On November 20, the Cornell College Republicans and Cornell Review hosted a speech by Eagle Forum Founder Phyllis Schlafly. Mrs. Schlafly is best known for her successful campaign to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and 1980s. She is the author of 16 books and was named by Ladies Home Journal as one of the most important women of the twentieth century. Mrs. Schlafly was kind enough to sit down for an interview with me during her stay in Ithaca, New York. The transcript of that interview appears below.
Joe Sabia: Mrs. Schlafly, if you had not led the fight to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Constitution and it had become law of the land, how would America be different today?
Phyllis Schlafly: Well, the most immediate effect would have been on the military and the draft. You realize that when the ERA came out of Congress, we were just coming out of the Vietnam War and the draft was a very real threat to all the guys in this country. [The ERA] would have required the registration of young women. I think there would have been some type of social upheaval about that. I do not believe that the American people would have tolerated that. And yet there’s no way to argue against that happening. All the lawyers I’ve debated over the years never denied it. They all admitted it. Of course, they were all over draft age and didn’t have any daughters. They said, “Yeah, that’s what we want.”
And then, [the ERA] would have eliminated the laws and regulations that we had for assignment within the military. You couldn’t do like the Israelis do, which is to give women all the jobs to make coffee and type and so forth and leave the cruddy fighting to the men. They couldn’t do that under ERA.
I think we would have had an enormous number of lawsuits. And one of the biggest effects would have opened the doors to allow lawsuits. Then you’ve got the activist judges. They waited awhile to get what they really wanted and finally did use the state Equal Rights Amendments to get it. Tax-funded abortion is one of the main things they wanted. And Ruth Bader Ginsberg was very open and above-board on that. That’s what she wanted; she thought that tax funding should be a constitutional right for abortion. They have succeeded in several states under state ERAs. The most clear-cut example of that was New Mexico about four years ago. They really accomplished that in several states. And there’s a case in Texas right now. Texas doesn’t really have exactly the same language as the ERA, but they still got a lower court to hold that the Texas law requires taxpayers to fund abortions. We hope that the Texas high court will overturn that.
The other thing that they would go for is same-sex marriage licenses. In Hawaii, which is a state that did have exactly the same language as the federal ERA, their high court did rule that Hawaii’s ERA required same-sex marriage licenses. So Hawaii had to pass another constitutional amendment saying “No, we didn’t mean that” and take that power away from the court.
So those areas—and there are a lot of areas—there is just no way to avoid the way the courts would have held under strict gender-neutral rules.
Sabia: And you’re correct, the state experiments do provide an example through which to see the road our federal government could have gone down if it had passed the ERA.
Sabia: In your view, what was the turning point at which you said to yourself "We've done it. Despite ERA support from both major political parties, 90 percent of the Congress, Presidents Ford, Nixon, and Carter, we have defeated it?”
Schlafly: Well, I can’t say we were for sure until it was over because they fought it down to the bitter end. In the spring of 1982, we had battles, especially in Illinois, but also in North Carolina, Florida, and Oklahoma, all in that spring of 1982. However, as you look back, you can see what you might call the Midway Battle. If you look back on World War II and we see Midway was the turning point. The turning point [for us] was the Convention on International Women in Houston in November 1977. Bella Abzug was in Congress and they got $5 million of taxpayers money to hold this shindig. The purpose of it was to line up further support [for the ERA] and get their remaining states.
And they convinced themselves that we were such a threat that they had to make common cause with the lesbians. This event had enormous publicity. They had thousands of first-tier media people covering this in Houston. It turned out to be the same week as one of the big events in history, when Sadat flew to Israel to make peace with the Jews. All the networks had to send their second team because their first team was in Houston covering what was going on down there. [The conference] was kind of illustrated by a quote I’ve used from the Missouri governor later on. Some reporter said, “Governor, are you for the Equal Rights Amendment?” He said, “Do you mean the old ERA or the new ERA? I was for equal pay for equal work, but after they went down to Houston and got involved with all those abortionists and lesbians, I can tell you it’s never going to pass in Missouri.”
