Ever since her death yesterday, I’ve been straining to understand the outpouring of almost unequivocal hatred against Phyllis Schlafly. As a useful civilian corrective for the inevitable downplaying of her misdeeds in official media coverage, the avalanche of funny tweets and subversive obits is entertaining for sure. But is it really that redemptive?
Of course, we can all agree Schlafly is a generally objectionable figure. Her stances on issues like reproductive rights and gay marriage are clearly indefensible according to any and all moral standards. And underneath much of her so-called policy is a thinly veiled contempt for the poor, minorities and those “elite globalists,” the Jews. Not to mention, it's just good fun to gloat in the delicious irony of her no-nonsense a-woman’s-place-is-barefoot-and-pregnant-in-the-kitchen rhetoric rubbing up comically against the reality of her being a more or less full-time lawyer, author and politician.
But wait, slow your roll. Her position on women in combat is a beacon of reason in a nationwide discourse that would have mothers of children exposing themselves to bodily harm in the name of a growing list of dirty wars and proxy conflicts where the main casualties are typically, um, other mothers and their children. The idea that women should be allowed and, in fact, encouraged to participate in battle is only one part of the progressive delusion which disregards biology as the overall basis of sexual difference in its hamfisted bid to convince us that gender is merely “a construct” of language and not an essential fact of life. Not surprisingly, this verbal-based feministing is also responsible for the manufacture of “rape culture,” a nationwide epidemic supposedly sanctioned by a society which is really The Patriarchy (capital P) and not, you know, a consequence of sexual dimorphism and the male libido that is in fact regulated by the social contract, as Camille Paglia has convincingly argued.* (By the way, I’m sure I’ll get dragged for this but if you want the authentic experience of rape culture, maybe try moving to Saudi Arabia?)
Schlafly’s “feminism” is hardly ideal but it’s really no worse than the voguish, Foucault-humping liberal feminism that treats womanhood itself as a figment of social constructionism. These unshaven millennial agitators would have you believe that teaching “girls to code” should be a national priority but a neckbeard harassing them remotely on Twitter by the dank glow of a portal screen constitutes a capital offense. In this light, the supposedly unflattering Schlafly quote making the rounds, “Men should stop treating feminists like ladies, and instead treat them like the men they say they want to be,” starts to sound a lot like common sense—in that it gets to the heart of the ass-backwards identitarian impulse that encourages women to enlist in combat and eagerly flood the STEM fields like ISIS recruits as a furtive means of forwarding the agenda of neoliberal consensus. A woman’s place may no longer be in the kitchen, but it’s not on the frontlines of neoliberalism either.
In the day or so since her death, Schlafly has been roundly panned in the leftist milieu, but it’s Shillary and Sheryl who should be made to pay for the failures of modern-day feminism. Phyllis, after all, never claimed to be a feminist.
What Schlafly didn’t seem to fully appreciate and where she’s inarguably wrong is that, as feminists, we’re not fighting to fight but for the choice to have the choice. Although it runs counter to the spirit of feminism to legislate away a woman’s prerogative to volunteer for combat it does not preclude that this power to choose should be collectively discouraged (shamed, as they say) in the theater of public opinion. I’m aware that a similar argument has been advanced for Schlafly’s bogeyman, abortion, and while it’s frankly preposterous to argue against abortion for a bevy of socioeconomic reasons that don't need to be rehashed here, it’s fair and necessary to permit the nuance that late-term abortion is morally reprehensible, and should be condemned at all costs.**
And yet, the problem with liberalism is that it thrives on a false dichotomy which portrays conservative figures as one-dimensional villains because it lacks an instinct for evil and therefore fails to read intent. We saw this play out earlier in the week, when the SJWs, lying in wait, lost their shit over Lena Dunham’s relatively harmless remarks about football player Odell Beckham, Jr. while conveniently overlooking the greater violence of policing intentionality. (Dunham’s true offense wasn’t in making a black man look bad for ignoring her but in making not one but two black men—Beckham and actor Michael B. Jordan—look good compared to her as a means of ingratiating with POCs and thereby ramping up her cachet among her white peers.) Dunham, young, bubbly, hopelessly hand-wringing, stands out as an antithesis to Schlafly’s iron lady politics, but as a cultural barometer, she represents everything that’s wrong with feminism today, particularly its obsession with symbolic diversity to compensate for its aversion to political solidarity.
On the other hand, it’s counterproductive to deny that the Schlafly school poses the biggest and most unexamined threat to the principles we claim to uphold. In the scamper to protect their moral alibis, liberals have repeatedly consigned those elements of conservative doctrine that warrant a fair shake to the all-purpose swill of wickedness.
Call me a misogynist, but at the risk of lowballing the ladies yet again, Phyllis Schlafly was not nearly as bad as Scalia or, say, Kissinger, so why drag her up to that level?
*Consider the irony that liberal feminists don't seem to have an issue with the idea of women's bodies being blown to bits in combat because they "volunteered" for the indignity but are horrified when similar violence occurs in the course of a date rape.
**Barring the case of disorders or deformities that are life-threatening for the mother and/or child, as one perceptive reader pointed out.