Phyllis Schlafly Oral History Project; Equal Pay for UNequal Work

For today’s Phyllis Schlafly post, I will be engaging two sources. One is Mark DePue’s extensive 2011 interview of Phyllis Schlafly, which was part of the oral history program of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. The second is Equal Pay for UNequal Work, which was published in 1984 by the Eagle Forum Legal and Educational Fund. The book contains addresses at a conference about comparative worth, an attempt to insure that women are paid the same as men. Eagle Forum was Phyllis Schlafly’s organization.

Some items. This is not comprehensive.

A. In A Choice Not an Echo (1964), Schlafly laments that Richard Nixon in 1960 gave liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller the power to shape the Republican platform for that year. In Choice, her claim was that Rockefeller sought to push the platform in an internationalist direction, one that supported military disarmament, American retreat from the Soviet threat, and empowering globalist organizations (i.e., the UN). The critique of that common conservative lament is that Rockefeller, far from supporting nuclear disarmament, actually wanted a military buildup on the part of the U.S. Conservatives’ criticism of Rockefeller’s influence in 1960, the critique continues, is rooted in Rockefeller’s support for civil rights. In the DePue interview, Schlafly states that she cannot think of anything objectionable in the 1960 platform, but she objected to the way that Nixon let Rockefeller come in and change it, after the delegates had spent a lot of time and effort constructing it. On civil rights, Schlafly simply states that she had no interest in that issue in the 1960’s. It did not affect people in her circle, and she was far more concerned about U.S. military inferiority in comparison to the Soviet Union: what use are civil rights, if the Soviets nuke you? She is more supportive of MLK in the interview, however, than she is in her 1968 book, Safe—-Not Sorry.

B. Schlafly states that conservatives were not actually called conservatives prior to 1964. Rather, there were eastern Republicans and middle-class and midwestern Republicans.

C. Schlafly discusses her run for Congress in the 1950’s and whether her moving to Washington, D.C. after winning would disrupt her family life. She replied that she did not expect to win, as that was a heavily Democratic district, so she did not anticipate moving. In terms of her run for Congress, she worked during the day and came home to her family at night. She presents herself as a stay-at-home mother when her children were growing up.

D. Donald Critchlow in Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism says that Schlafly was a long-time opponent of the military draft. In the DePue interview, however, she says that the draft would be necessary in wartime.

E. Schlafly in the updated version of Choice is rather critical of George W. Bush and the Iraq War. She portrays Bush as a cronyist and the Iraq War as a futile exercise in nation-building. In the DePue interview, she is more sympathetic towards George W. Bush. She believes that he had a good heart and that he was not deliberately lying when he said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. She states that she supports the U.S. attacking Iraq to stop the WMDs, but not the subsequent nation-building that the U.S. undertook.

F. Schlafly often said that it is unrealistic for the U.S. to try to make Islamic nations into democracies. In the DePue interview, she fleshes out what she means by that. There are Islamic countries that have cultures that run contrary to democracy. Support for clans can eclipse regard for the broader nation, and Saudi Arabia is run by a family.

G. Schlafly criticizes so-called “free trade” agreements. She talks about how foreign countries circumvent tariffs: “What the foreign countries do is: as they have lowered their tariffs to comply with the trade agreement, they have simply raised their VAT, their value added tax, about the same amount that the tariff used to be. Now the value added tax is a tax that Americans have to pay when they ship and try to sell goods in a foreign country. When the plants in the foreign country want to export to the U.S., their government reimburses them for the taxes they’ve paid.”

H. Schlafly talked about what it was like to be her. When she was in college, she worked at night to pay her way, and she did not have a social life. At graduate school, she had more of a social life because she had a scholarship; yet, she acknowledges that she is shy and is not much of a people-person. She attended Harvard for her graduate studies and says that the professors were largely liberal and supportive of FDR but that they were more balanced in their approach than later academia would be.

I. Schlafly’s political attitudes seem to be rooted, on some level, in her upbringing. Her parents got by during the Depression through hard work and were too proud to ask the government for help. Schlafly looks down on those who expect the government to take care of them, especially when their circumstances are far better than she experienced during the Depression. Schlafly was not a doctrinaire conservative in the 1940’s, however. She says that she supported the UN at the time because everyone saw it as the hope of humanity.

J. Schlafly talks about some of her personal issues with a degree of detachment. When discussing her son John’s homosexuality, she states that she never discusses it with him, that he remains a supporter of Eagle Forum, and that she doubts he is truly gay. She matter-of-factly discusses her husband’s dementia is the last few years of his life. She says that she took care of him and that his sickness was tragic, since he was an athletic man, but there is not much pathos there. She does leave the impression near the end of the interview that there is more to tell: that she had a rich and an interesting family life. Also noteworthy is that she polled her kids about what she could have done differently as a parent and actually appreciated their honest responses.

K. Moving on to Equal Pay for UNEqual Work. Comparative worth is an attempt to ensure that women in largely female-dominated professions—-nursing, secretarial work, etc.—-are paid more. It evaluates each job according to certain criteria (i.e., education, analytical difficulty) and ascribes to it a number, and people are to be paid according to that number. Most of the contributors to the book are opponents of comparative worth. Their argument, first of all, is that women gravitate towards lower-paying jobs, since those jobs give them the flexibility they want so they can raise their families; they are unwilling to put in the time and the effort in the workplace that would bring them higher pay. Second, because many women gravitate towards those sorts of jobs, the jobs end up paying less. When there is a limited supply of jobs and a lot of women who want them, the company is not willing to pay a lot of money to attract people to those jobs; the jobs can be easily filled, and at a low cost. Third, the male-dominated jobs pay more for a reason. They involve risk of life and limb and physical exertion, which is necessary for the company to make a profit. Companies pay according to what is valuable to them, not on the basis of sexual discrimination. Fourth, sex discrimination in the workplace is already illegal, without comparative worth. The EEOC will investigate on the basis of even anonymous tips. Were comparative worth to become law, the result would be economic disaster. The jobs that attract women would now cost more, so fewer women would be hired for them. Companies would have to endure yet another burdensome regulation that adds costs and that makes them less competitive in a global economy. A preferable solution is to open more “male dominated” jobs to women.

L. The book includes some voices that support comparative worth. One professor refers to a case in which tree-trimmers at a hospital were paid more than nurses. The reason, she argues, is that male tree-trimmers are considered to be providers of their families, so they are paid more. If women are recognized as providers, as they increasingly are that, then they would be paid more in their professions. The anti-comparative worth voices, in my opinion, did not adequately explain why tree-trimmers should be paid more than nurses. One simply said, after a lot of complex analysis that went over my head, that this is the way the market works. Why should an NBA player be paid millions?

M. Schlafly often criticizes the ERA because it would undermine protective labor laws for women, such as extra breaks and lesser lifting requirements. Interestingly, conservative economist Walter Williams in his contribution was somewhat critical of those laws: he says that they were used to keep women out of certain professions and that many states therefore nullified them.



About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. 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. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also 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.
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