Phyllis Schlafly

What’s Wrong with ‘Equal Rights’ for Women? - 1972

Phyllis Schlafly
January 01, 1972
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This speech began as an 1972 essay in Schlafly's newsletter The Phyllis Schlafly Report, but was adapted for speeches and debates on behalf of STOP ERA, a group founded by Schlafly.

Of all the classes of people who ever lived, the American woman is the most privileged. We have the most rights and rewards, and the fewest duties. Our unique status is the result of a fortunate combination of circumstances.

1) We have the immense good fortune to live in a civilization which respects the family as the basic unit of society. This respect is part and parcel of our laws and our customs. It is based on the fact of life—which no legislation or agitation can erase—that women have babies and men don’t.

If you don’t like this fundamental difference, you will have to take up your complaint with God because He created us this way. The fact that women, not men, have babies is not the fault of selfish and domineering men, or of the establishment, or of any clique of conspirators who want to oppress women. It’s simply the way God made us.

Our Judeo-Christian civilization has developed the law and custom that, since women must bear the physical consequences of the sex act, men must be required to bear the other consequences and pay in other ways. These laws and customs decree that a man must carry his share by physical protection and financial support of his children and of the woman who bears his children, and also by a code of behavior which benefits and protects both the woman and the children.


This is accomplished by the institution of the family. Our respect for the family as the basic unit of society, which is ingrained in the laws and customs of our Judeo-Christian civilization, is the greatest single achievement in the entire history of women’s rights. It assures a woman the most precious and important right of all—the right to keep her own baby and to be supported and protected in the enjoyment of watching her baby grow and develop.

The institution of the family is advantageous for women for many reasons. After all, what do we want out of life? To love and be loved? Mankind has not discovered a better nest for a lifetime of reciprocal love. A sense of achievement? A man may search 30 to 40 years for accomplishment in his profession. A woman can enjoy real achievement when she is young—by having a baby. She can have the satisfaction of doing a job well—and being recognized for it. Do we want financial security? We are fortunate to have the great legacy of Moses, the Ten Commandments, especially this one: “Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land.” Children are a woman’s best social security—her best guarantee of social benefits such as old age pension, unemployment compensation, workman’s compensation, and sick leave. The family gives a woman the physical, financial and emotional security of the home—for all her life.


2) The second reason why American women are a privileged group is that we are the beneficiaries of a tradition of special respect for women which dates from the Christian Age of Chivalry. The honor and respect paid to Mary, the Mother of Christ, resulted in all women, in effect, being put on a pedestal. This respect for women is not just the lip service that politicians pay to “God, Motherhood, and the Flag.” It is not—as some youthful agitators seem to think—just a matter of opening doors for women, seeing that they are seated first, carrying their bundles, and helping them in and out of automobiles. Such good manners are merely the superficial evidences of a total attitude toward women which expresses itself in many more tangible ways, such as money. In other civilizations, such as the African and the American Indian, the men strut around wearing feathers and beads and hunting and fishing (great sport for men!), while the women do all the hard, tiresome drudgery including the tilling of the soil (if any is done), the hewing of wood, the making of fires, the carrying of water, as well as the cooking, sewing and caring for babies. This is not the American way because we were lucky enough to inherit the traditions of the Age of Chivalry. In America, a man’s first significant purchase is a diamond for his bride, and the largest financial investment of his life is a home for her to live in. American husbands work hours of overtime to buy a fur piece or other finery to keep their wives in fashion, and to pay premiums on their life insurance policies to provide for her comfort when she is a widow (benefits in which he can never share). In the states which follow the English common law, a wife has a dower right in her husband’s real estate which he cannot take away from her during life or by his will. A man cannot dispose of his real estate without his wife’s signature. Any sale is subject to her 1⁄3 interest. Women fare even better in the states which follow the Spanish and French community- property laws, such as California, Arizona, Texas and Louisiana. The basic philosophy of the Spanish/French law is that a wife’s work in the home is just as valuable as a husband’s work at his job. Therefore, in community-property states, a wife owns one-half of all the property and income her husband earns during their marriage, and he cannot take it away from her. In Illinois, as a result of agitation by “equal rights” fanatics, the real-estate dower laws were repealed as of January 1, 1972. This means that in Illinois a husband can now sell the family home, spend the money on his girlfriend or gamble it away, and his faithful wife of 30 years can no longer stop him. “Equal rights” fanatics have also deprived women in Illinois and in some other states of most of their basic common-law rights to recover damages for breach of promise to marry, seduction, criminal conversation, and alienation of affections.


