Thursday, February 21, 2019
When Phyllis Schlafly crusaded against the Equal Rights Amendmentin the 1970s as a threat to all-American motherhood, she handed out freshly baked bread and apple pie to state legislators. She warned of a dystopian post-E.R.A. future of women forced to enlist in the military, gay marriage, unisex toilets everywhere and homemakers driven into the workplace by husbands free to abandon them.
The E.R.A., which had been sailing to ratification, failed. Yet gay marriage is now the law. Women in the military see combat, although women are not required to register for the draft. Six women — so far — are running for president. A record-shattering number of women have claimed seats in Congress. And the percentage of prime-working-age women participating in the labor force has soared from 51 percent in 1972, when Congress passed the E.R.A., to more than 75 percent last year.***
Mrs. Schlafly may not have been able to prevent social changes that transformed the lives of American women, but she did drive a wedge between conservatives and liberals that remains today. “She was one of the early architects of class conflict as expressed through culture wars, as a way to stop the progress of the equality ideals of the professional management elite,” said Joan C. Williams, a feminist legal scholar skeptical about the usefulness of the Equal Rights Amendment. “One of the ironic messages of the E.R.A. is not to underestimate the power of ‘bathroom anxiety’ in pushing the country to the right.”