"If there's one thing feminists love, it's divorce - they consider it liberating." That's just one of the claims Phyllis Schlafly and her co-author Suzanne Venker make in their new book, The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know - And Men Can't Say, to be released this March. Schlafly--political activist, bestselling author, syndicated columnist, radio personality--is often called the grande dame of the conservative movement (she is perhaps best known for her successful campaign to stop passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and founding of the national volunteer organization known as the Eagle Forum). Venker, a.k.a. "No Bull Mom," is author of 7 Myths of Working Mothers and a regular contributor to NewsReal.
In a series of e-mails and telephone conversations over the last few weeks from their offices in St. Louis, Missouri, they weighed in on marriage, divorce and feminism in our society:
Why do you claim feminists love divorce?
Phyllis: Their own writings reveal that feminists sought liberation from home, husband, family, childbirth, children, and the role of fulltime homemaker. They wanted to be independent of men and liberated from the duties of marriage and motherhood. So, their first legislative goal was the adoption of easy-to-get divorce. They were behind California's adoption of unilateral divorce, which then spread across the country.
So why do so many marriages fail, not just those of feminists?
Suzanne: Living in a culture in which people break vows easily makes it difficult to keep one's own vows. The modern generation was groomed for an independent life. Marriage and motherhood are not something to which young women have been taught to aspire. Instead the women in their lives tell them to focus solely on their career. The result is women don't think of marriage and motherhood as fulfilling in and of itself. It's silly to think there's something wrong with being in the kitchen--everybody has to eat! Sandra Bullock's claim marriage is the end of who you are is indicative of the modern generation's defeatist attitude toward marriage.
What do you believe is the single biggest obstacle to lasting marriages?
Suzanne: Americans' attitude. We have this notion that "Hey, we can always get divorced if it doesn't work out." This is in stark contrast to the attitude in previous generations, where marriage was assumed to be a lifelong, irrevocable commitment. In my twenties, I had what we now call a "starter marriage": one that lasts less than five years and does not produce children. My ex-husband and I both had considerable doubts, and I distinctly recall our conversation, before we got married, about the fact that we could always get divorced. How pitiful is that?
You claim feminism failed women. Why?
Phyllis: None of the feminists' goals, including the Equal Rights Amendment, offered women a single benefit they didn't have before, zip. But it would have taken away a lot of the rights and benefits women then possessed such as the right to be exempt from the military and the right of a wife to be supported by her husband. Feminists demeaned marriage and motherhood even though most women want marriage and motherhood. Feminism has run its course, and surveys show that women are not as happy now as they were in the 1950s.
Suzanne: Let me add that feminism also taught women that men are idiots, so now there's a lack of respect for men who are considered an inconvenience. It's a wonder any marriage survives.
If, as you say, divorce is not "the answer to what ails us," what's the solution?
Suzanne: The Flipside of Feminism! We honestly believe Flipside has the potential to change women's and men's lives -- and that includes their marriages. Flipside is a call for Americans to change their perspective completely, to challenge themselves to think in a way that goes counter to what they've been exposed to their entire lives.
Flipside takes a positive view of women and their role in society as wives, mothers, career women and volunteers in the community. It's the antithesis of the average feminist book in which the author kvetches about how bad American women have it. How is that helpful?
You claim American women have never had it better. What do you mean by that?
Phyllis: American women can structure their lives to accomplish anything they want.
Phyllis: It is self evident that American women are the most fortunate women who ever lived and enjoy more freedoms and opportunities than are available in any other country. Armed with the right attitude, they have every opportunity for happiness and achievement. Women should stop feeling they are victims of the patriarchy, reject feminist myths, and follow the roadmap to success and happiness spelled out in Flipside.
Do we need divorce reform?
Phyllis: Yes. We need to restore fault-based reasons to justify divorce. When a man and woman stand up before witnesses and solemnly swear to love and cherish, forsaking all others, 'till death do us part, do they mean it, or are they lying?
The best way to reduce divorce is to legislate 50-50 joint custody of children, unless evidence proves one parent unfit. It would eliminate the current incentive to one parent, usually the woman, who now believes she can walk out on all marital obligations, taking the kids and the income of the other parent.
One comment I get writing about divorce reform is: "You can't legislate morality." What do you think?
Phyllis: That's ridiculous. We have adopted thousands of federal and state laws to legislate morality. What do you think the criminal code is?
Flipside states that our courts no longer protect the sanctity of marriage, but rather owe their allegiance to the institution of divorce. Can you explain?
