For my write-up today of Phyllis Schlafly’s Power of the Positive Woman, I have three items:
1. On page 111, Mrs. Schlafly states:
More recently, militant women have been demanding jobs in fire departments. Not only is a fireman’s work beyond the physical strength of nearly all women, but the work pattern of firemen, involving long hours of living, working, and sleeping together, makes a sex-integrated fire department incompatible with community morals and customs. Ask yourself: When you are rescued from the third floor of a burning building, do you want to be carried down the ladder by a man or a woman? Are you satisfied with the knowledge that a “person” will respond to your fire alarm?
That reminded me of a movie that my family watched in 1986: Firefighter, or Greater Alarm. The Internet Movie Database’s summary is as follows: Cindy Fralic (Nancy McKeon) plans to become a Los Angeles County firefighter. However, in the 60-year history of the department, no woman has ever passed the department’s physical skills test. Battling divorce, stereotypes and opposition from both men and women, Cindy Fralic passes the physical agility test to become the first female firefighter in Los Angeles County.
I don’t recall if my parents got into any debates about feminism while watching this. I don’t think that they did, even though they got into their fair share of debates on political and religious issues while watching television! If my memory serves me correctly, we just sat back and enjoyed the movie, for we all liked Jo from Facts of Life, and we admired the character she portrayed on Firefighter, Cindy Fralic, who overcame obstacle after obstacle and became a firefighting heroine, who saved lives.
I can watch Firefighter on YouTube, which is awesome, but I’ll probably wait until the end of the month before I watch movies for Women’s History Month. Right now, I’m reading Mrs. Schlafly’s The Power of the Positive Woman, and, when I finish that, I’ll read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (assuming I get it soon in the mail). When I’m finished with Ms. Friedan’s work, I’ll watch Firefighter, and also another movie that I love, which deals with women’s issues: Mona Lisa’s Smile.
2. Mrs. Schlafly argues that the Equal Rights Amendment will strike down states’ “protective labor legislation,” which protects female workers. On page 112, she defines such legislation as follows:
This protective labor legislation varies from state to state, but generally includes provisions to protect women from being compelled to work too many hours a day, or days a week, or at night; weight-lifting restrictions; provisions that mandate rest areas, rest periods, protective equipment, or a chair for a woman who stands on her feet all day; laws that protect women from being forced to work in dangerous occupations; and laws that grant more generous workmen’s compensation for injuries to more parts of a woman’s bodies than to a man’s.
Throughout this section, Mrs. Schlafly expresses distrust towards businesses, which is why she supports legislation that protects female laborers:
Page 114: And it is grossly unfair to the factory woman to wipe out the legislation that now protects her from a company that may order her to work a second eight-hour shift, and extra four-hour shift, seven days a week, or assign her to heavy lifting, dangerous or unpleasant jobs as male employees are arbitrarily assigned according to the workload of the company.
It is no answer to say that overtime should be voluntary. Of course, it should! But the fact is that it isn’t. With a few minor exceptions, even the most powerful unions have not been able to make overtime for men a matter of choice. But protective labor laws protect women from involuntary overtime, and it is grossly unfair to deny them that protection.
Page 117: In the states where the courts have voided all protective labor legislation, company after company has enthusiastically cut operating costs by removing the couches and reducing the size of women’s restrooms.
On page 116, Mrs. Schlafly dismisses a feminist argument that protective labor laws are unnecessary, with an anti-elitist jab:
At one state legislative hearing, a business woman appearing as a pro-ERA witness confidently argued that protective labor legislation is obsolete and unnecessary in this technological age, so women no longer need a law that requires a company to provide chairs. It comes with exceedingly poor grace for one who sits at a comfortable desk to brush off the legal right of a woman who stands on her feet all day to be provided with a chair.
I was slightly baffled by Mrs. Schlafly’s arguments. They fit in well with her overall argument that the ERA will mandate an “equality” that will remove gender distinctions from the law, thereby eliminating many of the legal protections and privileges that women enjoy. But it’s odd for her as a conservative to support government regulations, which cost businesses money and resources. Ordinarily, conservatives are against that. Moreover, I was wondering if her positions in this section of The Power of the Positive Woman contradict her opposition to federally-mandated family leave, which (according to wikipedia’s summary of the 1993 federal law) requires “larger employers to provide employees job-protected unpaid leave due to a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform his or her job, or to care for a sick family member, or to care for a new child (including by birth, adoption or foster care).” Isn’t that the sort of “protective labor legislation” for women that Mrs. Schlafly should support—the type that allows a woman to take off work for a period of time to care for her newborn baby without losing her job? Why does she oppose that?
I decided to read her contribution to a 1991 book that she edited, Meddlesome Mandate: Rethinking Family Leave. In some areas, I find her position in that book to be inconsistent with her tone in The Power of the Positive Woman. Here are some examples, along with my comments:
Page 110: …Mandated Family Leave is an idea whose time is past, if indeed it ever had a time. Societal changes, Americans’ expectations, and technological innovations have all made Mandated Family Leave an outdated notion that cannot serve the demands of the present or the future.
She says that many women run businesses from home, so mandated family leave is irrelevant for a lot of women. But that reminds me of the argument that she tries to refute in The Power of the Positive Woman, the one by the feminist who said that the technological age has made labor legislation obsolete and unnecessary. Are there no longer women in factories who can benefit from family leave legislation?