3) The third reason why American women are so well off is that the great American free enterprise system has produced remarkable inventors who have lifted the backbreaking “women’s work” from our shoulders. In other countries and in other eras, it was truly said that “Man may work from sun to sun, but woman’s work is never done.” Other women have labored every waking hour— preparing food on wood-burning stoves, making flour, baking bread in stone ovens, spinning yarn, making clothes, making soap, doing the laundry by hand, heating irons, making candles for light and fires for warmth, and trying to nurse their babies through illnesses without medical care.

The real liberation of women from the backbreaking drudgery of centuries is the American free enterprise system which stimulated inventive geniuses to pursue their talents—and we all reap the profits. The great heroes of women’s liberation are not the straggly-haired women on television talk shows and picket lines, but Thomas Edison who brought the miracle of electricity to our homes to give light and to run all those labor- saving devices—the equivalent, perhaps, of a half-dozen household servants for every middle-class American woman. Or Elias Howe who gave us the sewing machine which resulted in such an abundance of readymade clothing. Or Clarence Birdseye who invented the process for freezing foods. Or Henry Ford, who mass-produced the automobile so that it is within the price-range of every American, man or woman. A major occupation of women in other countries is doing their daily shopping for food, which requires carrying their own containers and standing in line at dozens of small shops. They buy only small portions because they can’t carry very much and have no refrigerator or freezer to keep a surplus anyway. Our American free enterprise system has given us the gigantic food and packaging industry and beautiful supermarkets, which provide an endless variety of foods, prepackaged for easy carrying and a minimum of waiting. In America, women have the freedom from the slavery of standing in line for daily food. Thus, household duties have been reduced to only a few hours a day, leaving the American woman with plenty of time to moonlight. She can take a full or part-time paying job, or she can indulge to her heart’s content in a tremendous selection of interesting educational or cultural or homemaking activities.


