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Real ‘Mrs. America’ Phyllis Schlafly Blazed the Trail for Conservative Women Like Me

Gabriella Hoffman
by Gabriella Hoffman Read Profile arrow_right_alt

Mrs. America on FX/Hulu, the new miniseries starring award-winning actress Cate Blanchett as conservative icon and Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, has renewed interest in the battle over the ill-fated, controversial Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

Sadly, the “First Lady of the conservative movement” hasn’t gotten her due.

Schlafly, who passed away at age 92 in 2016, is an oft-demonized conservative political figure depicted as polarizing, backwards, and even demon-like by her most fiercest opponents. Many historians and media figures don’t give her a fair shake. To them, she enabled and perpetuated “the patriarchy” and supposedly set back women’s empowerment.

To conservative women, alternatively, she was an unsung hero. She wrote, spoke, and demonstrated women could have it all—loving marriages, doting children, established careers—without surrendering to the whims of Second Wave radical feminism which discouraged marriage, promulgated casual, loveless sex and zealous support for abortion.

I, too, consider myself a conservative woman who was largely inspired by her efforts to blaze my own trail first in my political activism, now in my professional career. Many women can say the same.

Why Conservative Women Opposed the ERA and Shouldn’t Be Chastised for It

Schlafly wrote in a May 1972 issue of her eponymous newsletter, The Phyllis Schlafly Report, titled, “The Fraud Called The Equal Rights Amendment,” the ERA an “innocuous-sounding amendment will take away far more important rights than it will ever give.”

The original text of Section 1 of the amendment stipulated, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Despite it sounding fine and dandy, she noted the ERA, if enacted, would change “laws which protect only women against sex crimes such as rape,” would make women subject to the draft, and would eliminate women’s right to privacy (relevant today with the rising transgender rights movement), among many things.

The Atlantic noted in 2016:

But no matter how views on gender have changed, Schlafly was singularly effective at rallying many Americans around traditional notions of gender. Recent controversies over legislation having to do with public-accommodations protections for transgender people in North Carolina, Houston, and elsewhere has centered on bathrooms: Opponents have argued that men would be able to go into women’s bathrooms, and that women and girls will be threatened. This kind of campaign is not new—four decades ago, Schlafly used similar rhetoric to oppose the ERA. She argued that the new constitutional amendment would prohibit gender-segregated bathrooms, and then, as today, this successfully tapped into deep American anxieties about the nature of gender.

The newsletter also included polls conducted on women’s attitudes on the proposed ERA—which, upon a quick Google search, can’t be found anywhere in articles about the ERA. She noted the majority of women, in 1972, didn’t support the measure and listed a September 1971 poll, the Roper Poll conducted by Elmo Roper, that said 77 percent of rAmerican women polled disagree “that women should have equal treatment regarding the draft.” The Roper poll, Schlafly wrote, noted 83 percent of American women polled then disagreed with the notion that “a wife should be the breadwinner if a better wage earner than husband.”

She ended this newsletter with calls-to-actions (CTA), ranging from encouraging readers, primarily women, to “go to the State Capitol and talk personally to every State Legislator, using the arguments given in this Report. It would be best if you use these arguments as your own and in
your own words, rather than giving them some piece of literature.” She also encouraged readers to “use these arguments to request “equal time” on any television or radio program which presents the women’s libbers or other advocates of the ERA.”

Thanks to her and her supporters, the ERA failed to secure ratification by its 1982 deadline.

If you look at women’s groups today, dissent is largely not welcomed and conservative women tend to be shunned and shut out of conversations that don’t affirm Democrat, progressive ideals. That’s a shame.

Thankfully, many conservative groups geared towards women exist and thrive today.

Conservatives Divided on Mrs. America

Anne Schlafly Cori, daughter of Phyllis Schalfy, told Vanity Fair FX/Hulu never consulted nor reached out to her or her family for Mrs. America.

“I think Cate Blanchett is certainly an exceptional actress, but she has been public about talking about how much she disagrees with the opinions and the beliefs of Phyllis Schlafly,” Cori said.

