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Schlafly perspectives thought-provoking

Text even has points feminists might support

FEMINIST FANTASIES, by Phyllis Schlafly, Spence Publishing, 263 pages, $27.95.

Phyllis Schlafly is always right, says Ann Coulter in the forward to "Feminist Fantasies." "She has always been right. She will always be right."

Actually, since Schlafly is human, she is not always right, and Coulter does her a disservice by saying so. Coulter would have been more accurate to have said Schlafly is always thought-provoking. Because she is.

This book, her 21st, is a collection of Schlafly's columns and congressional testimonies, grouped by subject. Some of these pieces were written in the the 1970s. Others are new. Together, they offer a fascinating chronicle, the history of 30 years of the women's movement as seen through the eyes of the woman who defeated the Equal Rights Amendment.

To read her book is to see how our culture was destined to change, even without the ERA.

In 1986, Schlafly was amused/outraged by a word-processing program that edited "sexist" terms. Today, most of us use the word "firefighter" rather than "fireman." Today, in fact, women do fight fires. In 1991, she scoffed at the term "glass ceiling," saying, "the feminists always use such . . . platforms to pursue their radical agendas." Today, with more women in management than ever before, the possibility of a glass ceiling is taken seriously.

Schlafly happily points out that few of the next ceiling-busting generation of women would ever identify themselves as feminists. But neither do today's young women identify with being "put on a pedestal," which were Schlafly's bywords in the 1970s.

The main point of Schlafly's book is that women pay dearly to be where they are today. And in this, her logic is occasionally indisputable.

Schlafly says it is heartbreaking to see a soldier-mother kissing her baby goodbye as she heads off to war for a year. She's right. Awful as it is to see a father kiss his baby goodbye, it is worse to see a mom.

Where she errs most often is in blaming feminists for things that aren't their fault. Early on, she wrote that feminists would force women to work in mines and join the military. The truth is, when you talk to women in those professions, they mention the wages and opportunities. They don't mention being forced by ideology or public policy — although they may be forced by personal circumstances — to seek these jobs.

In 1990, Schlafly reviewed a Fortune magazine article about CEOs dumping their matronly first wives in favor of young second wives. She was outraged, but, predictably, blamed feminists for this state of affairs, saying feminists loosened the divorce laws. As if the richest and most powerful men in the country wouldn't find their way through any legal barricades. As if a strict divorce law would force them to fall in love with their first wives all over again.

Ironically, as much as Schlafly hates Gloria Steinhem, she sometimes sounds like her. In 1989, Schlafly decried soap operas for glamorizing rape. In 1981, in testimony before Congress about Social Security, Schlafly sounded like any number of feminists who were also trying to avoid divisions among women. Schlafly said, "These problems should not involve a battle between homemakers and working women. Homemakers work very hard, and millions of them are in the labor force today. Employed women have homes also, and they work hard at homemaking. Nearly all women will be in the labor force for some years of their lives."

At times, Schlafly's disgust with feminists was dead-on. About the feminists' support of Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal, she wrote, "Clinton didn't treat any women as equals or with respect. He humiliated his wife, used vulnerable women (Lewinsky, Paula Jones), used his secretary as a facilitator and used the few strong women around him (Madeleine Albright, Donna Shalala, Ann Lewis) to spread his lies."

Schlafly is fine with women getting an education. (She has one, from Harvard.) She's fine with them working after their kids are grown. (In fact, she describes her daughters, not by the number of grandchildren they've given her, but by their occupations.) To read her is to know that she writes from a position of privilege — but so too did many of the 1970s feminists, who were also well-educated and well-to-do.

It's too bad that Ann Coulter put Schlafly on the pedestal of perfection. The book would have wider appeal if it were marketed this way: "Feminist Fantasies" proves that Schlafly is right more often than even the most "deranged" and "radical" feminist might imagine.


E-mail: susan@desnews.com