This article was originally published at the Washington Examiner.
I gave an interview the other day about the new FX/Hulu series, Mrs. America, the fictional account of the 1970s fight between feminists and my aunt, Phyllis Schlafly, over the Equal Rights Amendment. Feminists wanted it passed; Phyllis and her supporters didn’t. (If you’re interested, here’s the behind-the-scenes true story of the historic defeat of the ERA.)
In that interview, I addressed the main accusation that was hurled at Phyllis during that time: that she was “running around the country telling women to stay home while she herself didn’t.”
That isn’t even remotely accurate, although it might look that way to the casual observer.
In fact, Phyllis never told women what they should and shouldn’t do when it comes to their choices regarding work and family. She merely stood up for the fact that women need special protections — the right not to be drafted, the right to be supported by their husbands — because they are biologically different from men. Women are physically weaker, for one thing; and they’re the sex that carries, nurses, and nurtures the babies. Thus, accommodations must be made. The Equal Rights Amendment would have stripped such accommodations.
It is true that Phyllis was not a stereotypical homemaker, but then neither am I. We both have a “career” of sorts; but neither of us was ever employed after the birth of our first child, and we moved in and out of the workforce as the needs of our children changed. I wrote my first book over a two-year period when I had the first of my two children and didn’t write another until both were in first grade. In the interim, I blogged. After the second book, I wrote a few more books and made radio and television appearances in piecemeal fashion, over the course of the subsequent 10 years I was home with my children.
Millions of mothers live similar lives, moving in and out of the workforce. But they generally do so quietly, out of the spotlight. Some make a living, and some do not, as some of this work is community-focused and thus does not produce an income. It’s unfortunate that today we only value paid work; it didn’t use to be this way. The work women do outside the marketplace is, in fact, immeasurable.
But women can’t do this work — raise children, work in the community, work part time for pay — without one thing: a supportive, not to mention gainfully employed, husband. A husband who’s on the same team and who takes pride in all his wife accomplishes.
I’ve often written, and Phyllis often said, that we couldn’t do what we do without the emotional and financial support of our husbands. In Movie Guide, Phyllis’s daughter, Anne Schlafly Cori, wrote,
“My honorable father cherished his wife, and he not only loved her activism, he was honored to fund it. My parents had an intellectual partnership that included debating the finer points of political issues, and my mother often honored him as the invaluable partner who made it possible for her to accomplish all she did.”
That is my story, as well. My husband Bill is invaluable: Without his support, I could not have devoted my life to family while working for pay (or not) intermittently. He is utterly indispensable. Ergo, the key to being successful both inside and outside the home is to marry a man who’s as family-focused as you are and who happily supports his wife’s endeavors, be it a career or some other meaningful endeavor.
As it happens, that’s what most women want. According to Pew Research, the vast majority of mothers with children under 18 (67%) prefer part-time work or none at all. To do this, it is crucial to marry the right man.
There will be those who will say in response, “Well, show me where those men are, and I’ll marry one!” But if such men have disappeared, you need only thank feminists—because that was the point Phyllis was trying to make all those years ago. If we choose to view men and women as “equal,” or interchangeable, there can be no distinctions made between them.
And if there are no distinctions made between them, we can’t acknowledge the fact that women have babies and men do not — or that women, as a rule, are more interested than men are in nurturing. We can’t acknowledge men’s and women’s unique sexual desires. These differences are designed to work in tandem, in complementary fashion. If you strip men’s and women’s disparate natures of their power, relationships and families fall apart.
Of course, this has happened anyway, even without the Equal Rights Amendment, so feminists should be thrilled.
The question is, are you?