She added:

While she allowed that “good actors can portray roles that are antithetical to their personal beliefs,” Cori pointed out that Blanchett “is also a producer of Mrs America. As the producer, she has stated her opposition to the work of Phyllis Schlafly and that opinion colors the entire production. What I have seen in the trailers makes it clear to me that Cate Blanchett misunderstood my mother; her acting is cold, cruel, and calculating. Phyllis Schlafly was warm and gracious and her beliefs were sincere. Women idolized Phyllis Schlafly.”

In an interview with Daily Caller, Mrs. Cori added the show greatly fictionalized her mother and botched her legacy.

“Mrs. America” properly illustrates Schlafly’s hair, makeup, clothing and other atmospheric details, Cori said, but what it really got wrong “is who she actually was.” Schlafly came from nothing and created her own successful life, her daughter said, pointing to Schlafly’s successful marriage, successful family and success in the political world, “which is the area of life that she enjoyed so much.”

“My mother was first and foremost motivated by her deep faith in God, and that formed all of her opinions and actions,” Cori said. “And she had a really loving marriage and a true intellectual partnership with her husband. And that was one of the reasons why she was so successful, because she had this incredible security at home. They portray my father in really the worst possible light. They portray him as an insensitive brute.”

Conservative columnist and author of the forthcoming book, They’re Not Listening, Ryan Girdusky argued conservatives should give the series a chance—even with its well-pronounced half-truths. He wrote:

For all its half-truths and fictionalized scenes, “Mrs. America” really doesn’t demonize Schlafly. Yes, she’s seen as politically calculating, but the talent, work ethic, and charisma that Schlafly had in her own life shine through. She’s realized as a full person in scenes as a nurturer to her aging mother, a political mastermind, the creator of a grassroots organization, and a matriarch. Remarkably the show even allows for Schlafly’s conservative message to come through at certain moments.

Girdusky added the miniseries is relevant today since the aims of radical feminism, which Schlafly fought, have adversely impacted women for the worse:

Schlafly was prophetic. There’s now a catalog of social science that shows in the 50 years since Schlafly took on the ERA, successful single women are unhappier than ever, having fewer children, and regretting those decisions later on in life. An Office Pulse Survey from 2011 found the most unhappy people in the country are unmarried women in their 40’s who had professional careers and no children. This wasn’t the only survey to find that the individualist lifestyle championed by feminists has left many Americans feeling empty. A Gallup poll from 2013 also found that a majority of Americans over the age of 45 who had no children wished they had at least one.

Why Conservative Women Are Grateful to the Real Mrs. America, Phyllis Schlafly

Many conservative women today have expressed admiration for Mrs. Schlafly, including syndicated radio talk show host Dana Loesch.

Loesch— who hails from Schlafly’s hometown of St. Louis, Missouri—said the Eagle Forum founder’s accomplishments shouldn’t go unnoticed.

“Phyllis Schlafly represents the empowered female that every feminist secretly wishes they could be but would never admit to it because Schlafly was a conservative,” said Loesch in an email to The Resurgent. “If any other working mother had stopped a Constitution[al] amendment in its tracks, obtained a law degree by going to night school halfway through her life and graduated at the top of her class, and inspired multiple generations of women to revere their roles as mothers, as wives, as women — they would have demanded her face on our currency. She most certainly inspired me.”

She added, “I had the pleasure of meeting her several times, once during filming of a documentary on conservative women [Fire from the Heartland] and again at a Smart Girl Politics event in my hometown of St. Louis (wherein my late friend Andrew Breitbart paid me one of the highest compliments of my life by referring to me as the “goth version of Phyllis Schlafly.”). She drove alone to the set to film her portion of the documentary, arrived early and camera-ready. She said little as they seated her under the lights but when the camera began rolling, and energy within her burst forth and she took everyone — the producers, the sound crew, the other women like myself who had waited off to the side to see her speak — on a glorious ride through history of the American conservative woman.”

Loesch hasn’t seen Mrs. America yet, but plans to watch it.