In the last couple of years, a noisy movement has sprung up agitating for “women’s rights.” Suddenly, everywhere we are afflicted with aggressive females on television talk shows yapping about how mistreated American women are, suggesting that marriage has put us in some kind of “slavery,” that housework is menial and degrading, and—perish the thought—that women are discriminated against. New “women’s liberation” organizations are popping up, agitating and demonstrating, serving demands on public officials, getting wide press coverage always, and purporting to speak for some 100,000,000 American women. It’s time to set the record straight. The claim that American women are downtrodden and unfairly treated is the fraud of the century. The truth is that American women never had it so good. Why should we lower ourselves to “equal rights” when we already have the status of special privilege? The proposed Equal Rights Amendment states: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” So what’s wrong with that? Well, here are a few examples of what’s wrong with it. This Amendment will absolutely and positively make women subject to the draft. Why any woman would support such a ridiculous and un-American proposal as this is beyond comprehension. Why any Congressman who had any regard for his wife, sister or daughter would support such a proposition is just as hard to understand. Foxholes are bad enough for men, but they certainly are not the place for women—and we should reject any proposal which would put them there in the name of “equal rights.” It is amusing to watch the semantic chicanery of the advocates of the Equal Rights Amendment when confronted with this issue of the draft. They evade, they sidestep, they try to muddy up the issue, but they cannot deny that the Equal Rights Amendment will positively make women subject to the draft. Congresswoman Margaret Heckler’s answer to this question was, Don’t worry, it will take two years for the Equal Rights Amendment to go into effect, and we can rely on President Nixon to end the Vietnam War before then! Literature distributed by Equal Rights Amendment supporters confirms that “under the Amendment a draft law which applied to men would apply also to women.” The Equal Rights literature argues that this would be good for women so they can achieve their “equal rights” in securing veterans’ benefits. Another bad effect of the Equal Rights Amendment is that it will abolish a woman’s right to child support and alimony, and substitute what the women’s libbers think is a more “equal” policy, that “such decisions should be within the discretion of the Court and should be made on the economic situation and need of the parties in the case.” Under present American laws, the man is always required to support his wife and each child he caused to be brought into the world. Why should women abandon these good laws—by trading them for something so nebulous and uncertain as the “discretion of the Court”? The law now requires a husband to support his wife as best as his financial situation permits, but a wife is not required to support her husband (unless he is about to become a public charge). A husband cannot demand that his wife go to work to help pay for family expenses. He has the duty of financial support under our laws and customs. Why should we abandon these mandatory wife-support and child-support laws so that a wife would have an “equal” obligation to take a job? By law and custom in America, in case of divorce, the mother always is given custody of her children unless there is overwhelming evidence of mistreatment, neglect or bad character. This is our special privilege because of the high rank that is placed on motherhood in our society. Do women really want to give up this special privilege and lower themselves to “equal rights”, so that the mother gets one child and the father gets the other? I think not....


Many women are under the mistaken impression that “women’s lib” means more job employment opportunities for women, equal pay for equal work, appointments of women to high positions, admitting more women to medical schools, and other desirable objectives which all women favor. We all support these purposes, as well as any necessary legislation which would bring them about. But all this is only a sweet syrup which covers the deadly poison masquerading as “women’s lib.” The women’s libbers are radicals who are waging a total assault on the family, on marriage, and on children. Don’t take my word for it—read their own literature and prove to yourself what these characters are trying to do. The most pretentious of the women’s liberation magazines is called Ms., and subtitled “The New Magazine For Women,” with Gloria Steinem listed as president and secretary. Reading the Spring 1972 issue of Ms. gives a good understanding of women’s lib, and the people who promote it. It is anti-family, anti-children, and pro-abortion. It is a series of sharp-tongued, high-pitched whining complaints by unmarried women. They view the home as a prison, and the wife and mother as a slave. To these women’s libbers, marriage means dirty dishes and dirty laundry. One article lauds a woman’s refusal to carry up the family laundry as “an act of extreme courage.” Another tells how satisfying it is to be a lesbian. (page 117) The women’s libbers don’t understand that most women want to be wife, mother and homemaker—and are happy in that role. The women’s libbers actively resent the mother who stays at home with her children and likes it that way. The principal purpose of Ms.’s shrill tirade is to sow seeds of discontent among happy, married women so that all women can be unhappy in some new sisterhood of frustrated togetherness. Obviously intrigued by the 170 clauses of exemptions from marital duties given to Jackie Kennedy, and the special burdens imposed on Aristotle Onassis, in the pre-marriage contract they signed, Ms. recommends two women’s lib marriage contracts. The “Utopian marriage contract” has a clause on “sexual rights and freedoms” which approves “arrangements such as having Tuesdays off from one another,” and the husband giving “his consent to abortion in advance.” The “Shulmans’ marriage agreement” includes such petty provisions as “wife strips beds, husband remakes them,” and “Husband does dishes on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Wife does Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, Friday is split...” If the baby cries in the night, the chore of “handling” the baby is assigned as follows: “Husband does Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Wife does Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, Friday is split...” Presumably, if the baby cries for his mother on Tuesday night, he would be informed that the marriage contract prohibits her from answering. Of course, it is possible, in such a loveless home, that the baby would never call for his mother at all. Who put up the money to launch this 130-page slick-paper assault on the family and motherhood? A count of the advertisements in Ms. shows that the principal financial backer is the liquor industry. There are 26 liquor ads in this one initial issue. Of these, 13 are expensive full-page color ads, as opposed to only 18 full-page ads from all other sources combined, most of which are in the cheaper black-and-white.

