During a debate with Phyllis Schlafly on Good Morning America in 1976, Betty Friedan said “What I can’t stand is the hypocrisy of one who takes advantage of rights and opportunities and is enjoying equality and then uses the very advantages to argue against [equality.]” It certainly does seem like a contradiction, doesn’t it? Phyllis Schlafly mobilized a nationwide grassroots campaign against a constitutional amendment while telling everyone that the most fulfilling thing a woman could do is stay home with her children.
Of course, Phyllis didn’t tell all women to stay home with their children. If that’s news to you, I suggest reading this article addressing that question in greater detail. However, there are a few other points worth bringing out in this discussion.
Many people forget that although Phyllis looked attractive, young, and vibrant during the ERA years, she was actually forty-seven years old when she launched her movement. Her six children ranged from seven to twenty-two years of age. As her children were less at home and more at college, she intentionally scheduled her travels around visits to family. Attending colleges from California to New Jersey, it certainly wasn’t easy keeping up with the Schlafly children! Sometimes she would bring her children on her travels. Of course, Betty Friedan didn’t seem to care that Phyllis’s daughter Liza was in the room when she threatened to burn Phyllis at the stake.
Another interesting tidbit from the life of Phyllis Schlafly is that she never took a paycheck for her lobbying work. It was all volunteering on the side as far as she was concerned, no different than another homemaker volunteering as church choir director in her free time. Indeed, far less of her work required travel than what most people think. On most weeks, she would spend just one day traveling to meet legislators or give television interviews. Springfield and Chicago were just a few hours drive, allowing her to leave before breakfast and be home in time for supper. Much of her work was done from the typewriter and phone in her office at home.
Phyllis Schlafly was no hypocrite. She reached her full potential and encouraged every other woman to do the same. Phyllis acknowledged the important work being done by homemakers, but she reveled in the freedom every American woman had to embark on a full- or part-time career before, during, or after raising her children if she wanted to. With laws in all fifty states mandating that a husband support his wife, that wife had the comfort to take a job or take up any number of hobbies, such as sports, reading, music, sewing, or launching a nationwide political movement. Phyllis Schlafly believed strongly that to the determined American woman, anything is possible.