Feminism has hurt men and women, children, and marriage. Phyllis Schlafly’s not going to say “I told you so,” but rather seek to answer the question, “So what do we do about it?” She has teamed up with her niece, Suzanne Venker, in the new book The Flipside of Feminism, a handbook to picking up the cultural pieces. Venker and Schlafly talked to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about the flipside and the F-word.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What exactly is the flipside of feminism?
SUZANNE VENKER: The Flipside of Feminism is a roadmap for Americans who know (but cannot admit publicly) that feminism has been a disaster. Countless problems in our society — the STDs, abortion, and heartache associated with casual sex; failed marriages, the neglect of children, men’s demotion from being vital citizens to downright expendable — have resulted from this large-scale social movement to change America from a traditional, family-centered country to a country in which female empowerment takes center stage.
LOPEZ: Your subtitle says, “What Conservative Women Know” — don’t liberal women know feminism doesn’t work, too? Isn’t it only natural to figure it out?
VENKER: Women who consider themselves liberal feel beholden to feminism because feminism is associated, rightly so, with liberalism. Even if they have doubts, they think they still owe feminists for creating opportunities. Many conservative women think this, too — that’s how insidious the feminist movement has been. That feminists are not responsible for liberating women is a new concept to these folks. In Flipside, we demonstrate that the conservative worldview is the antithesis of the feminist worldview and that being a feminist does not mean being strong, independent, and powerful. We believe those qualities better describe the conservative woman — that’s the reason for the subtitle. As Mark Levin wrote about our book: “Those who consider themselves ‘socially liberal but fiscally conservative’ will re-examine their attitudes after reading this book.”
LOPEZ: Men live in America, too. Who is putting them in burkas or otherwise keeping them from speaking up in one way or another?
VENKER: Feminists do a great job of pretending to be victims, but in fact they wield power in every societal arena. As a result, men are intimidated — and it isn’t natural for men to fight women anyway.
LOPEZ: How has feminism been most harmful to women?
VENKER: By making women believe they are victims of an oppressive patriarchy and that marriage and motherhood can’t possibly bring women happiness, or can at least be postponed indefinitely. As Kay Hymowitz wrote in Manning Up, feminists taught women that a career in the marketplace “equals glamour, passion, and a life fully lived.”
LOPEZ: And what about men? How has it hurt them?
VENKER: In Chapter 7, we explain how feminism affects males from the time they’re schoolboys to adulthood. When they’re young, their needs take a back seat in school; when they go to college, they’re adversely affected by the banning of many male sports; when they enter the workforce, they’re subject to sexual-harassment suits; and when they become husbands and fathers, wives have the upper hand as far as how the children are raised and, in the case of divorce, the family courts are so infected with the notion of women as victims that mothers can take custody of the children and reduce the father to a mere twice-a-month visitor in the lives of his own children. The father also has to fork over most of his income to a family he rarely sees.
LOPEZ: What is new and unique about your book?
VENKER: It attacks feminism head-on rather than trying to incorporate some version of feminism for the modern woman. In particular, it exposes the lies of feminism: e.g., that men and women are the same, that differences are a social construct instead of biological, that caring for one’s children exclusively is an obsolete lifestyle, and that women should be independent of men — when in fact the feminist worldview just exchanges dependency on a husband for dependency on government handouts. We also point out the fallacy that feminism is about equal rights for women. In truth, feminism is about power for the female Left.
LOPEZ: You dedicate your book to “all young women who’ve been made to feel out of step.” Isn’t that a much less common occurrence than in the day of Phyllis Schlafly standing bravely alone against the ERA?
PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY: Not at all. Suzanne has heard from countless young women and men across America who have thanked us profusely for giving them a voice and for speaking out against something so pervasive. Americans feel completely helpless in combating feminism.
LOPEZ: Suzanne, have you ever been ashamed to be related to Phyllis? What did you learn about her at Boston University? (And why would a gal from St. Louis go to Boston anyway?)
VENKER: Ha! That’s a funny question. No, I have never been ashamed to be related to Phyllis — I’m incredibly proud to be related to [such] strong, independent-minded women who have never given a hoot about what other people think. Almost all the women in my family are this way, and I love it. It’s so rare. That said, I do write in the introduction that I never wanted to call attention to the fact that Phyllis is my aunt. When I was in college in the 1980s, professors would mention her name disparagingly and my classmates would nod their heads accordingly. I never announced that she was my aunt — I wasn’t prepared to defend her at the time. The subject matter was just too big.
I [wanted to] see the world outside the Midwest, and Boston seemed like the best place to do that. Plus Phyllis, my mother (Phyllis’s only sibling), my sister, and most of my cousins all went to schools up East.
