The End of an ERA

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.

Retro STOP ERA Pinback

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?


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  1. I may be fairly considered conservative in the bloggernacle, but I’m actually quite feminist and, therefore, wonder at your use of Phyllis’s first name rather than her last.
    I appreciate hearing the ideas of others and I think about them. I believe there are many people I can learn from.

  2. jks,

    I don’t think I understand the question. This may be some naivety on my part. That said, I can say that in my home Phyllis was referred to as Phyllis because she was a friend of my mom’s. It wouldn’t occur to me to refer to her as anything else.

  3. My mom did some similar things for the same anti-ERA movement, but in New York.

    She related to me a number of experiences with tactics she felt were quite dirty, that were used by those who were supporting ERA … and she felt that some groups were using ERA as a means to push agendas besides women’s rights.

  4. Martin says:

    This is a really good post. Maybe I’ll come up with something more intelligent to say later after it sinks in, but I really liked it.

  5. danithew,

    That’s kinda what the fight is regarding political agendas in any case, but not what this post was about.

  6. Nicole says:

    This is an excellent post that mirrors much of my own history except with school issues…Mom as education advocate, PTA president, Mom as school voucher activists (this was about the time I realized we had drastically different ideological viewpoints), Mom as get yourself to college, Mom as don’t you dare major in anything that isn’t practical (read ed or nursing), Mom disappointed in my major, graduate education and career choices. And all the while, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that (a) I love formal education in large part because of her and her example but (b) I don’t agree nor do I have to with her education politics or mixed feminist views.

  7. danithew,

    I think I may have misread your comment. At first it sounded like a bash on ERA supporters, but I think you may have been saying you experienced the same one-sidedness that I did.

    Sorry if I misunderstood.

  8. This is such an interesting post. I’ve ended up on the opposite side of the political spectrum as my parents, and often wondered how that came to be. How could I reject so many of their ideas and values when they were the people who raised me? I haven’t figured it out, but I know this is a question for many people.

    What have I learned from people whose views I oppose? I’ve learned from my parents not to let politics get in the way of relationships. My dad is far more bothered by my politics then I am by his, but he’s forgiven me for things I’ve said in some tough verbal warfare. It makes me want to give others the same benefit.

  9. I wasn’t bashing ERA supporters. :)

    I feel everyone has kind of moved on since then. It’s been a long time.

    When that was going on, I was too young to form my own opinions on the subject of ERA or to be in any kind of opposition to what my parents were telling me about politics.

  10. 9- “When that was going on, I was too young to form my own opinions on the subject of ERA or to be in any kind of opposition to what my parents were telling me about politics.”

    Right. I just swallowed what I was spoon fed. I think that was a source of resentment on my part later on, the fact that I had been handed a view of the world without anything to temper it. But that’s parenting.

    The good part now is sifting out the chaff and realizing the great good my mom did in my life.

  11. This is interesting. I think, by and large, most children first assume their parents’ politics, and then rebel and reject. It seems to be a predictable pendulum. One would hope, as we mature and garner life experience, that we find our center eventually and learn on the way to do as you suggest, and value people, even if we reject their point-of-view.

    The nature of the 24-hour news beast doesn’t give me great hope for finding equilibrium- _rational_ doesn’t sell ads inflame passions quite like _overblown rhetoric_- of any bent.

  12. Tracy, agreed. We’re shouted at 24/7 when it comes to politics, especially. Time to move to Canada!

    Thanks, Sunny, for a thoughtful post.

  13. I think you bring up two interesting ideas. One the idea you point out is that when we are open to others who we disagree with we can find ideals, values, and humanity in common. The second idea I glean from your post is that tendency of children to find the inconsistently in their parents words, beliefs, and actions. This I think is a fun game I start to play when I learn to talk and then become expert in as teens. I feel like my experience may be similar to yours in that as time and experiences have tempered me I can begin to not resent my parents for not being perfect. Lucky for me my kids have begun this wonderful game and perhaps that is what has helped expand my prospective.

  14. Tracy,

    “I think, by and large, most children first assume their parents’ politics, and then rebel and reject.”

    I’d love to explore this more. In my family I am by far the most liberal in my views. Most of my siblings enjoy the likes of Rush, Beck, and O’Reilly. I don’t think any have ever voted anything other than Republican. I’d be interested to know how this has played out in others’ families.

    And I’m with you on the news thing. It’s pretty disheartening.

  15. I think my mother once drove Phyllis Schlafly somewhere she needed to go.

    Consequently I asked my Mom what she thought about Phyllis Schlafly and as I remember it – she was actually a little bit ambiguous with her praise.

    I got the sense that Phyllis Schlafly was a woman who was so dedicated to the politics of family values that she might not be spending that much time with her family.