Sabia: In recent presidential elections, members of the mainstream media have spoken extensively about the so-called "gender gap." What is your explanation for this and where do you see the trend going?
Schlafly: The gender gap has turned out to be a bigger problem for Democrats because it’s meant that the men are voting for Republicans. To the extent that it’s real, it’s really a problem of single women who are raising children by themselves. These cultural changes have developed millions of women who are either having illegitimate children or are divorced and raising children by themselves and they look to government to provide what the husband isn’t providing. I don’t know any way out of that. There isn’t any gap between married men and married women. It’s the single women, and it’s a tough life raising your children by yourself and you need Big Brother government to help.
Sabia: I am going to read the names of some high profile women in America who have often spoken out on issues of women's rights. I'd like your view of each. First, Ann Coulter.
Schlafly: Ann Coulter has just a way with words that is absolutely delightful. She has a flamboyant style and she is delightful to read.
Sabia: Elizabeth Dole.
Schlafly: Her style is extremely cautious. It’s very difficult to figure out what she’s for. She has tried very hard to avoid people knowing where she stands on crucial issues like abortion. If she were giving an interview, she’d want the questions in advance. I understand that at her events, she either won’t take questions or wants the questions in advance. She doesn’t talk off the cuff.
Sabia: Christina Hoff Sommers.
Schlafly: Christina Hoff Sommers is in academia and nobody in academia has got the nerve to say “I am not a feminist.” So, she has tried to construct this notion that there are good kinds of feminists and bad kinds of feminists, which I don’t agree with. I think feminism has been a very destructive force in our society. However, her book on The War on Boys is great and we just have to recognize that the feminist movement is an attack on everything that is masculine. If we had a gender-neutral society, it wouldn’t be enough. They want to wipe out everything that is masculine. [Sommers] has identified that very well so I think her writings are very important.
Sabia: Nancy Pelosi.
Schlafly: She’s a complete feminist. That means she won’t tolerate the slightest restriction on abortion, anytime, anyplace. I’m sure she’d be proud to call herself a feminist. What that means to them is that if you talk about women’s rights, the number one right is abortion.
Sabia: Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Schlafly: Likewise. Of course, she is a hero to the feminists because of what she did, but she wasn’t really what the feminists say they admire because she got her career the old-fashioned way—she married it.
Sabia: In her recent best-seller Slander, Ann Coulter writes: "Schlafly's feminist counterpart and molecular opposite is Gloria Steinem. While Schlafly is a serious intellectual, Steinem is a deeply ridiculous figure." She goes on to say that “Steinem’s influence was limited to a narrow sliver of liberal women living in big cities. It just happened to be the sliver that controls news and pop culture.” Do you concur with Ann Coulter? What is your view of Gloria Steinem?
Schlafly: Yes, I agree with that. There is nothing in-depth about her at all. And while I’ve debated every feminist that you can probably name, she consistently and repeatedly refused to debate me. I think she has no depth and couldn’t deal with the issues at all. In the early days on feminism, she was the only one who really wasn’t downright ugly and so she knew how to play her cards to get the coverage.
Sabia: Ann Coulter also wrote a bit in her book about how the mainstream media has short-changed you by never giving you the credit you deserved for dealing such a huge blow to feminism through your defeat of the ERA. Do you hold any animosity over that?
Schlafly: Well, I know who controls the media and it’s not my friends. Just to give you an example of that, it really was an event when we defeated the Equal Rights Amendment. We held a victory party on June 30, 1982. The media coverage was “ERA is Reintroduced.” That was the news of the day. It wasn’t “After 10 Years, Despite Enormous Odds, the ERA is Defeated.” The news story was “The ERA has been Reintroduced in Congress,” which is a non-story, of course.
Sabia: Why are college women’s studies departments indoctrination centers devoid of any serious academic inquiry? And what can be done about them?
