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Life Arts    H4'ed 3/13/17

How Women Polarized American Politics (REVIEW ESSAY)

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From Marjorie J. Spruill | Arts & Sciences | University of South Carolina {MID-70568}

Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) March 13, 2017: In the new book Divided We Stand: The Battle Over Women's Rights and Family Values That Polarized American Politics (Bloomsbury, 2017), Marjorie J. Spruill in history at the University of South Carolina, who has authored or edited six previous books, centers her attention on the two competing women's conferences held in Houston over the weekend of November 18-21, 1977. Even though Spruill includes photographs of a number of women, photos of women involved in the pro-feminist conference decidedly outnumber photos of women in the conservative anti-feminist conference.

Out of the spirit of the black civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s protesting the Jim Crow laws and customs in the South, the women's movement (also known as second wave feminism) emerged in the 1960s and 1970s protesting American laws and customs involving women.

Second-wave feminists dubbed men who dared to oppose male chauvinist pigs. For understandable reasons, most self-respecting men preferred not to be sneered at as male chauvinist pigs. But the aging tennis player Bobby Riggs gamely described himself as a male chauvinist pig in the lead up to his famous tennis match with Billie Jean King (Spruill, page 4). However, for understandable reasons, not many other men followed his example.

In literary studies, the use of such vituperation is known as flyting. In the story of David and Goliath in the Hebrew Bible, Goliath excels at the use of vituperation. Spirited vituperation is a staple in American political campaigns.

By definition, women could not be called male chauvinist pigs. So it fell to other women such as Phyllis Schlafly (1924-2016) to challenge the second-wave feminists.

The pro-feminist conference in Houston in 1977 was government-sponsored. By contrast, the anti-feminist conference in Houston the same weekend in 1977 was organized by Phyllis Schlafly and her conservative allies without official government support. According to Spruill, young Phyllis completed her undergraduate studies at Washington University in St. Louis in three years, and then she earned a master's degree in political science at Radcliffe. In 1949, she married the Harvard-educated lawyer Fred Schlafly (Spruill, pages 76-77). Of all of the women that Spruill mentions in her book, Phyllis Schlafly emerges as one of the most energetic and effective political organizers. By all accounts, she was the most effective opponent in the effort to stop the ERA from being ratified. Remarkably, she worked from her home office in Alton, Illinois, a suburb across the river from St. Louis, Missouri, not from an office in the media center of the world in New York City, nor from an office in the center of the federal government in Washington, D.C.

By November 18-21, 1977, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) favored by pro-feminist forces needed to be ratified in only three more states in the United States to become the law of the land. However, despite an official extension for the ratification period, the ERA was never ratified in three more states. Thus in the end, Phyllis Schlafly and her conservative allies emerged victorious in their efforts to stop the ERA from being ratified. She had been active in the Stop-ERA movement since 1972 (Spruill, page 9).

The pro-feminist conference in Houston was not just government-backed -- it had bipartisan support in the government -- and so did the ERA at the time. In the terminology used in the 2016 presidential campaign, the elites tended to favor the pro-feminist conference in 1977.

As Spruill reports, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat happened to travel to Israel the same weekend in 1977. So many newspapers put news stories about the pro-feminist conference in Houston below the fold on the front page (Spruill, page 232). Nevertheless, it was otherwise a "media extravaganza" (Spruill, page 5).

Now, in the 2016 presidential election, the Democratic Party's candidate was a second-wave feminist, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the Republican Party's candidate was a male chauvinist pig, the wealthy developer Donald J. Trump of New York.

The Democratic feminist won the popular vote by million votes, thanks to big margins of victory in certain large states.

But the Republican male chauvinist pig won a decisive electoral victory, thanks to a combined total of 77,000 Trump voters in three states: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Predictably, the conservative anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly, a well-educated Roman Catholic, publicly endorsed the male chauvinist pig, not the feminist. Candidate Trump repaid her endorsement by delivering a eulogy at her funeral Mass in St. Louis (Spruill, page 341).

Had the feminist emerged victorious in the 2016 presidential election, we would undoubtedly be reading encomiums about the pro-feminist conference in 1977 in 2017 as part of the fortieth anniversary commemorative of the memorable conference. So the second-wave feminists were defeated not only in their effort to get the ERA ratified but also in their effort to get a feminist elected president in 2016 -- losing to a male chauvinist pig in 2016.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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