Student Life Archives (2001-2008)

In face of protestors, Schlafly stands firm

Courtesy of WUSTL Photo Services

As students and faculty flock to a group calling on the University to reverse its decision to offer prominent conservative Phyllis Schlafly an honorary degree, Schlafly is standing by controversial statements she has made in the past that have made her famous within the conservative community and infamous among liberals.

“The feminists teach women that they are the victims of an oppressive patriarchal society, which is completely ridiculous,” Schlafly said in an interview conducted earlier this week. “American women are the most privileged, fortunate class of people who have ever lived.”

Schlafly gained national prominence in the 1960s as the author of “A Choice, Not an Echo,” a book that outlines her opposition to feminism and which looked to refocus the Republican Party toward its voting base in the Midwest as opposed to the Northeast-and New York in particular-where it had previously been based.

Since then Schlafly has received attention largely for her stance on women’s rights issues, where she aligns herself with traditional values, opposing the feminist movement and its achievements.

In recent years, she has spoken out against marital rape laws, gay rights and the effort to increase the number of females in math and science programs-a movement that she says will compromise teaching standards.

“The feminists [and] the whole women’s studies movement is very disdainful of the full-time homemaker. One of the goals of the feminist movement was to drive all the homemakers out of the home,”Schlafly said. “I think one of the main reasons they hate me is that I stood up for the value and the rank of the full time homemaker.”

Many of Schlafly’s opinions have been informed by the chronology of her personal achievements, which she says contradicts the feminist telling of history.

“The idea that opportunities just opened up for women when [feminists] came along is just nonsense. I got my bachelors degree in ’44 and I got my masters degree in ’45, my mother graduated from Washington U. in 1920,” Schlafly said. “It’s a fine school, opportunities have been there, and any of my classmates could have done what I did.”

Since the 1970s when Schlafly took a leadership role in the campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment and against the societal changes caused by the feminist movement, she has drawn criticism and disdain from those who disagree with her.

“These are basic civil rights that she doesn’t agree with. Why would we offer her a degree? It makes no sense and it’s insulting,” Mary Ann Dzuback, director of the Women and Gender Studies program, said. “She wouldn’t have the voice that she has now if the world was constructed according to Phyllis Schlafly’s design.”

Most recently, in 2007, Schlafly came under fire for her comments about marital rape-specifically that it was not possible because marriage is a consent to sex.

“It is completely ludicrous that because I have said ‘I want to marry you’ that means ‘I want to have sex with you whenever you want,'” Lauren Weiss, a Women and Gender Studies major, said. “No one gives up their autonomy when they get married. Why would feminism say, ‘We want you to have autonomy, but only until you get married.'”

Schlafly has stood by the statements which she made and the way in which they were portrayed in the media at the time, continuing to argue that marital rape is a construction by feminists.

Despite being a magnet for debate on all women’s rights issues, Schlafly pays no mind to the protests that have surrounded her in the last 40 years nationwide and in the last week at the University.

“When I went to Washington U. I worked my way through college firing and testing 30- and 50-caliber ammunition and all I’ve got to say about students today is that I think they have too much extra time,” Schlafly said. “I don’t know what college students do with all your extra time, but I guess one of them is go out and protest, while somebody else is paying their fee.”

One of the points on which Schlafly clashes with her opponents regards the role of women in society as it relates to the choice of pursuing a career or working exclusively within the home to raise children and care for a family.

“It’s her choice and she’s welcome to it, but she shouldn’t put other people into that position. That was the purpose of the feminist movement, to provide women with options beyond domesticity.” Dzuback said. “To suggest that women give up any kind of public or private work life is no longer a fair expectation [because of economic constraints].”

While both sides argue that women should be able to make individual choices to determine their path, Schlafly and her supporters see strength in the traditional family structure.

“I want to devote all of my time to children once I have kids, but there are plenty of women who would disagree with that,” Charis Fisher, president of College Republicans, said. “It’s best if you choose one role, but I wouldn’t think its bad for others to make a different choice [from me].”

Schlafly chose to spend nearly 25 years raising six children after receiving degrees from both Washington University and Harvard, respectively, and briefly working in politics.

Calling herself a “sequential woman,” Schlafly argues that by entering the public sphere after raising a family she was able to devote her full attention and achieve satisfaction from both causes.

“I spent 25 years raising my six children and now I have time to run around and debate these feminists on college campuses,” Schlafly said. “I went back to Washington U. law school after I was 50 [in 1970], but I’m glad I didn’t have my six children after I was 50. [Feminists] think one of the oppressions of life is the biological clock-well, you need to deal with life the way it is. I’m very happy with all of my choices.”

In a larger sense, one of Schlafly’s lasting achievements was shaping the direction of political invective for the last thirty years. Schlafly’s positions and argument style have served a basis for that used by many other prominent political commentators until today; many point to conservative columnist Ann Coulter’s writings as an example of this trend.

According to Dzuback, the content of Schlafly’s statements is based largely on the political message she is looking to convey, and not on an accurate portrayal of the situation.

“[Her argument] is not based in research. It’s polemical. It’s largely designed to illicit knee-jerk reactions rather than spur debate,” she said. “I don’t understand why we would honor someone like that.”

-With additional reporting by Ben Sales.

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