A Woman's Place Is Home; after 30 Years, Phyllis Schlafly Is Not Budging
Byline: Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Anyone who has lived through the late-20th century culture wars has heard the name Phyllis Schlafly. But outside of some conservative ranks, such
recognition 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. …