Another women’s lib magazine, called Women, tells the American woman that she is a prisoner in the “solitary confinement” and “isolation” of marriage. The magazine promises that it will provide women with “escape from isolation...release from boredom,” and that it will “break the barriers...that separate wife, mistress and secretary...heterosexual women and homosexual women.”

These women’s libbers do, indeed, intend to “break the barriers” of the Ten Commandments and the sanctity of the family. It hasn’t occurred to them that a woman’s best “escape from isolation and boredom” is—not a magazine subscription to boost her “stifled ego”—but a husband and children who love her. The first issue of Women contains 68 pages of such proposals as “The BITCH Manifesto,” which promotes the line that “Bitch is Beautiful and that we have nothing to lose. Nothing whatsoever.” Another article promotes an organization called W.I.T.C.H. (Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell), “an action arm of Women’s Liberation.” In intellectual circles, a New York University professor named Warren T. Farrell has provided the rationale for why men should support women’s lib. When his speech to the American Political Science Association Convention is stripped of its egghead verbiage, his argument is that men should eagerly look forward to the day when they can enjoy free sex and not have to pay for it. The husband will no longer be “saddled with the tremendous guilt feelings” when he leaves his wife with nothing after she has given him her best years. If a husband loses his job, he will no longer feel compelled to take any job to support his family. A husband can go “out with the boys” to have a drink without feeling guilty. Alimony will be eliminated.


The “women’s lib” movement is not an honest effort to secure better jobs for women who want or need to work outside the home. This is just the superficial sweet-talk to win broad support for a radical “movement.” Women’s lib is a total assault on the role of the American woman as wife and mother, and on the family as the basic unit of society. Women’s libbers are trying to make wives and mothers unhappy with their career, make them feel that they are “second-class citizens” and “abject slaves.” Women’s libbers are promoting free sex instead of the “slavery” of marriage. They are promoting Federal “day-care centers” for babies instead of homes. They are promoting abortions instead of families.

Why should we trade in our special privileges and honored status for the alleged advantage of working in an office or assembly line? Most women would rather cuddle a baby than a typewriter or factory machine. Most women find that it is easier to get along with a husband than a foreman or office manager. Offices and factories require many more menial and repetitious chores than washing dishes and ironing shirts. Women’s libbers do not speak for the majority of American women. American women do not want to be liberated from husbands and children. We do not want to trade our birthright of the special privileges of American women—for the mess of pottage called the Equal Rights Amendment. Modern technology and opportunity have not discovered any nobler or more satisfying or more creative career for a woman than marriage and motherhood. The wonderful advantage that American women have is that we can have all the rewards of that number- one career, and still moonlight with a second one to suit our intellectual, cultural or financial tastes or needs. And why should the men acquiesce in a system which gives preferential rights and lighter duties to women? In return, the men get the pearl of great price: a happy home, a faithful wife, and children they adore.

If the women’s libbers want to reject marriage and motherhood, it’s a free country and that is their choice. But let’s not permit these women’s libbers to get away with pretending to speak for the rest of us. Let’s not permit this tiny minority to degrade the role that most women prefer. Let’s not let these women’s libbers deprive wives and mothers of the rights we now possess.

Tell your Senators NOW that you want them to vote NO on the Equal Rights Amendment. Tell your television and radio stations that you want equal time to present the case FOR marriage and motherhood.

Source: Phyllis Schlafly Report 5, no. 7 (February 1972) . "WOMEN’S LIBERATION AND OTHER MOVEMENTS." America in the Sixties—Right, Left, and Center : A Documentary History. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998. The African American Experience. Greenwood Publishing Group. 2 Jun 2010. [online] Available 3 June 2010.

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