Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Phyllis Schlafly's Feminism: Good Enough For Her, But Not For Other Women

I was perturbed upon learning that one of my alma maters, Washington University in St. Louis, is about to bestow an honorary doctorate (in Humane Letters!) upon the anti-feminist, anti-gay Phyllis Schlafly at this year's commencement ceremony. I suppose it's only fitting that shrill NBC commentator Chris Matthews, who has a pattern of making sexist comments when referring to women, will deliver the commencement address and also receive an honorary degree of his very own.

But enough about Chris. I suppose the world won't come to a crashing halt now that WUSTL is going to honor Schlafly who, after all, is a well-known alum. Honestly, I can't say I'm surprised by the decision (which the university is standing by despite threats of protest.) I'm sure there's a special penthouse in Heaven reserved for those who reserve honorary doctorates from [insert elite accent] Washington University, but in the grand scheme of things here on Earth, who cares? Honestly, I would have been none the wiser about the "honor" had I not read about it all over the blogosphere.

Likewise, I would like to bestow my own little honor on Mrs. (definitely not Ms.) Schlafly: Induction into Fannie's Room's H Hall of Shame.

H stands for hypocrite. And Schlafly, as she will tell you, knows full well that liberals and feminists call her the H word. And wait, let me guess, I suppose "the feminists" call her names because they don't have genuine arguments against her.

Not quite. As we will see, Schlafly's arguments (as much as stereotypes, overgeneralizations, and caricature-creating can be deemed arguments anyway) are faulty. It just so happens that in addition to her irrationality, she's also a hypocrite.

1. "The Feminists" (tm)

First, as some background, Mrs. Schlafly touts herself as a conservative, "pro-family," "articulate and successful opponent of the radical feminist movement." Her anti-feminist schtick over the years has been to blame most social ills on "radical feminist" caricatures while adamantly trying to convince us that women are mothers and wives "first." Yawn. It's an old song and dance, really, so I'll refrain from analyzing Schlafly's "husbands are allowed to rape their wives" quotes. Although speaking of which, aren't "pro-family values" fun?

This general misogynistic jig is one that Schlafly choreographed and one in which the likes of Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham continue to dance in all their woman-against-feminism glory. It's a simple, black/white, right/wrong, and good/evil world as far as these ladies are concerned and pretty much every polemic they write is a massive clusterfuck of stereotypes and generalizations about "feminists" and "liberals" that reflect this angry bipolar worldview. What's that? "The feminists" hate men? Wow. What's that now? "The feminists" lack common sense? If you say so.

See, how this hate club discredits people is, first they decide they don't like someone's position on an issue, then they label her a "feminist" (or sometimes a "liberal"). I mean it's pretty clear that for magical reasons, the very definition of a "feminist" is pretty much anyone who disagrees with Phylis Schlafly, Ann Coulter, and Laura Ingraham.

But seriously, reflecting a fundamental misunderstanding of feminism, these women in their typical un-nuanced manner (disingenuously?) speak of feminism as though it's a monolithic radical ideology in which all people who call themselves feminists hold the exact same "anti-family" beliefs. In logical terms, it's a fallacy of composition: What Schlafly does is imagine that "the feminists" are a ginormous amorphous blob. From there, she reads some writings of more radical feminists. Then, she believes that these beliefs are true of all feminists simply because they are true of some feminists. Does she do this on purpose, or is she simply ignorant?

What is both funny and sad is that I'd take a gander to say that if these anti-feminist ladies would stop drawing cartoons for an iota of a second, they would find that they and teh feminists actually agree on quite more than they would care to admit.

So, what disappoints me most about this "honorary degree" fiasco is that an institution of higher education is set to honor a founding mother of the conservative hate culture whose writing distorts rather than informs. Schlafly is notable because she notoriously contributes to this simplistic and pervasive "us" versus "them" framework of thinking about social problems that divides our nation rather than unites it toward realistic solutions.

I could end my complaint of her there. And for those women and men against feminism who will immediately discredit me for calling Schlafly a hypocrite, you can just stop reading now.

2. Hypocrisy

The rest of us will continue by wondering how Mrs. Schlafly became worthy of her honorary doctorate while at home raising her children and being a little wifey-poo, as she gave other women permission to do. (Because, didn't you know, women weren't allowed to "just stay home with the kids" before Phyllis Schlafly came along. What's that, Phyllis? Women can just stay home and raise the children!? How very revolutionary.).

Unfortunately, it is time for the ginormous elephant in the room that is socioeconomic class in America to rear its bloated head. For, while Phyllis Schlafly has spent her life arguing in strong terms that the feminist claim that women can have it all is a lie, Phyllis Schlafly was simultaneously living the feminist dream of having it all. It's true that Schlafly put herself through undergrad by working full-time. Kudos. And yet, for those who dare to be poor and have babies, the plot thickens. Schlafly, for instance, opposes government-funded daycare programs, programs that would help all women, especially low-income ones, advance in their careers and educations, on the ground that taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for "babysitters" for other people's kids. See, Phyllis, some women don't have the luxury of choosing to stay home with the kids. Whether they're single moms or one-half of a low-income family, some women by necessity must try to "have it all" no matter what feminists or anti-feminists say about it.

It's understandable that Schlafly's anti-feminism would be as imbued with the same class privileges with which some feminism is embued. See, by the time Schlafly had children, she was married to a wealthy attorney and didn't have to worry about juggling a career, continuing her education, and paying for childcare. Sitting next to 2001's welfare reform, which pretty much tells low-income women with children that they are lazy for not working, Schlafly's message is unrealistic and problematic. We get it: Women who don't raise their children are "bad," but poor women who don't work are also "bad." A gal can't win.

But back to Schlafly. In between admirably rearing 6 children and having a 44-year marriage, Schlafly somehow found the time and money to get out of the kitchen and receive a BA from Washington University, a JD from Washington University, and a Master's degree from Harvard University. As her biography on The Eagle Forum's (an organization she found time to create) website attests, supermom also found time in between changing Pampers to write or edit 20 books on a variety of subjects. During her accomplished life she has been a lawyer, a presidential appointee, and a three-time candidate for public office (she lost). These days, she writes a monthly newsletter, a syndicated column, and has a weekly radio talk show.

Minus the, erm, content of Schalfly's books, articles, and speeches, these are admittedly admirable accomplishments. Yet, none of these accomplishments would have been possible without at least "some" influence from feminism- as long as we're defining feminism as what it really is (a myriad of different ideas united by a commitment to seeking equality for women), rather than what Schlafly tries to tells us it is (insert extreme 1960s radical feminist claims and pretend they are representative of all feminists).

All of this brings me to why she's a hypocrite: Because while Schlafly insists that feminism is not good for other women, society, or The Family(tm), she has proven it to be necessary and infinitely valuable to her own life and ambitions. Ironically, just as Coulter and Ingraham do today, she takes advantage of the opportunities that feminism has afforded her by making a career out of misrepresenting feminism. It's smart, I suppose. After all, is the profitability of assuring males in a male-dominated society that there's something pathological and scary about women seeking more power and equality really all that surprising?

Thank you, Mrs. Schlafly for showing us that, thanks to feminism, (upper-class) women these days really can have it all! In fact, Leftist Gender Warrior salutes you.


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