Page 111: …the United States has always had an effective national policy on parental leave. We let employers and workers work out their own arrangements. The less interference in the bargaining process the better, and the more prosperous our economy. Our successful pro-family policy is based on private property, freedom from government regulation, freedom of contract, and individual responsibility…The tremendous array of employee benefits that workers receive in the American economy has grown up voluntarily in the private sector, from either employers’ decisions or collective bargaining. These include paid holidays and vacations, health and medical benefits, and pension plans. There is no evidence that the job benefits available in America would be as high as they are today if government had straitjacketed business by mandating the benefits chosen by the posturing politicians.
In The Power of the Positive Woman, Mrs. Schlafly contends that state legislation is necessary to make greedy, cost-cutting businesses do the right thing and protect women workers. In Meddlesome Mandate, by contrast, she argues that businesses do the right thing by themselves (or at least when they are prodded by unions), without government interference.
Throughout her article in Meddlesome Mandate, Mrs. Schlafly talks about the costs of family leave on businesses, who lose an employee during the time of the leave, have to spend the money and the time to train her temporary replacement, and then must pay for unemployment compensation insurance when the replacement leaves (114). But, in The Power of the Positive Woman, she didn’t seem to care about the cost to businesses that “protective labor legislation” imposed.
There are areas, however, in which Schlafly’s Meddlesome Mandate article is consistent with The Power of the Positive Woman. In Meddlesome Mandate, Mrs. Schlafly contends that employed mothers may prefer other benefits than twelve weeks of unpaid family leave, such as “higher pay, a shorter work day, a four-day work week, flexible time schedules, part-time work, job sharing, child care vouchers, a better health and medical plan, more holidays, or the option to pursue employment at home” (111-112). Some of these coincide with the requirements of the “protective labor legislation” that Mrs. Schlafly supports in The Power of the Positive Woman, such as shorter work-days or work-weeks for women.
Mrs. Schlafly’s anti-elitism also rears its head in Meddlesome Mandate. On page 112, she states:
The principle beneficiaries [of the family leave requirement] would be the highly-paid, two-earner yuppie couples who can easily afford to have one spouse take off several months without pay. The proposed bill is highly discriminatory against the great majority of employees who could never take a 12-week unpaid leave of absence from work or would prefer other benefits.
The problem with family leave, as Mrs. Schlafly sees it, is that its cost to businesses would divert their money from other benefits that workers may prefer.
Of course, the difference between “protective labor legislation,” which Mrs. Schlafly supports, and family leave, which she opposes, is that the former is a state mandate, whereas the latter is a federal one. Does a commitment to states’ rights influence her to support regulations at the state level, and to oppose the “one-size-fits-all” rules from the federal government?
3. In my post, Phyllis Schlafly’s Positive Woman 2, Josephus on the Age of the Earth, Why Dahood Says the Psalms Are Pre-Exilic, Ishtar and Ghost Whisperer, Pederast, I quote Mrs. Schlafly’s statement on page 24 of The Power of the Positive Woman that the Positive Woman supports equality of opportunity for people of all races. But her comments on page 120 are interesting:
[The 1976 Supreme Court decision] Runyon v. McCrary involved two elementary schools in Virginia that were charged with discriminating on the basis of race. The schools were wholly private. They received no public money of any kind. Apparently they did not even have tax-exempt status. But the Supreme Court, in a seven-to-two decision, held that they are forbidden to discriminate on the basis of race and that they must admit blacks.
The Supreme Court decision was based on a section of an 1870 law entitled “Equal rights under the law.” As Justice White stated in his dissent, it is completely clear that both the language and the legislative history of the law prove that it was intended and designed to abolish race discrimination “under the law” only. It was not intended to cover private relationships.
But the majority of the Supreme Court stretched the law to include the private acts of wholly private schools. For more than 100 years, no one else had ever detected that meaning in the 1870 law. The Supreme Court ruled in Runyon v. McCrary that the mandate against race disrimination is so important that it prohibits even private acts of discrimination, and it takes priority over the First Amendment freedom of association, the Fifth Amendment right of due process, the constitutional right of privacy, and the right of parents to select private schools.
Practically every pro-ERA lawyer states—even boasts!—that ERA will impose a national standard that will imply the same strict legal standard to sex as we now apply to race…The agitating women’s lib lawyers…are following the same pattern of bureaucratic regulation and court litigation followed by the “civil rights” lawyers.
Something tells me that Mrs. Schlafly doesn’t care for Runyon v. McCrary: she says that it violates the original intent and the history of interpretation of the 1870 law that it claims to interpret, that it’s unconstitutional, and that it forces people to associate with those whom they may not want to be around. And her quotes around “civil rights” lawyers comes across as contempt for what they are doing.
I don’t know much about Mrs. Schlafly’s stance on civil rights. Maybe she’s against the state discriminating, but she’d support allowing private individuals to do so. In that case, she’d oppose Jim Crow laws that segregate public schools, but she’d support the right of an owner of a lunch counter to refuse service to African-American customers.
I remember her saying on a panel (which I watched on C-Span) that many Republicans supported civil rights. She referred to a Republican Senator from her state in the 1960’s (Illinois), Everett Dirksen, who voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And, in The Power of the Positive Woman, she quotes African-American opponents of the ERA, who fear that the amendment would add more burdens to their already difficult lives.
In The Power of the Postive Woman, Is Mrs. Schlafly deep down a conservative who opposes government interference, yet one who will appeal to all sorts of arguments against the ERA—even those that aren’t particularly conservative—in order to defeat the amendment?