Phyllis Schlafly’s Positive Woman 10

Today, I finished Phyllis Schlafly’s 1977 classic, The Power of the Positive Woman.  I read her endnotes, and also Appendix Two, which contains the 1973 manifesto of the feminist National Organization for Women (NOW), entitled Revolution: Tomorrow Is NOW.  Mrs. Schlafly probably included that in her book to show us that she’s not exaggerating how bad the feminist movement is, for NOW expresses in its own words the radical ideas for which Mrs. Schlafly criticizes them.  In this post, I’ll comment on the endnotes in (1.), and the NOW manifesto in (2.).

1.  One interesting item in the endnotes concerned Babe Didrikson, a woman athlete who beat notorious men (e.g., Joe Dimaggio, Babe Ruth in golf, Ben Hogan, Sam Sneed, and Byron Nelson) in athletic competition and accepted terminal cancer at the young age of forty.  According to Mrs. Schlafly, she’s the rare exception to the rule that women can’t compete with men in sports on a level-playing field because of men’s superior strength!

Another issue that stood out to me was being able to express oneself with confidence in an accepting environment.  This issue comes up in Mrs. Schlafly’s discussions about women’s colleges and institutionalized day care.  Mrs. Schlafly argues that the Equal Rights Amendment will eliminate women’s colleges by requring them to go co-ed, and she offers quotes from presidents of some of those colleges (224-225).  Rhoda Dorsey of Goucher College states that women’s colleges “are the most likely places for women to begin to believe in themselves, to speak out for themselves without fear of being labeled pushy or aggressive.”  Gwyneth Murphy of Barnard says the following:

During her four years at Barnard, a woman can never say she was treated a certain way or denied anything because of her sex.  She is forced to develop to her full potential and cannot use her womanhood as an excuse for failure.  This results in self-confidence in herself as a person, an awareness of who she is, and an honest self-appraisal of her limitations and capabilities.

In her criticism of institutionalized day care on pages 239-240, Mrs. Schlafly contends that it can cause damage to the child because it depersonalizes the care of infants, removing it from the warm embrace of the mother and placing it in the hands of day care workers.  She quotes Dr. Rhoda Lorand, who states:

One cannot be too careful in the choice of one’s parents, Mark Twain observed—and the same applies to the hiring of parent surrogates.  A child’s cognitive abilities are stimulated and enhanced by contact with people who make him feel happy.  He is motivated to know more about them and the world they represent…The child who is hurt, neglected, unhappy, or frightened withdraws into himself and tries to know as little as possible about the pain-giving world around him, or else may feel the need to continually attack it in order to overcome his feeling of helplessness or to express his rage and disappointment because of emotional frustration…The need to not know and the presence of unmanageable quantities of rage are among the prime causes of learning blocks…

When I lived in New York, I attended a support group for people with Asperger’s, and a young woman said that she would have been better off had she been home-schooled.  In that environment, she would’ve learned to cultivate her talents, without all the social rejection and expectations that she experienced in public school.  The problem with that approach, some would suggest, is that life is not a cocoon.  It’s a jungle.  There are people out there who will reject you.  Sure, a warm and accepting environment would encourage us to develop our potential and to come up with creative ideas in an atmosphere free of intimidation.  But that’s not the real world for everyone, and many people suffer as a result.  But it would be nice if we could make the world a little more like that—warm, accepting, affirming of everyone, as we realize that all people can make a valuable contribution to life.

2.  As I read NOW’s manifesto, I saw that some of Schlafly’s criticisms of the feminist movement are right-on-target.  NOW is definitely pro-choice on abortion, to the point of supporting students’ access to abortion in public schools.  It explicitly champions the sexual revolution.  It opposes gender stereotypes and pushing children into specific gender roles.  It wants the federal government to bar religious groups from discriminating on the basis of sex, which would require Orthodox Jews and Christian complementarians to violate their deeply-held religious convictions.  For some reason, NOW says more than once in its manifesto that veterans shouldn’t have special privileges.  And, on the issue of big government, I often got the impression that NOW believes that the government is made of money!

