At age 86, Phyllis Schlafly is back out promoting another book, this one co-authored with her niece, Suzanne Venker, and titled The Flipside of Feminism–What Conservatives Know and Men Can’t Say.
Elly Peterson battled Phyllis Schlafly for more than 15 years of her career in politics, first to try to prevent her from becoming president of the National Federation of Republican Women two years after Schlafly’s hero, Barry Goldwater, lost his presidential race. Peterson won that battle but possibly lost the war, when Schlafly retaliated by setting up her own newsletter and her own organization, the Eagle Forum, and then used them as a base for her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.
There is more I could write about this conflict–and I probably will. But for now I wanted to comment briefly on the kerfuffle over Venker’s acknowledgement that Schafly did have child care help during her years of activism.
“I recently called Venker at her home in St. Louis because I had some questions, not least among them: How did Schlafly manage to raise all those kids and pursue such a prominent career? Granted, at 25 Schlafly married an older, well-established lawyer, and granted, she herself didn’t go to law school until she was in her 50s, but did she have help? If so, she never seemed to mention it.
“Venker seemed to almost despair at the question: ‘I’m in a pickle because I haven’t been asked this directly before,’ she said. ‘I’m going to say this the best way I can. She had domestic help…. She wouldn’t have called them nannies, but she had people in her home. That’s what she chose. Did she mention that fact enough to get her point across to young people about how she managed to do it? No, she did not.’ ”
Justin Elliott used Daum’s exchange with Venker as the taking-off point for a deeper examination of Schlafly’s position on child care in a posting on Salon.
Schlafly’s child-care arrangements had been one of the undercurrents used against her in her battle with Gladys O’Donnell for the presidency of the NFRW in 1966. O’Donnell a relatively conservative Calfornia “grandmother” had been recruited by party moderates to oppose Schlafly for the presidency of the 500,000-member women’s auxiliary of the Republican Party. Schlafly had six children, and her opponents questioned how she would manage raising them amid all the nationwide travel that might be expected of her. (For a time, it was suggested that the NFRW president was expected to live in an NFRW apartment in Washington, because it was known that Schlafly would never be able to do that. )
Peterson was a leader, if not THE leader, of the moderate women who opposed Schlafly. It turned out to be a bitter, nasty fight, that turned on credentials challenges and parliamentary finesses. In the end, the moderates–and O’Donnell–won.
At that stage of her career, Peterson tended to take the high road, and tried to smooth over intra-party battles for the good of the overall cause. Following the NFRW convention, she wrote a conciliatory letter to federation members back in Michigan:
“Some O’Donnell supporters felt Mrs. Schlafly should not take a job which would take her away from her six children. I think that is Mrs. Schlafly’s business. Every mother, as far as I am concerned, has the right to decide who she wants to raise her family and how much time she wishes to spend with them.”
It was, and is, a feminist position. Phyllis Schlafly, it seems, continues to disagree.