Phyllis Schalfly, advocate against feminism passes away

Amy Swanson, Staff Reporter

In the fight for women’s rights, one challenger stood out to be especially controversial: the female activist Phyllis Schlafly.

Schlafly, leader of the Stop ERA Campaign, died Sept. 5 at the age of 92.

Many believe her efforts were a major reason the Equal Rights Amendment wasn’t passed.

A little background

The Equal Rights Amendment essentially asked that “the rights guaranteed by the Constitution apply equally to all persons regardless of their sex,” according to

In order to add an amendment to the Constitution, it must first be approved by two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate. Then, it must be approved by three-fourths of the state legislatures.

The ERA was first introduced to Congress in 1923 by suffragette Alice Paul and continued to be brought before Congress for over 50 years.

A push to ratify the ERA began in 1970, and feminist groups had an early lead. Public opinion polls showed favorable support and, by 1973, the amendment got approval from 30 of the 38 states needed, according to

Conflicts rise

Members of the Stop ERA campaign, later renamed Eagle Forum, felt this amendment would destroy traditional American society.

Schlafly believed the ERA would disadvantage American women. Defending standard gender roles, she rallied middle-aged housewives, arguing that the ERA would only benefit career women.

Sometimes she began speaking engagements with lines like, “I’d like to thank my husband for letting me be here tonight,” according to

As she advocated for the “housewife,” yet was a lawyer, author and activist, some viewed her as hypocritical. However, Jo Reger, Professor of Sociology and Director of Women and Gender Studies at Oakland University, said Schlafly felt justified in her actions, even if they went against her very argument.

“It is important to remember that Schlafly and others believed that the very core of society, built around very traditional ideas of what it means to be a man and a woman, were being threatened by feminism and the women’s movement,” Reger said.

Among Schlafly’s warnings were that the ERA would force women’s colleges to admit men, eliminate protective laws in sexual assault cases and that mothers would lose the tendency to receive custody of their children after divorce.

Some of her points have been especially relevant recently. She felt the ERA would lead to the removal of the men-only military draft and that women would be forced to fight. This has been in the news lately, for example, in December 2015 the U.S. Department of Defense opened all combat positions to women.

Schlafly also feared the elimination of separate-sex bathrooms.

“It is interesting to think about how these issues did not go away but reemerged decades later,” said Reger. “I think that Schlafly was a very clever strategist in being able to see that these issues had a deep resonance with the American public. Separate bathrooms and sex-segregated military play into the division between the sexes that some think is fundamental to society.”

In efforts to stop the ERA from passing, Schlafly played up symbols of the American housewife. While the Illinois state legislature was in debate, those opposed to the ERA brought them homemade baked goods, accompanied with slogans like, “I am for Mom and apple pie.” They also hung signs on baby girls that read, “Don’t draft me,” according to

Ultimately, their tactics worked. Fewer states continued to ratify the amendment and by the 1982 deadline, the ERA was still three states short of passing.

Where society currently stands

As of this year, a poll by the ERA Coalition found that 96% of Americans mistakenly believe the ERA is indeed part of the Constitution.

While there are laws that protect against gender discrimination, like the Equal Pay Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, legislation can still be changed or repealed.

Gender inequality is still very real. One area regards pay: According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, today’s full-time working women in the U.S. make 78 cents for every dollar a man does. This is despite making up nearly half of the workforce, according to The White House. There is also the issue of violence. According to a report done by the U.S. Department of Justice, women recounted more accounts of stalking, rape and intimate partner violence.

Some feminist groups are still trying to get the ERA passed. For over 30 years, it has been reintroduced in every session of Congress, who hasn’t voted on it once, according to PR Newswire.

In the meantime, progress is still being made.

“There are women and men organizing around a range of issues that concern all people from trans[gender] rights to ‘Say her Name,’ the campaign to draw attention to black women subjected to police violence,” Reger said. “People are working to end rape and sexual assault on campus and change cultural norms.”

Looking back on the life of Phyllis Shlafly as an influential activist, Reger summarized what the situation comes down to.

“Phyllis Schlafly and the Eagle Forum fought for the world they believed in and feminists fought for the world that they wanted,” she said.

Reger came to an insightful conclusion.

“Even though the ERA went down to defeat, it brought women into contact with legislators and encouraged them to run for office as one way to change the world,” she said. “We are now in a time where a woman, no matter what you think of her, has very real possibility of becoming the next president of the United States. In some ways, this is Phyllis Schlafly’s unintended legacy.”