  16. I think my mother once drove Phyllis Schlafly somewhere she needed to go.

    I think my mother once told Phyllis Schlafly somewhere she needed to go.

  17. “I got the sense that Phyllis Schlafly was a woman who was so dedicated to the politics of family values that she might not be spending that much time with her family.”

    I’m pretty certain her detractors didn’t fail to see the irony either.

  18. I wonder if her children did

  19. 18- LOL

  20. Scott,

    You rule.

  21. Great post, Sunny. I would love to know who your mother is. My parents were always quite conservative as well and I have ended up being far less so, though not exactly what anyone would call a liberal (outside of Utah, that is. In some parts of Utah I would be labeled a communist).

    The question of what we can learn from those we oppose is a good one, and one we should ask ourselves more often. I went to SoCal as a young missionary and encountered many many evangelical Christians of one kind or another. When I met with those people I remember thinking that they were silly, misguided, ignorant and maybe even evil.

    As I got to know more people who held those beliefs, however, I started to hear things that I actually liked and respected, and came to feel the same way about the people I was talking to. The thing I liked the most was their deep sincerity and oft-repeated idea that the purpose of religion was to develop a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That idea, somewhat foreign to me at the time, has come to be one of the most important aspects of my approach to my religion.

  22. Chris, I may very well rule, but I’m also a liar. My mother never said anything of the sort. But you can imagine how cool it would have been if she had!

  23. Scott,

    I figured as much. But, I was waiting for somebody to make a comment along those lines and you came through. Thanks.

  24. It’s a good thing that the feminist revolution failed and we’re still free to criticize women for their activities outside the home to the neglect of their children.

  25. By The Rules says:

    What lessons have you learned from those whose ideas you oppose? What seemingly unlikely sources have influenced you for good?
    Through the school of hard knocks (read: litigation) I have adopted pro se the approach of attorneys in those that I oppose. I will strongly advocate for my position, but give all appropriate deference to those of differing viewpoints. I also like being able to talk to an objective judge (liberal construction acknowledged) rather than a biased opposing party or attorney.
    I find that I have grown to now value that which I loathed to investigate in high school: debate. Civil debate and statesmanship are attributes that I admire and to which I now aspire. It is important to listen closely to the opposing views to understand them more than sufficiently to rebut them or accept them as appropriate.
    My posts notwithstanding…..

  26. Kevin Barney says:

    I remember when an older woman came by the house, riding a bike, shilling for the ERA. My father summarily shut her down with the chestnut he didn’t want to have to use unisex bathrooms.

    I was anti-ERA at the time, mainly because I bought Rex Lee’s arguments against it. (Ironically, I still held to those arguments and accordingly was against attempts to amend the constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.)

    If it came up today, I’d be in favor of it. Over the course of my life I have trended in a liberal direction. But as a child I started out as a little conservative in the image of my father.

  27. Mark Brown says:

    Kevin, a few months ago I was in the temple and noticed that there is a unisex bathroom about 30 feet down the hall from the sealing rooms.

    Funny how things work.

  28. I have eight siblings and we are about evenly split on our political views.
    My mother thinks Glen Beck walks on water, or pretty near it, and Rush would be right there with him if only he was Mormon.
    I can remember my step-dad walking around with Rush blaring on his radio all day.
    I think maybe the place they made their mistake with those of us who oppose them was the bumper sticker on the old station wagon,”Question Authority”. Of course it was there when they bought the car!

  29. I think it’s high time we put this puppy in turbo mode. I like gst’s thinking (24). Let’s catalogue the ways keeping women down has blessed our lives.


  30. Unisex bathrooms are know as family bathrooms.

  31. I’m liberal and go to an east coast private university that as a whole is also quite liberal. I’ve learned from the example that my many conservative BYU-attending friends set on facebook. It’s easy for views to be reinforced and radicalized when that is the prevailing opinion of everyone around you, and I’ve seen this demonstrated in the politica comments my friends make on facebook that strike me as ignorant and bigoted. I make a point to try and remember that my views sound just as crazy to them. (And I also try to keep them out of social networking sites!)

  32. #30 should say “known as”

    Grace: No, theirs really are crazy.

  33. (30)- “Woe unto them that call evil good and good evil”

    I think we can see what’s happening here.

  34. Sunny: Nice.

  35. Aaron Brown says:

    Unisex bathrooms aren’t inherently evil in and of themselves. But there’s a real danger they’ll lead to UNISEX SHOWERS a la Starship Troopers, and that would be so titillating it would probably make everyone’s heads explode.

  36. jks (1),
    If I were ever to talk to Ms. Schlafly, I’m afraid I would have to call her “Phyllis,” feminist or not, because I haven’t the faintest idea how her last name is pronounced.

  37. Steve Evans says:

    Sam — just like it’s spelt! Next you’ll be whining about Mr. Mxyzptlk.

