They're late, of course. Phyllis Schlafly declared feminism in extremis over 20 years ago. In 1982, she read feminism its last rites, not long after a young feminist in the Chicago Tribune had written on its op-ed page, "Let's face it. The Revolution is over. I just turned 31 and all I want is a husband."
The past two decades have borne Schlafly out. Today, the signs of feminism's demise are unmistakable. Daycare has caused illnesses and bad behavior among children. Women have increasingly chosen home and children over office and boss. College girls have begun to question the wisdom of free love. A woman published a book about the difficulties of conceiving after age 35, and society chewed the controversy over in Newsweek and on the talk shows. Simple and rather obvious facts of nature have reasserted themselves, and few now have the will to continue to ignore them. Most tellingly, women no longer truckle to the Betty Friedans and the Gloria Steinems of the world—the self-appointed overseers of womanhood. The mothers in the Times article spoke proudly of their decision to stay at home. "I don't want to take on the mantle of all womanhood and fight a fight for some sister who isn't really my sister because I don't even know her," said one. Like citizens of former Soviet bloc countries, women no longer willingly suffer today for the sake of a tomorrow that will never come.
Despite this swinging-back of the pendulum, things will never go back to what they once were (they never do). Feminists still rule the establishment roost, and so we are grateful for Feminist Fantasies, a compilation of Phyllis Schlafly's columns from the 1970s to the present. The book begins with an affectionate foreword by Ann Coulter: "Writing the foreword to a book by Phyllis Schlafly is like being the warm-up band for the Rolling Stones. Though conservative women in my generation are often compared to Schlafly, all of us combined would never match the titanic accomplishments of this remarkable woman." Powerful indeed is the woman who induces Miss Coulter to drop her bellicose pose and reveal the demure soul beneath.
The collection brings together over 100 columns and can be read from start to finish, or in small doses. Schlafly has an all-too-rare talent for uttering simple truths, and the patience to repeat herself as often as necessary. Thus we get this gem from a 1985 column: "Every woman doesn't need a baby, but every baby still needs a mother." Incontrovertible! Yet how infuriatingly difficult for the True Believers. Schlafly's critics can only sneer at her unabashedly homespun thinking. Schlafly uncompromisingly confronts feministinspired idiocy and dishonesty. In a column written during the Gulf War, as breast-feeding mothers were being shipped off to Kuwait, she lambasted the Pentagon for giving in to the feminist lobby by "creating the asinine rule that mothers with newborns are 'fully deployable.'"
This passage has tragic relevance today, as the nation first cringed then sobbed then raged at the plight of Private Jessica Lynch: ambushed in Iraq, raped, and left to languish in an Iraqi prison until a special-op force (all male, of course) rescued her. The scandal of feminism's demand for girls to be sent into combat is outweighed only by the scandal of our failure to say no.
In another column, "The Feminization of the U.S. Military," Schlafly ridicules the selection of a female cadet as the first captain of the Corps of Cadets—West Point's highest honor—and the strained defense of the decision by the academy's superintendent ("She does not have the position because she's a woman"). "He is correct, but not the way he meant it. She has this honor because he is a wimp who toadies to the feminists who are constantly breathing down his neck and demanding 'career opportunities.'"
Despite the failings of the feminist movement, however, today's women seem afraid to play their winning hand. Take, for example, the perennial issue of motherhood versus career. As the feminists tell it, until relatively recently pregnancy was unpredictable and left most women with little choice but to devote themselves to raising children and tending to their families. Advances in contraception and the availability of abortion, however, have made pregnancy subject to rational control, allowing women to choose their own destinies freed from the constraints that their bodies might otherwise impose. Female liberation, in the feminist view, means liberation not merely from social custom, but, more fundamentally, liberation from nature.
Women outside the feminist fold, therefore, make a grave mistake when they point out, however correctly, that feminists want in some ways to limit women's choices. True, to the extent that feminists want more women to abandon their families and spend more time in traditionally male occupations, they are demanding that women go against their own wishes. But the charge that feminists are paradoxically anti-woman won't stick. The feminists have an effective rejoinder to the ready-made polemics of professional anti-feminists: Look at the reasons, they say, that women continue to "choose" to stay at home. By failing to mandate enough maternity leave, to fund adequate daycare, to furnish enough psychological support for mothers nervous about leaving their children behind, society is allowing conditions to persist that make staying at home an attractive option. Just as women "chose" to be mothers before the days of effective contraception only because their bodies left them little choice, so women today "choose" to be mothers because society has not yet done enough to make pregnancy and child-rearing less burdensome. For feminists, female liberation will never be complete until pregnancy is no more a fact of life for women than it is for men.
To counter these arguments, women must defend not choice but nature. This defense will not be easy, especially as discussion of human nature has become increasingly dominated by a biological reductionism that cannot account for the loftier aspirations of either men or women. Nevertheless, women must at some point dig in and defend the differences between the sexes as real, natural, and, most importantly, good.
To her credit, Schlafly never resorts to a defense of choice. On the contrary, in her own commonsense way, she frankly regards motherhood not merely as one among many legitimate choices, but as the proper function of a woman. So long as women avoid the issue of nature altogether, their victories will be short-lived and their losses ever-increasing. It is with Schlafly that anti-feminism began; to her it must someday return.