Unfortunately, voters have short memories, so it is not surprising that people forget how the Republicans have worked against women’s rights since the 1970s.
In their book, The Long Southern Strategy, authors Angie Maxwell and Todd Shields, explain how the Republicans developed a political strategy focused on gender, race, and religion to shape a form of conservatism that protects traditional lifestyles of certain Americans.
One key element of this Southern political strategy forces on women’s rights and the anti-feminist movement. In an interview in The Raw Story, co-author Angie Maxwell said the Republican attacks on the feminist movement are designed to create resentment against women who want to enter the workplace and assume jobs that were traditionally done by men. This strategy worked to create resentment against women who took these jobs. This was the exact opposite of what the feminist movement was doing in the workplace and society.
This form of modern sexism worked against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election as some women thought she was unfit to be president simply because due to her sex.
Republicans have been working towards their anti-feminist position since 1980 when the Equal Right Amendment proposal was dropped from the Republican Party campaign platform by Ronald Reagan. This was a key element to win back Southern voters in 1990, the authors point out, and it took hold in Republican circles.
Previously, there were Republican women who were active in the 1977 National Women’s Convention, an event that attracted the former and current first ladies of every living president from both parties. But, looking back, that was an anomaly.
To counter the Women’s National Convention, a right-wing activist, Phyllis Schlafly, held a counter-convention in Houston under the banner of “family values” to distract and dilute the more popular national pro-feminist movement. The “family values” movement later adopted anti-gay and anti-abortion positions that became core Republican Party values. She then worked tirelessly to defeat the Equal Right Amendment and clashed with the National Organization of Women. Among Schlafly’s quotes are: “Feminism is doomed to failure because it is based on an attempt to repeal and restructure human nature.” And “Sex education classes are like in-home sales parties for abortions.”
The Republican Jump from Anti-Feminism to Anti-Abortion
At about this same time, Congress was entertaining proposals to tax the large mega-churches because they ran segregated schools. Supreme Court cases (especially Green v. Connally) found that “any organization that engages in racial discrimination or racial segregation is not, by definition, a charitable institution. Therefore it has no claims on tax-exempt status,” according to an interview on NPR.
“Many white evangelical leaders relied on those tax exemptions to operate their private, segregated schools in places like Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, and Virginia. And they felt entitled to those tax exemptions on religious grounds,” according to Ramtin Arablouei.
Evangelical Jerry Falwell, who ran a large school in Lynchburg, Tennessee, and went on to form the Moral Majority in 1979, knew the evangelicals could not take a national position against integration, so with the help of a Republican strategist, they adopted an anti-abortion position as a unifying theme.
They then worked with Ronald Reagan to get him elected, and successfully raised the anti-abortion issue as a distraction from the tax issue. This pushed conservative southern voters into the Republican camp, a tug-of-war that continues today.
The Long Road to Women’s Rights
Women today accept equal rights as an established practice, but it took 70 years and the creation of the largest reform movement in U.S. history to make it happen. As described in a recent Library of Congress exhibition (“Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote”), the Nineteen Amendment to the Constitution happened over 100 years ago, but “the fight for women’s suffrage was not for the fainthearted.”
“Determined women organized, lobbied, paraded, petitioned, lectured and picketed for years. Suffragists were ridiculed, patronized, and dismissed by opponents, yet they persisted,” a Library guide states. “Some were assaulted and endured the harsh confines of prison for daring to claim rights equal to men, but they would not be denied.”
The social changes and tactics the suffrage movement created were then adopted by the Civil Rights, anti-Viet Nam, gay rights and other major social movements of the 19th and 20th Centuries.
Today, the Republicans are continuing to hold back or repeal social and economic progress at the federal, state and local levels. It looks like there is no guarantee of American progress. The Republicans show there are still powerful forces now working to roll back the civil rights of American citizens in a brazen effort to maintain political power.