Phyllis Schlafly’s Positive Woman 1, Evasive Josephus, Hard to Translate, El the Boss, Complexity

1.  March is National Women’s History Month.  For this, I’ll be reading and blogging through Phyllis Schlafly’s 1977 classic, The Power of the Positive Woman

Phyllis Schafly is a conservative activist who, in the 1970’s, led a movement that helped defeat the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S Constitution.  The proposed amendment stated that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” and that “The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”

People have stereotyped Mrs. Schlafly’s position to be that women should be mothers and homemakers, not participants in the workforce.  Her critics have accused her of hypocrisy because that’s not entirely her lifestyle, for, although she raised her kids and even taught them how to read at home, she had a number of accomplishments outside of her role as mother and homemaker.  She was a lawyer, a prolific author, a political activist, a candidate for Senate, a student, and the list goes on.

Based upon statements that she and her family members have made, I’ve often wondered if her position is really that women shouldn’t work outside of the home.  I vaguely recall statements to the contrary.  And that’s why I decided to read her book, The Power of the Positive Woman, which is her critique of women’s liberation.  I’ve seen this book quoted more often than any other work she has written, by friends and foe alike.  I want to see what she says in this influential book.

But, for today, I want to offer this quote from Mrs. Schlafly, on page 18:

One of the strangest quirks of women’s liberationists is their complaint that societal restraints prevent men from crying in public or showing their emotions, but permit women to do so, and that therefore we should “liberate” men to enable them, too, to cry in public.  The public display of fear, sorrow, anger, and irritation reveals a lack of self-discipline that should be avoided by the Positive Woman as much as by the Positive Man.

This is an interesting quote, for a number of reasons.  First, it seems that there are many male celebrities nowadays who like to wear their emotions on their sleeves.  Joel Osteen cries during a sermon when he’s particularly moved, as when he talks about God’s goodness or the love that others have shown to him.  Glenn Beck has teared up during his 9/12 campaigns.  Closer to The Power of the Positive Woman’s time, Jimmy Swaggart cried effusively.  Beck and Swaggart are on the right in terms of the political spectrum, yet they cry in public.  Is this due to the influence of the feminist movement?

Second, this quote may explain why Phyllis comes across the way that she does.  I don’t know her that well, so I’m basing my comments on her public appearances in speeches and TV news shows.  She really doesn’t display emotion in public.  And she also doesn’t like to talk about her personal life, as when her son, John, came out of the closet.  She can get impassioned about right and wrong in her speeches, but she doesn’t talk in public about her personal fears, sorrow, anger, and irritation.  For her, that demonstrates a lack of self-discipline.  She just talks about policies and principles. 

And that brings me to my third point.  So far in the book, her point has been that men are different from women, as both have their strengths that they should celebrate (in contrast to her perception of women libbers, who despise being women and want to be exactly like men).  According to Mrs. Schlafly and the research that she quotes, men are rational and abstract, whereas women are concrete, practical, nurturing, and intuitive.  I’m not sure if she mentioned that women are big on sharing their feelings, but she may have.  In any case, that’s an often cited difference between men and women!

But Phyllis actually acts like a man (as she defines masculinity) in her public persona: stoic, rational, etc.  As far as “concrete vs. abstract” goes, she’s a little of both, I guess.  She comments extensively on policy, which is abstract.  Yet, she also tries to show how policies can impact people and families, which is concrete.  And, in the Preface, she criticizes women who like to complain to one another, exhorting them to talk to Positive Women (like her) who have found ways to navigate through life successfully, with a good attitude.  That sounds rather male (according to Schlafly’s gender essentialism) to me—don’t spend time sharing your feelings, but find a solution.  (At the same time, though, Phyllis is right to note that women as wives and mothers find solutions to problems all of the time!)

But perhaps there are similarities and differences between the public Phyllis and the private Phyllis, the one who interacts with her family and friends.

Fourth, creation vs. evolution has been in my mind as I’ve read this book thus far.  Phyllis continually refers to the “Divine Architect,” who made men and women different from one another.  Yet, she feels free to draw on the insights of evolutionists, as when she quotes Arianna Stassinopoulos’ statement that “It is inconceivable that millions of years of evolutionary selection during a period of marked sexual division of labor have not left pronounced traces on the innate character of men and women” (15).  In this evolutionary scenario, men were the aggressive hunterers and gatherers, whereas women were the nurturers, and thus we have survived!  I wonder what Phyllis Schlafly believes about evolution.  She’s a Catholic, so does she agree with the Church’s openness to the concept?  Yet, she’s a prominent leader of the religious right, which opposes the theory of evolution.

