The sadly enduring myth of Phyllis Schlafly
Does anyone remember Phyllis Schlafly? I wish the answer were no, but unfortunately the shrill voice of this crusading anti-feminist from the 80s is still being channeled by Tea Party and conservative leaders who rail against the "Nanny State." Also, she is out with a book.
One of Schlafly's main contributions to society was her vicious attack on aid to poor working families. She disapproved of day care as a workforce support, calling it "stranger care." In her condescending view, any woman who deigned to put her children under the care of a child care professional was surely not a worthy mother. In 1989, she assailed a bill by Senators Dodd and Kennedy to provide child care to the working poor in a letter to one of the bill's Republican sponsors, Sen. Orrin Hatch. Her finger-wagging tone is laced with spite for those who were less fortunate:
"We expected pro-family leadership from you, not surrender to the liberals who want to build a baby-sitting bureaucracy, penalize full-time mothers, and impose federal regulations that will drive low-cost daycare out of business."
Sound familiar? This is the same rhetoric being recycled by Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Sharron Angle.
Not that I plan to read her book, but I do know that the most interesting revelation about Ms. Schlafly isn't in there. Instead it slipped out in an interview with her niece, Suzanne Venker, with whom she co-wrote the book. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Venker was asked point blank how her aunt was able to balance her high-profile career while raising her own children. Venker sheepishly acknowledged that Schlafly had help. In fact, she had a bevy of nannies, though she would never use the n-word in relation to her family and she of course was not the kind of acknowledge "the help" who were neither to be seen nor heard. (Read Venker's comments in the Slate article.)
It would be fitting if this long overdue revelation of hypocrisy becomes Schlafly's lasting legacy. Just as we learned that Strom Thurmond had a black daughter he never publically acknowledged, Phyllis Schlafly had nannies. Indeed, for most working women -- even those whose careers are in ultra-conservative politics -- it is impossible to get by without the help of child care professionals. We depend on them to teach and safeguard our children so we in turn can provide for our children. Child care professionals deserve to be acknowledged for all that they do and to be supported like the professionals they are. As "women's work," child care has been undervalued throughout history and dismissed as merely babysitting. It's time to change that and factor it into the equation that makes working women successful and allows families to break out of the cycle of poverty.