“Feminism” — Phyllis Schlafly made it a dirty word.
Well, actually, the feminists themselves did that. Schlafly just brought to light the truth about radical feminism. For more than 30 years, she has served as both detective and attorney, exposing the truth about the movement and its consequences for American women.
Schlafly’s latest book, Feminist Fantasies, provides an excellent resource for understanding the feminist agenda. She doesn’t concern herself with the philosophy so much as the practical applications, particularly the policies that govern the lives of every American.
Fantasies showcases pieces by written Schlafly throughout her professional career, beginning with the delusion of American women. Feminism, as has often been noted, disappointed a lot of women. Having followed the textbook formulae, line-by-line, female disciples have found (and are finding) themselves generally lonely and unhappy with their lives. They thought they were getting it all and instead got nothing.
Giving context to the debate and to the feminists themselves, Schlafly discreetly reveals the details of many of the feminists’ early lives. While their diatribe against patriarchal society has not rung true for most American women, it resonated for some particular women. They had grown up in left-leaning “intellectual” families where the men had little or no respect for women. Gleaning from Paul Johnson’s book The Intellectuals, Schlafly gives numerous examples to illustrate her point. She recounts how Picasso refused to take his mistress to the hospital to have their baby because he needed to attend the 1949 World Peace Congress. She also touches on the tragic life of Simone de Beauvoir, an educated and able feminist who chose to live the life of mistress, slave, and recruiter of other women for Jean-Paul Sarte. (Some scholars now suspect that much of Sarte’s academic work was actually Beauvoir’s.)
So began the lie of radical feminism. Some women were born into these situations and others chose them, but such conditions did not reflect the experience of most American women, starting with Schlafly herself. In fact American women were (and remain) the most privileged women in the world.
Schlafly reminds us that more than 160 years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that the singular prosperity and increasing strength of Americans was due to the superiority of American women.
Activists insisted on the rights of women to work, as if women made no other substantial contribution to society. But Schlafly notes that women were very much involved in society, although perhaps differently than men. And, yes, women were even involved in the financial operations of the family. In 1987, when one particular essay was published, women were writing two-thirds of the checks, regardless of whether or not they worked outside the home. Quite a different concept of power.
The last chapter of the book examines what most women want: marriage and motherhood. Schlafly writes, “If you want to love and be loved, marriage offers the best opportunity to achieve your goal…. Marriage and motherhood give a woman new identity and the opportunity for all-round fulfillment as women.” But these are distinctly feminine roles which radical feminism refused.
The lives of other accomplished women reveal the same theme, including women who never married and never had children. At age 66, Gloria Steinem walked down the aisle, leaving behind her mantra that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Amelia Earhart’s life story indicates that she wished she had a child. Germaine Greer publicly laments her childlessness.
Golda Meir, perhaps the most prominent woman of the 20th century, said that the most fulfilling thing a woman could do was to have a baby. Many of the aging feminists driving the fertility business with their quest for a child seem to agree at least in practice.
Radical feminism proposed a scoreboard approach to women’s rights: Whatever a man could do, a woman should do as well. Note well, the discussion wasn’t about whether she “could” do these things, but that she “should.” Femininity and its attributes were shelved.
Schlafly’s discussion reveals a paradox. She was able to have it all: family and career. And she did it by fighting those who said they were trying to get it all for her. The difference lies in the understanding of “all.” While Schlafly accomplished a great deal professionally, her essays reveal that having it all meant having a family. Happiness resulted from being a wife and mother and working with her husband to reach their goals. Her happiness lies in being someone, not simply doing things.
Being a wife and mother makes her the woman she is. Whatever Schlafly has said, done, or written, she has done so as a woman, as a wife, and mother. These experiences shaped her and became part of her. For radical feminists, life is about distancing women from marriage and motherhood. That’s why abortion plays such a central role in their agenda. Abortion covers up the fact that women are undeniably different. And yet, as they get older, many of them want what abortion destroys.
While it’s challenging to grasp the essence of woman or the essence of femininity, Fantasies exemplifies the life of one woman who’s done an excellent job of being a woman and incorporating her femininity into every aspect of her life. A true feminist, she’s got it all.
— Pia de Solenni is a fellow at the Center for Human Life and Bioethics of the Family Research Council.