schlafly revels in being an outsider. She has been able to mobilize a grassroots army to defeat the wishes of the National Organization for Women and even American presidents. However, while Robertson and Falwell, sought to have the government pass legislation in their favor, Schlafly could claim victory simply by getting the government not to act. This is a key difference.

Who is this woman and why does she matter? While some may have forgotten her past accomplishments, the fact remains that she stands alone among the members of the Christian Right as someone who was able to truly effect American politics. While others talk about prayer in school, ending abortion, and the like, Schlafly was able to not just defeat the ERA, but to push back some of the gains made by the women's movement of the 1960s and 1970s. To understand this women gives insight into why it has taken America so long to embrace women warriors. To understand her is to understand the religious conservative opposition to women in combat. Her ideas on women's role in the military range from the quaint to conspiracy laden, but no matter what one thinks of them, they are significant for Schlafly was able to change the face of the nation based on the fire of her beliefs. …