Earlier this week, Phyllis Schlafly, one of the most outspoken anti-feminist women of the 20th century, told an all-male class at the Citadel in South Carolina that they should never date a feminist. “Find out if your girlfriend is a feminist before you get too far into it,” she’s quoted as saying. “Some of them are pretty. They don’t all look like Bella Abzug.” She added: “Feminist is a bad word and everything they stand for is bad.”
This was in the context of a guest lecture for a class called, “Conservative Intellectual Tradition in America,” in which she recounted her take on the rise of cultural conservatism and the history of the religious right. She told the class that the recent political debate over contraception and women’s healthcare has been contrived by Democrats and feminists, because, as she said, “Feminists are having a hard time being elected because they essentially are unlikable.”
It’s not clear from news accounts if Schlafly ever gave a definition for these “feminists” she dislikes so much, but it seems like she’s referring to people who believe that every woman should have access to healthcare and contraception, no matter the beliefs of her employer. This would be the not-Rush Limbaughs of the world. Schlafly was wrong about all sorts of things, but, as someone in love with a self-described feminist, I can assure you that she is way, way off on that not-dating-feminists thing.
Here are a few reasons why:
1) The conversation is better: If Schlafly’s talking about people who care about whether women — especially low-income women — will have access to basic healthcare (and Schlafly is wrong when she says this isn’t about access; just ask 130,000 poor women in Texas), then she’s generally referring to a group of individuals who like to read, to stay informed, to educate themselves before voting, and who genuinely care about the people around them. That makes for good company.
2) They listen to better music: I’m not saying everything every feminist listens to is great, but here’s something you won’t hear a feminist say anytime soon: “Honey, when can we hear some Nickelback?”
3) You’re better off financially: I’m not just talking about the fact that a feminist is more likely to pick up the tab on a meal now and then and to contribute to a two-household income. The kind of person who cares whether someone can afford their prescribed birth-control (which we now know is used for all sorts of medical conditions that have nothing to do with sex) is also the kind of person who probably wants to wait until there’s some financial security before bringing a child into the world. Also, paying to not have a baby is way cheaper than paying to have one — that’s why insurance companies have volunteered to pick up any additional cost of contraception without passing the costs onto employers.
4) The sex is better: Look, you might conclude from her speech, or from her career, or from her political associations that Schlafly believes that the act of sex should be reserved for procreation. If she doesn’t feel that way, she certainly sounds a lot like the people who do. And that’s a fine way to live your life, as long as you don’t want to impose your beliefs on others. But if the only times you have sex are when you’re trying to conceive a child — well, it really seems like you’re missing out on a lot of sex. That’s not a problem when you date a feminist. Plus, the sex is smarter. Not just in the Kama Sutra-sense — though that’s always nice. But people who care about contraception are probably more inclined to use it. Safe sex is smart sex.
5) You can’t generalize about feminists: There was a time in Phyllis Schlafly’s life when most of the feminists in society were the bra-burning, mad-at-the-world types. (And knowing the shit they went through fighting people like Schlafly, who can blame them?) But the world has changed a lot since her most famous book came out in 1964. Today, there are plenty of stay-at-home-mother feminists. There are plenty of male feminists. There are hippie feminists and Christian feminists. There are also — as Schlafly seemed to allude to when she said incredulously that feminists can be “pretty” — plenty of style-conscious, business-savvy feminists, too. The simple fact is, most people do care about these issues. Yes, everyone cares about jobs and the economy, too (as if healthcare and the economy were mutually exclusive), but if all it takes is disagreeing with Rick Santorum, Rush Limbaugh, and Phyllis Schlafly, most people in this country are feminists.