Phyllis Schlafly Explains Why Feminism Has Made Women Unhappy

Phyllis Schlafly is best known for her successful 1973 campaign to stop the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Host Michel Martin speaks to the conservative activist about her life and career.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now we're going to hear from a woman with a very different take on things. Phyllis Schlafly is without a doubt a conservative icon. She's a mother, a lawyer, a columnist, author, a radio host - one of her biggest achievements though, was her campaign to stop the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in the early 1970s. Here's a clip of her talking about this in 1978.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY: Since the women are the ones who bear the babies and there's nothing we can do about that, our laws and customs then make it the financial obligation of the husband to provide the support. It is his obligation and his sole obligation. And this is exactly and precisely what we will lose if the Equal Rights Amendment is passed.

MARTIN: And, in part thanks to her, it wasn't. The amendment fell short by three states, largely due to her grassroots campaigning. She didn't stop there though - I spoke with her in 2011 about what was her latest book at the time "The Flipside Of Feminism" and I started by asking her when she became a critic of the movement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SCHLAFLY: When I went to the hearings for the Equal Rights Amendment and I heard what they were saying, and they had absolutely no benefit to offer women, but we could see a lot of disadvantages in it.

MARTIN: What is it that you saw that made you feel that way?

SCHLAFLY: What that amendment would do is to make all laws sex-neutral. Well, the typical, classic law that is not sex-neutral is the draft registration law. And we were still in the Vietnam War in 1972. I had sons and daughters about age 18. My daughters thought this was the craziest thing they ever heard. You're going to have a new amendment for women? And the first thing is they'll have to sign up for the draft like their brothers. Now, that was an unsalable proposition.

MARTIN: Is it true that you took the bar exam wearing a disguise so that you wouldn't be inundated...

SCHLAFLY: Well, yes.

MARTIN: ...By the media?

SCHLAFLY: My children didn't want me to take the bar exam because they were afraid that if I failed, like Ted Kennedy, it would be on the front page. So I wore the black wig and went up and nobody recognized me the first day. But the second day of the exam, when I left, I walked right into the arms of a Chicago Tribune photographer and reporter.

MARTIN: And you did pass.

SCHLAFLY: Of course I passed.

MARTIN: How did you manage though - as a mother of six, as your husband was - certainly had a busy career of his own, and being as significant a national figure as you have been - how did you manage?

SCHLAFLY: Well, politics was my hobby. And I really spent 25 years as a full-time homemaker before I did any particular traveling around. And by that time, the children were well along in school or college. And they were very supportive. My husband was very supportive. I told the feminists the only person's permission I had to get was my husband's.

MARTIN: Talk a little bit about the new book, if you would. What is it - your message in this book - that you feel is particularly current for today?

SCHLAFLY: A lot of people don't understand what feminism is. They think it is about advance and success for women, but it's not that at all. It is about power for the female left. And they have this, I think, ridiculous idea that American women are oppressed by the patriarchy and we need laws and government to solve our problems for us. They have made their close alliance with the Obama administration. And they're always crying around about things like the differences between men and women are just a social construct. So they're really in a fight with human nature. I would not want to be called a feminist. The feminists don't believe in success for women and, of course, I believe that American women are the most fortunate people who ever lived on the face of the earth, can do anything they make up their minds to do.

MARTIN: Do you feel that feminism has made any contribution to American life?

SCHLAFLY: No. I think it's made women unhappy - it's - to make them believe that we live in a discriminatory and unjust society, and that they should look to government to solve their problems.

MARTIN: What is your advice to the young women in your family - and the men - for that matter?

SCHLAFLY: Well, I think as we say in the book, that it's unfortunate that colleges and women's studies courses guide women to a career path that has no space for men, marriage or children. And I think you should plot a life that will give you the joy of marriage and children.

MARTIN: You know, I hear many young men say that they want careers that will allow them to more fully enjoy family life too.

SCHLAFLY: Well, I think so. But they find - some of the women say they don't want to take care of their own babies. I don't know why a man would marry a woman like that. I tell the college kids they ought to find out if the girl they're dating is a feminist or not.

MARTIN: I guess what I was asking is - I hear a lot of young men say that they want the same thing. They want careers that will allow them to enjoy family life as well. Is that wrong?

SCHLAFLY: No, it's not wrong. But I do think that gender roles are valid. We do look to the men to be providers and protectors. Now there's some people who successfully plan it another way and they don't have to get my permission to do that.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHLAFLY: They simply have to find a young man who wants to do that.

MARTIN: Can I ask you about race for a minute? There is a very large percentage of out-of-wedlock birth in the black community. But African-American women on the whole are not terribly supportive of the feminist movement - have not been kind of strongly identified with it, do embrace marriage, don't embrace a lot of the anti-male rhetoric that you're so critical of. And yet, marriage is not as prominent in our community - in the African-American community - as it was even in 1959...

SCHLAFLY: Yeah. Well, I...

MARTIN: I'm just curious why you think that is. In 1959, for example, African Americans were more likely to be married than whites were, but now it's the reverse and I'm just wondering if you have an opinion about that.

SCHLAFLY: Yes. And you realize it's not poverty that's caused that because all during the Great Depression, the black family was intact and together and they didn't have these handouts. I think when Lyndon Johnson instituted lavish welfare, they gave the money only to the woman and that made the father irrelevant. He lacked his role, his duty as a provider, so he took off. And that is just simply so unfortunate. The illegitimacy rate is now getting very large - even across the board among the white people. And it's too bad because we know that most of the social ills come out of mother-headed households. So if you're asking me for the cause, it doesn't really have anything to do with race. It has to do with the financial subsidies that were given to women, making the father provider irrelevant.

MARTIN: As we mentioned, this is a Wisdom Watch conversation, so we always like to end by asking - do you have some wisdom that you want to share?

SCHLAFLY: Well, yes. I would say, don't be taken in by feminism. Just remember, American women are so fortunate. When I got married, all I wanted in the world was a dryer so I didn't have to hang up my diapers. And now women have paper diapers and all sorts of conveniences in the home. And it is the men and the technology that has made the home such a pleasant place for women to be. So I hope they will use that pleasant place to raise their children.

MARTIN: That was the conservative author and activist Phyllis Schafly, speaking to me in 2011.

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