Sunny Smart returns for a second guest post.
I grew up in the shadow of Phyllis Schlafly and the Eagle Forum. Phyllis was the founder of the STOP ERA movement of the ’70s and early ’80s and is largely credited for the ultimate failure of the ERA. Once the ERA had passed congress and had been sent to the states for ratification, Phyllis, the LDS church–and my mom–went into action. While we lived in California, my mom was heavily involved in STOP ERA efforts. Then, not long after moving to Utah, my mom became the Utah Director for STOP ERA. And how.
When I was a child, my mom could be seen rallying on the capital steps, meeting with legislators, canvasing neighborhoods, giving interviews to newspapers and TV reporters, speaking to masses at The Salt Palace (Anybody remember that place?), participating in public (sometimes televised) debates, and meeting with LDS church leaders. She could be heard on her own talk radio program, seen campaigning for congressmen, and read in any number of letters to the editors of various newspapers. She was on fire. An activist by very definition.As the youngest of my mom’s seven kids and her namesake, I was absorbing it all and, as children tend to do, believing every word. My mom was saving me from the draft, state-mandated day care, rights for same-sex couples, and unisex bathrooms. In my mom’s vernacular Feminists = Lesbians, Homosexuals = Sinners, Republicans = God’s Army, Planned Parenthood = Satan’s Plan, ERA = Demise of the Family Unit. You can probably guess that I was not allowed to participate in Girl Scouts–it was practically a lesbian/feminist training camp.
At some point in my growing up years the scales began to fall from my eyes, and I started to see the extremist and alarmist nature in so much of what my mom and others had propagated. It was all so one-sided, not leaving room for any validity in the opposing viewpoints. Those on the other side were to be feared, condemned, or pitied, and it left a sickening taste in my mouth. Whether or not she agreed with their politics, could she not see the value they offered? I wondered if she could see what feminism had done for her, what it allowed her to do? Did she recognize that the Alice Pauls of the world had paved the very roads that made her march possible? Did she understand the definition of feminism that could not be reduced to man-hating or anti-family/motherhood? Did she know that she was, in the very best of ways, one of them?
But this sin of blindness and seeming ingratitude was not unique to my mother alone. In disregarding my mother’s politics I also began to disregard her. I saw her as invalid and someone whose views were to be feared, condemned, or pitied. In turning my back from the possibility of her value, I failed to see the valuable lessons she was teaching me.
Whether she knew it or not, my mom taught me feminism in the best of ways. She bucked convention and even patriarchy in order to have her voice heard. She saw herself as equal to any man in ability and rights. She was a protector of women–running a shelter for abused women and being an activist in their behalf in our community. She saw women as a powerful and necessary force in fighting for justice and right. She valued men who were not threatened by powerful women. I never saw her be “put in her place” as a woman by anybody–though not for a lack of trying on many a naysayer’s part. She balanced her choices of family and work, gave her heart to both, and defended others’ rights to do the same. She was third-wave before her time.
I guess my point is this: We often have more similarities than differences with those we oppose. While our political, religious, moral, and other belief systems may vary greatly, what spurs us on to action is often the same. What if we saw the value, even the beauty, in others standing up and making their voices heard, even when it opposes our own? What if we learned gratefully the lessons they have to teach us in their passion, commitment, and drive? What if we learned to oppose ideas instead of people?
So I’m curious: What lessons have you learned from those whose ideas you oppose? What seemingly unlikely sources have influenced you for good?