Student Life Archives (2001-2008)

Op-Ed: In support of Phyllis Schlafly

On Wednesday morning, Washington University Professor Mary Ann Dzubak stated that the school awards honorary degrees to people whom it wishes to hold up as “worthy of emulation.” Phyllis Schlafly, she argued, is not this sort of person. On the contrary, I would argue that Mrs. Schlafly fits the qualification perfectly. Based on her political successes, her defense of women’s rights, and her hard work throughout her career, Mrs. Schlafly is most worthy of emulation.

Phyllis Schlafly’s most noteworthy accomplishment is her incredible victory against the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, which stated that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged.on account of sex.” When she first turned her attention to ERA in 1972, the amendment was eight states away from ratification and a plank in both parties’ platforms. It was supported by 90% of the U.S. Congress, every living former president, and nearly every state governor. Yet against all odds, Mrs. Schlafly managed to galvanize women across America, single-handedly leading a ten-year, uphill battle to defeat ERA.

How did she do it? She relentlessly pointed out the ways in which ratification of the innocuous-sounding ERA would actually represent a loss for women’s rights, not a victory. The amendment, she noted, would do away with laws that privileged women, such as those that require husbands to financially support their wives as well as labor laws that protect women in industry from compulsory overtime and from lifting certain amounts of weight. It would deny federal funding to single-sex women’s colleges, prevent elderly widows from receiving Social Security benefits based on their late husband’s earnings, and make it much more difficult for women to automatically receive alimony and child custody in divorce cases. Most importantly, Mrs. Schlafly argued, ERA would end women’s exemption from the military draft. In the event of a draft, young women would be forced into combat in equal numbers with young men.

Mrs. Schlafly fought ERA because it took rights away from women. She is a strong defender of women’s rights, including the special privileges certain laws grant them. It has been frequently asserted over the last several days that Mrs. Schlafly “tells women they should stay at home.” Nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary, Mrs. Schlafly encourages women to be politically active, as she has been throughout her career, which includes multiple books and two runs for Congress. She considers education to be an important goal for young women-she herself has a law degree, and her mother graduated from Washington University in 1920-and she is fully supportive of women who choose to have careers. Far from viewing women as “weak and emotional”-as Professor Dzubak suggested on KMOX radio on Wednesday morning-Mrs. Schlafly has argued throughout her career for women’s mental and emotional strength, suggesting that their ability to manage home and family makes them even more resilient than men. As Mrs. Schlafly stated on KMOX on Wednesday, she “admire(s) the role of the full-time homemaker.” If women wish to stay at home and give full attention to their children and their household, Mrs. Schlafly argues that they have a right to do so, and she strongly supports women who make this choice.

Her defense of women’s rights aside, Mrs. Schlafly’s intelligence and hard-working nature also make her a worthy example for students and graduates. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Washington University, earning a bachelor’s degree in three years while simultaneously working 48 hours a week testing ammunition in a local factory. She went on to receive her master’s from Harvard in a mere eight months. A Washington University political science professor at the time wrote that she “is the most capable woman student we have had in this department in ten years.” In the midst of the time-consuming ERA fight, Mrs. Schlafly enrolled in Washington University School of Law, saying that she would study and attend classes in her “spare time.” She graduated on time near the top of her class. Over the course of her career, she has written ten books, including an 800-page study of U.S. nuclear policy, on which she became an expert during the Cold War.

As a staunch defender of women’s rights, a leader of a national political movement, and a successful, hard-working individual, Mrs. Schlafly is certainly someone “worthy of emulation.” She deserves this honor and she deserves to be held in high regard by Washington University students.

Rachel is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences and can be reached via e-mail at rrwisdom@artsci.wustl.edu.

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