Remember Phyllis Schlafly? She is a far Right Wing politician (now 86) who is known for organizing opposition that contributed to the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment. Sarah Palin, Christine O’Donnell, and Sharon Angle are the ideological daughters of Phyllis Shlafly.
Like many in the Right Wing, Shlafly’s hypocrisy is deep and stunning. She toured the country telling women that the only appropriate role for them was to be housewives and obey their husbands, but she ran for Congress in 1952 when she still had babies in diapers. She spent her entire career fighting against opportunities and equality for women. The organization she founded to oppose the ERA was called STOP ERA—“Stop Taking Our Privileges” –the idea being that equality would actually be a step down for women. Of course we all know that the degree of women’s privileges depends on how much money they have and what the men in their lives want.
Because many years have passed since the failed ERA campaign, I think it would be important to include the Amendment in its entirety.
(See if you can find the parts that required women to share bathrooms with men.)
Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged
by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate
legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the
date of ratification
Did you find the part that women would be against? There was a double standard for Phyllis Shlafly just as for Sarah Palin and the others— between the policies they want to impose on other women and the choices they want to have available for themselves and their families. Shlafly persuaded many women to work against their own equality, just as the tea baggers have done with so many Americans who desperately need education, health care and unemployment benefits. How do they convince hard working people to vote against their own best interests? Pulling this off requires a special talent. It requires a large dose of fear tactics—‘us against them’ that appeals to people’s lesser Angels, and the inflaming of prejudices fostered by a bad economy.
But a re-reading of Right Wing Women by feminist theorist Andrea Dworkin (1978), helped me understand more about this latest generation of ultra conservative women. She explains that it is not as simple as hypocrisy or even stupidity. She argues that Ultra- Conservative women, like all the rest of us, notice that we live in a world in which men still call most of the shots and have significant disdain for women in general.
You know I didn’t make this up. Though it is not considered polite to point this out, misogyny is all around us in this country as well as the rest of the world. Women are raped and murdered, wives are beaten, young girls are traded as sex slaves, and women are denied opportunities, undereducated and exploited all over the globe. In this country keeping women in their place requires a little less actual violence than in some other countries, yet the most likely time for an American woman to be beaten or murdered is when she is pregnant. It is a difference of degree rather than a difference of kind. Right Wing women take out a clever insurance policy by consciously or unconsciously identifying so completely with the men in charge that they hope they will be protected. They imagine the approval of powerful men will convey on them a power and status that will make them immune from the problems that normal women face.
After women gained the right to vote (which we know these Tea Party ladies would have fought against) the first generation of enfranchised women voted almost exactly like their husbands. Major social changes often take a generation to be accepted, because young people take new freedoms they have grown up with for granted. For example, Bristol Palin seems to have a more liberal outlook on social issues than her mother. She literally grew up in a different world.
It seems almost emblematic of Conservatives to take advantage of freedoms and opportunities, and then work to make sure that no one else can. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas benefited from Affirmative Action, designed to help level the racial playing field, and since has consistently worked to end such programs for others. We also know from her own words that Sarah Palin had a moment during her pregnancy when she realized that she had a choice not to continue—and she chose to have the baby. Yet she has been working hard to deny other woman any choices.
It’s possible that these Tea Bag Women may have grown up in conservative households where women were supposed to wear aprons and be quiet. But they could not help but be affected by the women’s movement and the extraordinary advances that feminism gained for all women. A generation after Phyllis Shlafly these women candidates are not above taking advantages of those new opportunities. But they are also staying safe in a man’s world by opposing freedoms for other women and parroting the policies that serve patriarchy. If they weren’t identifying with those in power we would see them standing for children, healthcare, economic fairness, an end to violence, increased education, the well-being of the planet, and peace. Instead they stand for their own self-interest and betray other women and children.
These women are scary because they have not developed the courage and independence to step away from the protective shadow of power. What would it take for Right Wing women to be free enough from the shackles of male approval to stand up for the rest of us?