  38. A Starship Troopers reference on an ERA post. Awesome.

  39. “titillating”

    Giggle. That’s Ms. Titillating.

  40. Somebody write something so I don’t have to stare at that #39. Oh, wait. I just did.

  41. Great post Sunny! :)

    In my case, I didn’t hear any political talk whatsoever from my parents, so I left home not caring much to be involved one way or the other. I feel like I’m playing catch up finally…although my mother seems to think NOW is the time to push her brand. In response to which I have had to ramp up my own education on both sides. It didn’t seem worth it to go against her in the beginning, but I get the feeling that she’s only now coming into her own opinions as well, and I don’t want that to be me when my daughters are having children of their own.

  42. mellifera says:

    You know, we have a generally more-liberal university ward here, but still plenty of conservatives. One time we were helping somebody move, up stairs, with somebody stationed every 6 feet or so passing things along. At one point we realized “Hey! We’re arranged in order along the political spectrum!” The Ron Paul fan was unloading the truck, the vague Romneyites were taking things to the stairs, the couple with one Romney and one Obama bumper sticker- tehee, that’s us!- were moving things up the stairs, and the dude who’s voted for Nader every year since 1992 was moving things into the apartment. (LDSustainablist, quinn, if you’re out there, I know I butchered that… but y’all get the gist.) It was fantastic! We had a lot of fun. That’s unity, people.

    So I guess the gist is, while we might disagree a lot on the how-tos for the country at large, we all have a lot in common when it comes to addressing the problems that we can do something about personally. Just Do It. I consider myself progressive and love my liberal grad-school friends to death, but if we go to another social gathering where all we do is sit around watching them whine about what’s wrong with the world while getting drunk, I swear…. Gimme a busy conservative any ol’ day.

  43. Evans, that’s not how it’s spelt.

  44. 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?

    What definition might that be, Sunny?

    (hey, you asked me to do something crazy)

  45. Uh… Searching Wikipedia… Panic…

  46. Some of the best sermons I have heard were on the radio driving through the rural Midwest – as long as I discounted all the references to those cultish Mormons I often heard in them. I learned to let the garbage pass by and search for the pearls – and there were plenty of pearls. I like seeing things from different perspectives and deciding if my own perspective needs to expand a bit.

    Thanks for the post, Sunny. It was very thought-provoking.

  47. Randall says:

    I do not remember the ERA at all. I was too young, and even so I don’t ever remember my parents discussing politics. I was suprised when I was older and learned about the church’s stance against the ERA. Even today it doesn’t make sense to me. The ERA to me seems pretty innocuous.
    Anyway, one thing important I learned is that others can be a lot more accepting of divergent points of view than Mormons. In my senior year of high school, my debate partner was a girl whose father was Catholic and mother was Christian Scientist. They had more kids than most Mormon families do. Needless to say, she had some interesting view points on things. We were at summer debate camp before senior year. She asked me why I wouldn’t ever consider dating someone outside the Church. I don’t know what I responded, but at the time I thought that was crazy. Now I get slightly irritated with people who complain their children have married outside of the Church. Is living alone really better than having a loving, committed relationship with someone outside the church. Isn’t that still something wonderful? From time to time, I ponder the question my debate partner asked me to remind me that we’re all people and not to judge.

  48. Ray- your experience, along with MCQ’s (21) made me think back to my mission (in the midwest) experience. At the start of my mission I think I saw the ‘others’ as pitiable somehow. Like, aw, that’s cute, but sad, that they think that (Nauseating, I know). I don’t know when my thinking shifted, but like MCQ I began to see great value in the personal relationship with Jesus point of view and I was humbled by the faith and devotion of the people around me. I didn’t feel so hellbent on having all truth and began recognizing the pearls I had not before considered. My faith was definitely increased by the testimonies of those not of my faith.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  49. 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.

    For those too young to remember the ERA battle, the same paranoid style of Mormon politics is alive, well and on display at Meridian.

  50. Mary W. says:

    Although I’m an ultra-conservative, small government-loving political independent, my Republican girlfriends all think I’m a feminist. And I am in many ways. I guess a lot of people just know who’s different than they are, but not exactly what those differences are. I personally like the proverbial phrase, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Although I have no enemies that I can think of, I keep close tabs on current beliefs and outlooks that are different than my own. How can I know what I believe if I don’t know all my options? So, I do just as much reading of liberal ideas, causes, and literature as I do of conservative and libertarian ones. I also keep up on what the Republican & Democratic parties are voting for (notice I differentiate between the two parties vs. liberal and conservative categories — I believe Dems & Reps don’t even know what ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ really mean).