“Phyllis Schlafly is such a formidable icon that these years later movie producers grapple with her complexities,” Loesch said. “They can’t possibly comprehend that you can be a woman who works, either of need or calling, and devotedly raise a family — to these people female conservatives are stereotypes devoid of nuance. Schlafly defied the ironically patriarchal category to which she was conscripted by the left. Schlafly redefined the terms of debate and gave a voice to women who felt politically and culturally marginalized. She showed conservative women that they can command more power than they realized and vocally defend their choices just as progressive woman celebrate themselves for doing.”

My Eagle Forum Story

Early in my political career, I was involved in the San Diego chapter of Eagle Forum. It was one of many extracurricular activities I did to supplement my coursework at UC-San Diego.

I learned a great deal of insider baseball about state and local California politics. Trips to famed Italian restaurant Pernicano’s Ristorante in Scripps Ranch, regular meetings at the Veterans Museum at Balboa Park, and brunch at the now-closed Coco’s Family Restaurant in the Costa Verde Center were some of my fondest memories of politicking in San Diego.

The maxim “all politics is local” stuck with me and resonated.

I befriended a lovely couple who headed up the chapter, the Woodrum’s, who took me and my sister under their wing as our “political godparents.”

Through my involvement in the organization, I quickly rose up and became the chapter’s youth outreach coordinator. For my efforts on campus, UC-San Diego, I was identified as a rising conservative activist and nominated by the chapter to speak at the 2011 Eagle Forum Collegians Summit at Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. Speakers included former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) former Congressmen Allen West and Tim Huelskamp, former Virginia Governor and U.S. Senator George Allen (R-VA) and current Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH), among many.

The author speaking on the 2011 EFC Student Panel – June 2, 2011

It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to speak and life-changing event.

During the first college panel, I spoke about my family history and how my story, being a daughter of Lithuanian immigrants who fled the Soviet Union, propelled me to advocate for conservative principles on campus and in my political writing.

The author speaks about her story – June 2, 2011

During the conference, I befriended other emerging young conservative leaders—many of whom I still keep in touch with today. That meeting of the minds, like other conservative conferences I attended, helped catapult many young conservatives into top political positions and careers today. One of my fellow panelists from that June 2011 is one of the youngest Chief-of-Staffs ever to serve a Republican House member. Another panelist, a close friend, works in healthcare policy. Many of the Collegians Summit’s participants have gone on to do extraordinary things in the conservative movement.

The author third to right of Mrs. Schlafly – June 3, 2011

My observations of Mrs. Schlafly, though very brief at this conference and the following summit in 2012, could be characterized as this: She was sharp, eloquent, and witty—not “deranged” nor “crazy.” Young women at these gatherings would find their way to talk to her and asked to have their pictures taken with her. Young men, too. It was amazing to see firsthand.

Due to the connections I made from Eagle Forum locally and nationally, I went on to secure my first job out of college at Leadership Institute, thanks, in part, to my involvement in the organization and the recommendation from the Woodrums.

Without this chapter in my young professional life, I wouldn’t be a freelance media consultant and strategist today.

Schlafly’s Lasting Impact on Conservative Women —and Men— Today

Fast forward to today.

If you ask conservative women who are versed in the philosophical underpinnings of the American conservative movement who is an inspiring figure they will respond, albeit quietly, Phyllis Schlafly.

Certainly conservative women—and men—who admired her didn’t necessarily agree with every position took (I don’t agree with all of her positions) but they acknowledged her resolve and steadfastness to make the Republican Party a more conservative party.

Wife. Mother. Lawyer. Bestselling Author. Lecturer. Commentator. Mrs. Schlafly proved women could have it all without subscribing to radical feminism.

It would be imprudent to ignore her proven record as an original grassroots organizer. The Republican Party today, even with its faults, wouldn’t be firmly pro-life if it weren’t for Mrs. Schlafly’s push to include the right-to-life issue on the RNC plank.

The modern conservative movement, especially at its height, is what it came to be thanks to Mrs. Schlafly and her contributions through Eagle Forum. For that, we should be grateful.

What are your thoughts on Mrs. America and its portrayal of Mrs. Schlafly’s legacy?

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