I’m sure that Mrs. Schlafly expected her readers to gasp at NOW’s support for lesbian rights, but I found myself actually feeling sorry for lesbians as I read NOW’s manifesto, on account of the persecution that they received in the 1970’s, both interpersonally and legally.  And I had to admire NOW for acknowledging its own mistreatment of lesbians in the past, as it affirmed steps to take a different path in the future.

In some instances, my impression of NOW’s beliefs strayed from Mrs. Schlafly’s portrayal of feminism in The Power of the Positive Woman.  NOW’s manifesto repeatedly calls for tax credits so that parents can pay for child care, showing that (contra the impression one could get from Mrs. Schlafly’s writings) it thinks beyond the realm of the liberal “tax-and-spend” approach, every now and then.

Schlafly seems to imply on pages 136-137 and 164 that feminists want to lessen the criminal seriousness of rape.  She notes that the U.S. Senate rejected Senator Sam Ervin’s amendments to the Equal Rights Amendment, some of which would have prevented the ERA from undermining sex offender laws.  And she also refers to laws that would change “rape” to “sexual assault.”  But the NOW manifesto is clearly anti-rape.  While it indeed recommends that rape be redefined as a “felonious assault” (since the crime of rape treats women as a separate class, which runs counter to the ERA), it criticizes the approaches of the police and the court system to the crime.  It states that “rape victims meet with disbelief and/or derision when attempting to report a rape to police,” and that the victim’s life is often under harsh scrutiny during the investigation and trial.  For this reason, the NOW manifesto contradicts its typical gender-neutral stance by recommending that “the investigation of these cases be done by women…”

Mrs. Schlafly argues that the ERA would strike down state laws requiring a husband to support his wife financially.  In many cases, however, NOW’s manifesto supports the principles of those laws, albeit in a gender-neutral form.  It states that, “if only one partner works outside the home, half the income should by law belong to the other partner.”  It advocates the enforcement of child support laws.  And it proposes that “the Social Security Act be amended to reduce from 20 to 10 the number of years a divorced woman must have been married to her former husband to be treated as his wife and widow for purposes of eligibility for wife’s or widow’s insurance benefits…”  So, contra Mrs. Schlafly’s stereotype, NOW probably doesn’t support allowing a man to ditch his wife for a younger woman while refusing to support her and her children.  Plus, if the husband is the one working outside of the home, then NOW wants him to share half of his income with his wife, which seems to be the same as supporting her (right?).

Mrs. Schlafly states that the ERA would require women to be drafted into war were the draft to be reinstituted, as well as place them in combat positions.  Indeed, NOW’s manifesto condemns as sexist the policy of drafting only men, along with the military’s restrictions on women in the areas of “job training, education, [and] area of service…”  Yet, NOW opposes war and the draft, period. 

Of course, one should remember something: what NOW wants isn’t necessarily what would have happened had ERA been enacted, so the ERA could have had the devastating effects that Mrs. Schlafly predicted.  NOW doesn’t like war, for example, but the powers-that-be don’t see things NOW’s way.  So, if ERA were the law of the land and there were a draft, women would get drafted.

The NOW manifesto was eye-opening because it discussed examples of sexist discrimination.  NOW states that women—wives, single women, and widows—do not have the same opportunities as men in terms of receiving loans or high credit lines.  (But Mrs. Schlafly could possibly argue that the banks are reluctant to lend women money because they could quit work and become homemakers.)  The NOW manifesto also advocates the following:

Repeal of all laws which discriminate against women by granting men privileges which are withheld from women (e.g., husbands may sue for loss in consortium, wives may not; husbands are allowed an occasional unfaithfulness, wives are not; husbands are not punished for killing a man found in the act of sexual intercourse with their wives, but a wife killing her husband under the same condition would be found guilty of murder)…

Overall, NOW believes that the law’s assumption of traditional gender roles and stereotypes keeps women down and restricts them from opportunities.  Mrs. Schlafly, by contrast, sees it as elevating to women. 

Tomorrow, I’ll start Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique.  Stay tuned!

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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.
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One Response to Phyllis Schlafly’s Positive Woman 10

  1. Pingback: Phyllis Schlafly | James' Ramblings

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