Phyllis Schlafly, who is busily taking credit for helping defeat the Equal Rights Amendment, is throwing a party tonight at the Shoreham to celebrate. If anyone had any doubt that at least part of the stop-ERA movement was the right wing wrapped in motherhood, the list of the people she's honoring should set the record straight.
Folded neatly between peach-colored paper adorned with rainbows (it's not as bad as it sounds) is a fascinating list of more than 50 people who will "be specially honored." Schlafly, whose first loves were anticommunism and defense before she began speaking for the women of America, has reverted. The list of honorees--mostly men--who saved the country from ERA reads like a Who's Who of the Right, heavy on the big military spenders and repressive conservatives. If Phyllis Schlafly was defending the well-being of American women, which was the line she peddled from talk show to talk show, she apparently didn't have many female allies: There are only a handful of women on her list.
The list includes such people such as Sen. Dempsey Barron, the Florida legislator who blocked the ERA in that state and whose law firm does voluminous business with the insurance industry, which the National Organization for Women has targeted as a major opponent of ERA. Others include such right-wing congressmen as Philip Crane, George Hansen and Larry McDonald (a former member of the John Birch Society), and Sens. Orrin Hatch, Jesse Helms, Jake Garn, Jeremiah Denton, John East and John Warner. There are also representatives of the National Review crowd, and such mouthpieces of the far right as Howard Phillips, Paul Weyrich and Richard Viguerie. There are six current or retired generals and admirals and several luminaries from the religious right wing.
Leaders of the pro-ERA movement, who lobbied state legislators for years and who saw their opposition firsthand, remain convinced that it was the business interests that dominate state legislatures--and profit from sex discrimination--that defeated the amendment, not Schlafly. Pro-ERA leaders believe that Phyllis Schlafly is a media creation with only a small following compared with the hundreds of thousands of women who are members of organizations that supported ERA.
There is, indeed, little evidence that she represents much of a following: Anti-ERA rallies drew a few thousand supporters at most. And while she was fond of claiming that women don't want the Equal Rights Amendment, there are precious few women glowing under her rainbow.
The enemy, in other words, ain't us.
the last weeks of the struggle for ratification, support for the Equal Rights Amendment rose sharply, and while only 40 percent of homemakers support it, well over 70 percent of working women--which means the majority of women--support it, according to Harris polls. By the third week of May, support had risen among men and women to 63 percent, with 34 percent opposed. Work sharpens women's commitment to equal rights, says Harris, and the number of women working is steadily increasing.
What defeated the ERA and all it came to symbolize was probably a combination of factors. Certainly there were men who thought women's rights were not important, and certainly there were women who thought that ERA was so fair and logical that it could not be defeated. Certainly there are business interests that opposed it, and certainly there were tactical errors made.
It will be reintroduced in Congress on July 14. The rainbow invitation ought to mark the end of Schlafly's masquerade as the voice of the homemaker who has precious little in common with reverends and generals whom she is honoring. Nevertheless, she left one argument against ERA that needs to be addressed, since it made even some pro-ERA women uncomfortable and surely swayed some thinking in the debate. If ERA was passed, she argued, women would have to be drafted.
It is the final irony that two days before the drive failed, President Reagan, an ERA opponent, was advised by a prestigious panel of advisers to begin preparing the country for a draft because the volunteer army will not be able to meet its quotas later in the decade.
In order to meet the demands of the military complex, which has been no friend to women's rights, the panel is recommending "a uniform national call."
That means women don't get ERA, but they do get the draft.