Phyllis: Marriage is a contract, and one party should not be able to renounce it without the consent of the other party.
The family courts are the lowest in the judicial hierarchy, but the most powerful. Family court judges exercise unaccountable discretion according to their own personal biases and preferences. They have control over the private living arrangements and income of 48 million Americans and $40 billion in transfer payments made between households. Family court judges are an arm of government that exercises virtually unlimited power to dictate the private lives and income of millions of Americans who have committed no actionable offense. Divorce has become a tremendous money-making industry with judges, psychologists, psychiatrists, custody evaluators, and counselors getting well paid to run other people's lives.
Suzanne: Elizabeth Gilbert makes several great observations, for example, that marriage cannot be solely about romantic love, a point we make in Flipside. Gilbert is also a gifted writer. In Committed, however, her analysis of marriage is wrong-headed and immature. No woman who reads Committed will be encouraged to embrace marriage and family life. Ms. Gilbert does not have children either. Thus her experience is extremely lacking. Like any modern feminist, Gilbert's attitude toward marriage is hopelessly doomed: she believes it threatens women's independence and well-being. She questions the purpose of marriage at every turn and blames conservatives for keeping women down.
And yet Gilbert remarried?
Suzanne: Gilbert was "sentenced to wed" due to her boyfriend's status as an illegal alien. If the couple wanted to continue living in the United States, or ever visit the United States, they had to get married--and Ms. Gilbert was resentful, for she had sworn off marriage altogether.
But don't conservatives avail themselves of unilateral divorce just as much as liberals?
Phyllis: Many conservatives are seduced by feminist and anti-marriage propaganda and peer pressure. Flipside is designed to arm them against negative social trends and decisions.
So how did things get so out of hand?
Phyllis: The decline of marriage is the result of the work of highly motivated special-interest groups, and they enjoy the support of Big Media. Feminists have also had the support of academia and Hollywood, and they did a pretty good job of intimidating politicians.
Where were conservatives when the divorce rate got out of hand?
Phyllis: They were quietly raising their own families.
Is feminism really to blame for all our marriage and divorce woes?
Suzanne: No, there are other factors that helped it along. Technology, for example, has played a role in the disintegration of the American family. In previous generations, people's worlds were rather small. Close-knit communities and family ties, along with the universal moral order, meant Americans were mostly exposed to people who lived like they did--conservatively.
Today, this world is gone. Families are spread out; people rarely mill about in their neighborhoods but are instead glued to their television sets and computers; and religious life is at an all-time low. Because of this, young people's preferences are largely influenced by technology and mainstream media, all of which are very liberal. In other words, the culture at large--via college life and the media--has played a larger role in shaping the values and attitudes of young people.
I consider myself a liberal Democrat though I put my career on hold, became a stay-at-home mom, opposed my ex-husband's wrongful divorce suit and now speak out about divorce reform. Yet you state there is a "chasm" between feminists and conservative women. Is there any common ground or way to bridge the gap?
Suzanne: This is a great question. There are many women I know who vote Democrat and/or consider themselves liberal, yet their lifestyles and attitudes do not jibe with their voting patterns. Many of these folks do not identify with feminism at all, yet at the same time they don't think of themselves as conservative.
This confusion is primarily a matter of semantics. Liberal-minded women are often more conservative than they care to admit. Unfortunately, modern liberals have butchered the term conservative by teaching people that it means being backward and close-minded--and who wants to think of themselves this way? Consequently, people refer to themselves as liberal-- even if they're not -- because that is the socially acceptable worldview.
But being conservative isn't just about politics -- there are many conservative Democrats in America. Conservatism is a lifestyle in which independence and self-reliance come naturally. Conversely, feminists - who dominate the Democratic party -- are negative by nature and believe women are oppressed. Thus, the question women who vote Democrat need to ask themselves is, Why do I stand with a party whose goals and values are in direct opposition to my own? Most women in America have nothing in common with the feminist elite, which means that any time a woman in America pulls the Democratic lever, she sabotages her own future.
Any final piece of advice for parents contemplating divorce today?
Phyllis: Unless they are dealing with abuse, addiction or extreme conflict, we recommend parents stay together at least until the children have left home. Not only must adult happiness come second to children's needs, research shows that most marriages that end in divorce today are not a result of these extreme circumstances. Judith Wallerstein's work demonstrates that children fare much better if their parents stay together. Research also shows that couples who once reported being unhappy in their marriage were much happier together five years down the road.