    To answer your question, the more I know about opposing viewpoints, the more I understand them. The more I understand them, the more I understand myself and my views in relation to them. My biggest restriction that still holds me back is the intense negativity of politics. If we can discuss opposing beliefs among friends and still be kind and move forward, why can’t we do that in organized groups? Political nastiness is so distasteful to me. And yet I have what are considered to be extreme beliefs. I agree with you, I don’t think we need to be haters just because we don’t agree.

  51. Sunny,

    You ask,

    So I’m curious: What lessons have you learned from those whose ideas you oppose? What seemingly unlikely sources have influenced you for good?

    At this point in time, those whose ideas I oppose are not teaching me any good lessons. I learn from them to vilify my opponents, to tell lies, to double down on the stupid. Maybe at some point in the future, I will see my political opponents in a different light, but I highly doubt it.

    This is not to say there is a complete, fundamental chasm that separates my views from those of my opponents, as there are many things upon which we agree. But the differences makes it more difficult to associate with my political opponents. When I say this, I mean someone like Glenn Beck, and not, say, someone in my ward who happens to agree with Glenn Beck. My political opponent is not the person I associate with in my ward who agrees with Glenn Beck, but rather Glenn Beck himself. There’s not much of a positive lesson that I can glean from a guy like Glenn Beck.

  52. Chris,


    Unisex bathrooms are know as family bathrooms.

    I know, I love it how that happens.

  53. What lessons have you learned from those whose ideas you oppose?

    I learn how to overcome cognitive dissonance by listening to the ideas of those I oppose. Hm… we seem to have a lot of lawyers and historians around here, but not many psychologists. Let me rephrase that.

    I have my set of beliefs and ideas about the world around me. These ideas are encapsulated in my mind as being “the way things ought to be”. When I speak with those whose ideas I oppose, I frequently find that what I think of as the way things ought to be is not, in fact, the case. This creates a major disruption (cognitive dissonance) and is something that needs to be reconciled, lest we all fall into madness.

    So I listen to others’ viewpoints, and I relate them to my own. I look for the kernels of wisdom, and cast aside the chaff. I come out with an altered view of the world; a view that, I hope, is better than what I had before.

    What seemingly unlikely sources have influenced you for good?

    Much to the chagrin of many of my family members, I have found William Ayers to be an amazing influence for good when it comes to basic principles of education. I disagree with many of his ideals, and I in no way support the activities he engaged in during the 1960s and 1970s, but I have met him and spoken with him on the topic of education and have learned many valuable lessons in education.

    Speaking of which…

    … Mom as don’t you dare major in anything that isn’t practical (read ed or nursing)…

    Education and nursing aren’t practical majors? Serious cognitive dissonance going on now.

  54. Sunny, did you ever meet Phyllis Schlafly’s oldest son John? In 1992, he was outed as gay by Queer Week magazine, later confirmed publicly by both John and his mother.

    Yet, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force considered her as “one of the top five most powerful anti-gay forces in the country.”

    Talk about cognitive dissonance! Maybe you and John should co-write a book together.

  55. Dan,

    I did read somewhere recently that, though openly gay, John supports his mother’s efforts. Wrap your head around that.

  56. Sunny,

    I think that is a sign that family loyalty can transcend other differences. I think that I can appreciate that in a way. I have differences with my parents (mostly political), but I do not want that used against them.

  57. Oh, I don’t think he should disown his mother or anything, I just find it interesting that he supports the political efforts (as in, he works alongside her) when she has spoken openly against gay rights in the past. Though, more recently I believe the language has changed to imply she supports equal rights, just not preferential treatment. I do know that neither she or john support gay marriage.

  58. Man eating feminism… maybe you’re thinking of this specimen…

  59. I think that is a sign that family loyalty can transcend other differences.

    As painful as is it to say it, I think it’s also a sign that this family is not LDS. I think that for all our talk about eternal families (or perhaps because of it), we have a long way to go in learning to constructively and healthily deal with unexpected and unhoped-for divisions between family members because of disagreements over politics, sexual orientation, and religious activity.

  60. “perhaps because of it”

    Scott, I think you may be on to something. If my views on abortion or socialism, or my sexual orientation, or my church activity mean that I will not be part of the “eternal” family, why bother developing, let alone dealing with, that individual.

  61. Chris,
    Yeah. I don’t want to imply that there aren’t exceptions, because there are (and I think the number of exceptions is growing), but this is an issue we have a lot of ground to cover on as a people in general.

  62. There is a couple me and my wife are friends with. He is no longer a believer (though I think he still attends). My wife’s reaction was that this man had destroyed their eternal family. What a burden.

    If I was Schlafly’s son, I would want to be able to be myself, without having strangers using my life-style to attack my mother.

    I despise Phylis Schlafly. But I appreciate that she is also a mother and that she and her son still have a relationship. I think it is great.

  63. 62- Agreed. And he has spoken out to those points himself.

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