How Phyllis Schlafly's Death Proves We Need the Equal Rights Amendment Now More Than Ever
Phyllis Schlafly, the "First Lady of the conservative movement" who almost single-handedly prevented the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, died on Monday at age 92. From a young age, Schlafly was a vocal — and active — advocate for conservative values and traditional gender roles. Her opposition to the ERA (a massive source of feminist activism in the 1970s) launched her into a prominent and polarizing role in national politics and paved the way for much of modern conservative ideology, including the pro-life movement, opposition to undocumented immigrants, and the fight against marriage equality.
A staunch opponent of feminism despite her own success in a male-dominated field, Schlafly delighted in opening her speeches with, "I want to thank my husband, Fred, for letting me come here," saying that she knew such remarks would "[irritate] women's libbers more than anything else." Her efforts to block the Equal Rights Amendment — which, succinctly, stated that "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex" — came fairly late in the game. As The New York Times reported, before Schlafly even began protesting the ERA, "Both houses of Congress had passed the amendment by a vote of more than 90 percent, and 35 state legislatures — only three shy of the number required for adoption — had approved it."
After reading up on the amendment, Schlafly argued that the ERA would lead to things like gay marriage, abortion, women in the military, and co-ed restrooms, all the while terminating labor laws thats that protected women from dangerous workplaces. She first published these concerns in 1972 and organized a opposition movement — functioning under the name Stop ERA — that was only further incited by the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that made abortion legal. (One can only imagine how Stop ERA would have reacted in the current decade, with the legalization of same-sex marriage, the opening of all combat roles in the military to women, and the growing public support for the transgender community — and opposition to conservative lawmakers so-called "bathroom bills.")
For another decade, Schlafly used her prominent position in media (in addition to being a best-selling author, she also hosted a radio show) and her network of like-minded, influential women to continue campaigning against the ERA. In 1982, with the deadline of ERA passage fast approaching, 15 states rejected it, five more rescinded their previous ratification, and on June 30 of that year, the ERA failed to be incorporated into the Constitution. Though the ERA has been reintroduced in every session of Congress since, it has never been able to get the support needed for it to pass.
Glamour penned an editorial in 1982 in response to the failure to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, and many of the issues put forth by the editorial staff 34 years ago are still pressing matters in today's political climate. Women earn less than men in almost every occupation, and, on average, earn 79 cents for every dollar earned by a man. In terms of paid family leave, the United States trails most developed countries by a significant margin. Despite same-sex marriage being legal throughout the nation, LGBT Americans are not completed protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation in 33 states. Then, of course, there's the matter of congressional representation. Only 19.3 percent of the House and 20 percent of the Senate are women. And of the 104 women serving in Congress — that's within both chambers — only 33 are women of color — specifically, 18 African Americans, nine Latinas, and six Asian American/Pacific Islanders, according to the Center For American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
Watch Schlafly's exclusive MAKERS story in the player above.
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