Saturday, March 17, 2012

Susan Faludi, Backlash 16

In my latest reading of Susan Faludi's 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, Faludi responds to anti-feminist intellectual Sylvia Ann Hewlett's arguments against the Equal Rights Amendment. Hewlett is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and a fan of Phyllis Schlafly, which is ironic, considering that Schlafly co-wrote her books on national defense with Chester Ward, a former CFR member who was a critic of the group!

Like Schlafly, Helwett believes that the ERA would eliminate laws that protect women, such as protective labor legislation (i.e., an extra break), or laws requiring husbands to support their wives. According to Faludi, Hewlett switched from being an ERA supporter to being an ERA opponent when a female mill-worker in an Atlanta plant expressed worry to Hewlett that equal rights could take away women's extra break. Faludi decided to fact-check that story by checking out the Atlanta mills that were open at the time that Helwett visited. She found that none of the plants offered women an extra break, that the men were actually the ones who got extra breaks on account of their smoking breaks (which women could not take advantage of), and that a former millworker said that she and all the mill women she knew were supporters of the ERA.

Faludi cites a 1982 Gallup poll that shows that "clerical and saleswomen were even a bit more enthusiastic about the ERA than professional women----and low-income women favored extending the deadline to ratify the amendment more than upper-income women" (page 315). Faludi states that the ERA would not eliminate the supports women enjoyed but would make them sex-blind. Regarding the requirement that husbands support their wives that the ERA would supposedly eliminate, Faludi states that "Half the states didn't require husbands to support their wives----and, as any abandoned wife could have told [Hewlett], the states that did have such provisions hardly enforced them." Regarding protective labor legislation, Faludi states that such laws were enacted to shut women out of higher-paying occupations, and that blue-collar women were the ones petitioning the court "to overturn these 'benefits'" (page 315).

I vaguely recall Schlafly in The Power of the Positive Woman mentioning blue-collar female opponents of the ERA who feared losing their benefits. But I can see Faludi's points that such benefits deprived women of higher-paying jobs, presumably because male employers would use the jobs supposedly being unsafe for women as an excuse not to hire them. The male employers probably did not want to accommodate women in these higher-paying jobs, and thus avoided the issue altogether by not hiring them for the jobs at the outset.

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