Phyllis Schlafly is an all-around right-wing activist who has been around forever. You could say she was Tea Party before her time, railing against liberals and taxes and the UN's threat to US sovereignty. Her 2009 "How to Take Back America" conference was an amazing gathering at which health care reform was described as fascism, President Obama was described by Rep. Trent Franks as an "enemy of humanity," and attendees were encouraged to buy guns and ammo to defend themselves against impending tyranny.
But Schlafly’s real bread and butter is the hostility to feminism that fueled her campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment – and it was her anti-feminist schtick that she brought to George Washington University in D.C. last night. I use the word schtick because it’s hard to take seriously Schlafly’s caricature of feminists as anti-men, anti-marriage, anti-family, and anti-child-rearing, not to mention claims like these:
- “Feminists don’t have any role models of happiness.”
- “They don’t believe that women can be successful. You never hear the feminists talking about really successful women like Margaret Thatcher or Condaleeza Rice, they just don’t believe women can be successful…that’s why they hate Sarah Palin….”
What? Feminists don’t believe women can be successful? That didn’t ring true to the many GW students, women and men, who politely protested Schlafly’s appearance. During the Q&A, one challenged Schlafly directly, saying her mother is a feminist, a role model of happiness, and had instilled in her children a love of family. The student said Schlafly seemed to be having a 40-year old argument with quotes plucked from early feminist writers.
Schlafly did have her admirers. The young woman who introduced her said Schlafly had given her an example of how to stand up against the emerging “gender-interchangeable society.” Schlafly returned to that theme later, saying that feminists don’t want equality for women, they want “gender interchangeability.”
Schlafly reveled in the recent flap about Ann Romney never having to work outside the home, since she saw it as proof that feminists have no respect for mothers who choose to answer to a husband rather than a boss. But Schlafly was not on message with the Romney campaign’s claims that women have accounted for almost all job losses during the Obama administration. Schlafly, who repeatedly claimed that the Obama administration is utterly controlled by feminists, “proved” her case by saying that feminists had successfully demanded that most jobs created by federal stimulus funds went to women.
Schlafly touched on a few other issues, such as her opposition to marriage equality (though she seemed to say she didn’t think civil unions were worth fighting about). And she pushed the same theme being pushed by Ralph Reed and other strategists trying to build a broad electoral coalition: you can’t separate fiscal and social conservatism. She took a shot at Mitch Daniels for seeking a “truce” on social values, something she called “impossible.”
In the end, she told the young women, they should get married before having babies, and they should ignore feminists who might poison their attitude toward life by telling them that women are victims of the patriarchy. She derided the notion of a "glass ceiling" and denied that unequal pay is a problem. Men, she said, are willing to do dangerous jobs that women aren't, because "women like nice inside jobs with carpeted offices." American women, she said, are the most fortunate people who have ever lived. Why, in Africa, she said, some women have to wash their clothing in the river. “We have all these wonderful modern conveniences that men have invented for our pleasure.”