This will be an interesting book!  I just hope that Phyllis Schlafly doesn’t defriend me from Facebook on account of anything I say!

2.  In Josephus’s Interpretation of the Bible, Louis Feldman states that Josephus is “evasive…in explaining Daniel’s prediction (Dan. 2:44-45) of a messianic kingdom that would destroy all previous kingdoms (including, presumably, Rome) (Ant. 10.210)” (39).  Josephus was writing on the Roman dime, and that influences what he writes.  For instance, he portrayed the Jewish revolts as the work of a few rabble-rousers rather than as an activity supported by the vast majority of Jews.  Part of Josephus’ agenda was to make the Jews look good to the Romans, and the prophecy in Daniel didn’t fit into that goal all that neatly!

I checked Antiquities 10:210, and, basically, Josephus declines to present an interpretation of Daniel’s vision in Daniel 2.  He says that his goal is to discuss the past and present, not the future, and that those who are interested in the future should diligently read Daniel.  Yup, that’s evasive, all right!

3.  I started the “Introduction” of Mitchell Dahood’s Psalms III: 101-150.  On page ssv, Dahood talks about a conversation he had with Professor Benno Landsberger about the most difficult Semitic language: what is it?  Dahood said Arabic was the most difficult, but Landsberger replies that “he found biblical poetry, especially the Prophets, the most difficult.”  His reasons for its difficulty included “The lack of case endings that would serve to show the relationship between words, the compact construct chains that could express innumerable rapports between the construct and the genitive, the poetic vocabulary, and the highly elliptical character imposed by metrical considerations…”

I’ve been translating the Hebrew and Greek of the Book of Isaiah on BibleWorks, and, I agree, the Hebrew is difficult!  It’s not always easy to tell what goes with what.  It’s like I’m given a series of isolated words, and I’m supposed to make them cohere in some manner.  The Greek flows better, in my humble opinion.

4.  In Theodore Mullen’s The Assembly of the Gods, I continue to follow the saga of Baal, El, and Yam, who were gods in Ugaritic literature.  El was the high god and ruler of the pantheon.  Baal was a lower deity who got control of the cosmos after defeating the chaotic Yam, or “sea.”  I’ve been wondering if El supported Yam or Baal.  What I read today said that both needed his permission in order to rule!  So I guess he supported both, since both needed him to get their reigns off the ground.  But Yam is his beloved, and he only accepted Baal’s rulership after other gods had coaxed him.  So El’s probably not a huge fan of Baal!

On pages 40-41, Mullen quotes Philo of Biblos, who records that, “In the Phoenician theogony, El divides the land among the various gods as their territory…”  That calls to mind Deuteronomy 32:8-9, in which El Elyon divides the nations among the gods, giving Israel to Yahweh.

5.  In high school, I learned that there were differences between the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta.  Athens liked culture and beauty, whereas Sparta focused mostly on its military.  On page 15 of A History of Education in Antiquity, however, H.I. Marrou says that, “On the contrary, in archaic times Sparta was a great cultural centre open to strangers, to the arts, to beauty, to everything it would later pretend to reject.”  So Sparta was once in touch with its feminine side, until it chose to go Alpha-Male.  But, wait a second!  The beauty of its feminine side was perpetuated by males, was it not?  I guess I close today with a comment on stereotypes of males and females: they’re not coming out of nowhere, so they’re based on something.   But I doubt that they’re absolutely true.  I’ll mention Amazon women, with the evasive comment (a la Josephus) that I don’t know much about them.  As when I approach a difficult Hebrew text, we try to make sense of reality, but our construction doesn’t account for everything, for reality is complex.

Now that I tied these points together, I wish you all good day! 😀

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
This entry was posted in Bible, Greco-Roman, Religion, Women's History Month. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Phyllis Schlafly’s Positive Woman 1, Evasive Josephus, Hard to Translate, El the Boss, Complexity

  1. Pingback: Phyllis Schlafly | James' Ramblings

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