LOPEZ: Does marriage really elude the modern generation?
VENKER: The decline in marriage is a terribly significant and concerning trend. Look at the stats — 41 percent illegitimacy last year. The idea that marriage is optional, unrealistic, and ultimately confining has been thoroughly absorbed in our culture. What we see in Hollywood and in the media is a good barometer of cultural trends — they represent the culture at a particular time. In the past, the media showed intact families; today the families in movies and on television are fractured — and morality is virtually non-existent.
LOPEZ: Why do you include a mini how-to guide from Miriam Grossman?
VENKER: Because young women must have the facts about casual sex that they’re not getting anywhere else — that’s why Dr. Grossman calls herself “100 percent M.D., 0% P.C.” Her work is absolutely vital for young women. A woman’s best chance to avoid heartache, as well as the physical consequences of the hookup lifestyle, is to arm herself with the information Dr. Grossman provides.
LOPEZ: Will hooking up ever die?
SCHLAFLY: We hope so. Look how smoking has gone out of style.
LOPEZ: The Grossman manual is for girls, but do boys need it just as much?
VENKER: Yes, they need to recognize and understand that feminism is a left-wing worldview that has infected our culture. They also need to be sure they don’t marry a woman who has absorbed feminist ideology.
LOPEZ: Why is obliterating even the word feminism so important to you?
SCHLAFLY: We’re not for obliterating it; we’re for making it a pejorative.
LOPEZ: What has it been like tag-teaming on this book? Have there been any generational skirmishes?
VENKER: No. It was an inspired collaboration.
LOPEZ: What’s so wrong about Eat, Pray, Love? And who’s going to tell Julia Roberts?
VENKER: Eat, Pray, Love is a great example of what we mean by Hollywood and the media being a barometer of cultural trends. Eat, Pray, Love — which I would add is a great read — celebrates the notion of a woman who chooses not to embrace marriage and motherhood. That makes for great escapism, but this book isn’t fiction — it’s a memoir. Because of this, the women in the media — whom we call the feminist elite — jumped all over it and made Ms. Gilbert a big success. Then Ms. Gilbert wrote a sequel — entitled Committed — where she slams conservatives for being the root of the problems associated with marriage. That’s how the feminist elite operate.
I sincerely doubt Julia Roberts would ever voice an opinion on these matters, whatever they may be. The women in the media stick together.
LOPEZ: Why do you insist feminists love divorce?
VENKER: Because ultimately their message is, “Women first, men and children last.” When the going gets tough and they’re not happy (because happiness is the ultimate goal), they get out. Many want the benefits of marriage (a husband’s paycheck and custody of the kids) without the duties and compromises that marriage requires. That’s what feminists meant in the 1970s when they called themselves the Women’s Liberation Movement.
LOPEZ: How is Katherine Heigl living proof of the lie of feminism?
VENKER: Katherine Heigl was courageous enough to quit (no doubt temporarily) a lucrative and powerful career in television to mother her children — note that we use the word “mother” as a verb. Ms. Heigl said she could no longer “sacrifice [her] relationship with [her] child” and does not want to “disappoint” him. “I had to make a choice. You wish you could have it all exactly the way you want it, but that’s not life.”
LOPEZ: Phyllis, what’s the most important advice you can ever give to young men and women today? How can they learn from your battles?
SCHLAFLY: You can make your own life in the greatest country in the world, where American women are the most fortunate class of people who ever lived. Life is about the choices we make. Ignore the current culture. There’s a great quote by a man named Charles Swindoll, who says, “Life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.” Take this attitude with you throughout your lives and you’ll never be a victim.
LOPEZ: What about those a little older than that, who are just realizing that everything they were sold about feminism and we-girls-can-do-anything-and-everything was a lie?
VENKER: It will be a tall order, no doubt — but it can be done. People make life changes all the time. If you find that you have made choices based on feminist myths and assumptions, do something about it. Change your life. The transition will be hard, but the rewards will be well worth it.
LOPEZ: What has been the most surprising reaction to your book?
VENKER: No surprises, really. It’s getting the attention we expected: vitriol from those who’ve absorbed feminist ideology and gratitude from those who haven’t.
LOPEZ: What will the history books ultimately say about feminism — in any and all of its waves?
SCHLAFLY: If feminists write them, they will lie and say feminism created opportunities for women. If history books are truthful, they will say it was a passing fad created by the media.
VENKER: I hope they’ll say that Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and the other feminist spokeswomen were unhappy people who tried to make their personal problems a societal cause and fundamentally transform America — because that’s the truth. But since that’s not likely, I suppose I agree with Phyllis: I hope they say feminism was a social movement that ultimately died because the American people eventually saw the light.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.