Schlafly: Feminists are extremely adept at getting other people to finance their agenda. [Women’s studies departments] are a means of advancing the feminist agenda. The extreme feminists gravitate to that and that’s where they get their job. It’s a ridiculous academic department. It’s not women’s studies. It’s feminist studies and very frequently lesbian studies. And that isn’t an academic discipline. It’s a joke and they make us pay for their agenda.
Sabia: Onto military policy, Mrs. Schlafly, do you believe that the creation of a new federal Department of Homeland Security is sound public policy?
Schlafly: No, I don’t. It doesn’t do anything to secure our borders. It’s a non-event in regard to cutting back on giving visas to countries that sponsor terrorism. It doesn’t even get rid of the diversity lottery, which Kennedy put into law. I don’t see that there’s any policy that will make us more secure against terrorists coming into our country. I do believe that terrorism is an immigration and borders problem.
Sabia: Did President Jimmy Carter’s deserve to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?
Schlafly: No. What did he get it for?
Sabia: I imagine it was for his Middle East peace agreement.
Schlafly: We don’t have peace in the Middle East. It’s ridiculous. It’s like giving Henry Kissinger the peace prize for peace in Vietnam. They’re a bunch of left-wingers who handle the Nobel Prizes.
Sabia: It appears as though war with Iraq is imminent and inevitable. After Saddam Hussein is deposed, what role should the United States play in the formation of a new Iraqi government and what steps should we take to ensure a more pro-Western sentiment in that region of the world?
Schlafly: I’m very dubious about the whole thing. I’m hoping that Saddam sees the handwriting on the wall and caves and lets the weapons inspectors see whatever they’re supposed to see. I don’t think that the United States is capable of setting up governments. This thing of democracy in these countries is a joke. There isn’t going to be any democracy over there. Who’s going to replace him? Some people say his son is worse than he is. There are several disparate factions in Iraq and maybe they need some dictator to rule them all. I don’t know. But I don’t think that we can control that. I don’t think it’s our job to engage in nation-building. It was just reported in the news this week that our mission in Afghanistan has shifted to nation-building. Why are we rebuilding that country?
Sabia: Do you oppose military action in Iraq?
Schlafly: I haven’t seen the evidence that military action is called for. Maybe it is, but I haven’t seen it yet.
Sabia: Under what circumstances do you envision a long-term peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors? And should what extent should the United States be involved in these peace processes?
Schlafly: I don’t see a solution for it. Why don’t we solve the Irish problem? The only peace that’s in Bosnia is because our troops are there. These people have hated each other for the last 10 centuries. I just don’t think we can solve all those problems.
Sabia: President Bush has pushed very hard for his missile defense program. What is your view of the future of national missile defense?
Schlafly: I think we ought to build it right now. There was a piece in USA Today today saying that “Well, it’s all approved, it’s ready to go. All the tests have worked out fine.” I think we need it more than ever. We should have started doing it when Reagan called for it in 1983.
Sabia: Why is there such fierce opposition to missile defense on the Left?
Schlafly: Isn’t that interesting? Well [in the 1980s] I think the opposition was really set forth in all my books with Admiral Chester Ward. They really believed that the Soviet Union was going to win. They believed that they had the discipline, the dictatorship, and the determination to come out on top. They thought that nuclear war was the worst thing that could happen and that if we tried to oppose that, we were all going to be dead. So, the best way was to convince the Soviet Union that we were not a threat and that was by not building a missile defense. That’s, in a nutshell, the theme of my books, which was the explanation for why they were so opposed to building any defense against missiles.
Now, we’re not worried about the Soviets striking us anymore. Why are they still against it? It’s hard to figure out why they’re still against it. They’re arguments really don’t make sense. It does work. What’s wrong with defending ourselves against someone shooting a missile at us? It’s hard to explain it. Maybe they’re just living in the era of the Cold War and they haven’t gotten out of that.