A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America

By William H. Chafe; Harvard Sitkoff et al. | Go to book overview

What’s Wrong with “Equal
Rights” for Women? (1972)

Phyllis Schlafly

By an overwhelming margin, Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in early 1972 and submitted it to the states for ratification. Within a year thirty states had voted in support of adding the amendment to the Constitution. Then Phyllis Schlafly organized a “STOP ERA” campaign. Schlafly, mother of six children, believed that feminism was antifamily, antimarriage, and antichildren. But she was not simply a housewife who reacted against a threat to her chosen way of life. Schlafly was a lawyer with degrees from Harvard and Washington Universities who had risen to prominence in conservative circles after writing the bestselling book, A Choice Not an Echo, in support of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential candidacy.

To fight the ERA, Schlafly put together a coalition of fundamentalist and orthodox religious leaders, conservative businessmen, radical right groups, and a growing number of women who considered themselves antifeminist. Believing that the women’s movement had gone too far, these women saw feminism as an enemy responsible for fostering sexual permissiveness, homosexuality, abortion, moral relativism, and what they called “secular humanism.” They feared that the ERA would destroy the “special place” of women in the home, force them to fight in combat, and mandate unisex toilets. Because of their efforts, the deadline for ratifying the ERA passed in June 1982 with the amendment still three states short of adoption.

In “What’s Wrong with ‘Equal Rights’ for Women?” Schlafly sets forth her case against the Equal Rights Amendment and the feminist movement. To whom might such an argument appeal, and why? Think about Jane Sherron De Hart’s analysis and the radical feminist statement, “No More Miss America,” as you read Schlafly’s argument. Could feminists have attracted conservative women to their cause by using less inflammatory language and

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