“Who the hell is Phyllis Schlafly?” asks disgruntled and disheveled Feminine Mystique author Betty Friedan, played by Tracey Ullman, on the new FX Hulu series “Mrs. America.”
Schlafly, played by two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, who is also executive producer, is the “Mrs. America” in the title of the 9-part miniseries that debuted in April.
The series is about the epic battle to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, recently resurrected, which Schlafly is credited with having defeated singlehandedly and at the 11th hour.
Anne Schlafly Cori, Chairman of Eagle Forum, which Schlafly founded in 1972, says that the creators of the series still don’t know who the hell Phyllis Schlafly is, though Cori probably would put this in a more genteel manner.
Phyllis Schlafly, who is credited with having defeated the ERA singlehandedly and at the 11th hour, is played by two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett in the Hulu FX miniseries “Mrs. America.”
Cori has conceded that, while the series got her mother’s hair and make-up right, it missed the whole point of the dynamo that was Phyllis Schlafly. Although Cori knew after seeing the trailers that her mother would be portrayed as cold and calculating, once she saw “Mrs. America,” she was stunned at seeing how the series dealt with deeply private matters about which the producers and writers couldn’t possibly know. Even Cori’s devoted father, lawyer Fred Schlafly, played by John Slattery, best known as Roger Sterling of AMC’s “Mad Men” series, was turned into a sexist monster.
“I am shocked at how the show portrays my parents’ loving marriage,” Cori told IWF. “In multiple scenes, they show Fred [Schlafly] bullying and harassing Phyllis and then they try to indicate that Phyllis turned around and bullied and harassed her children and her opponents. Their view is that Phyllis was both victim and victimizer.
“‘Mrs. America’ misunderstands Phyllis Schlafly because the feminist writers have projected their anxieties onto her,” Said Cori.
“The truth is that my parents had a love match and were full partners: intellectually, spiritually, and romantically. Fred Schlafly was fully supportive of everything that his wife said and did.”
Anne explains, “My mother never had the doubts and anxieties shown, because her convictions came from her deep faith in Jesus Christ. ‘Mrs. America’ has not shown the faith side of Phyllis, which misses out on the single most important key to Phyllis’ courage.”
“No, my mother never threw me into the swimming pool. I was particularly distressed at the fictional scene of ‘forced marital sex,’ because Blanchett shows a look of contempt for her husband. The producers of ‘Mrs. America’ have manufactured an inner life of Phyllis Schlafly that is contrary to all the evidence in her public life. Phyllis Schlafly did not have a double life; how she was in public was how she was in private,” Cori said.
The mini-series got Schlafly’s personal life wrong, but it’s spot on about her effect.
The ERA was almost a done deal when Schlafly and her STOP-ERA campaign emerged into the national spotlight in the 1970s. Only three states needed to ratify the proposed amendment to make it part of the U.S. Constitution when time expired in 1982. Schlafly kept them from crossing the finish line.
But that doesn’t mean the fight is over. The long dormant amendment was revived recently, with a newly-blue Virginia belatedly voting to ratify it in January of 2020, becoming the 38th state to do so. Some other states have rescinded support over the years, however.
According to Cori, the ERA battle is even more important today.
Even liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said that, if the ERA is to be added to the Constitution, the process to ratify it must begin all over again. “If you count a latecomer on the plus side, how can you disregard states that said we’ve changed our minds?” Ginsburg has asked. ERA supporters aren’t dissuaded that easily, even by their revered Notorious RBG, and so it is not a surprise that, as the fight for the ERA resumes, Schlafly, their arch villain, is once again taking up space rent free in their heads.
Anne Cori, Schlafly’s youngest daughter, is helping carry on her mother’s work. Cori, a Georgetown University history major, grew up in Alton, Illinois.
Anne attended a private, all-girls school, to which Phyllis often drove her. Dinner was on the table at six pm and the family was expected to be present. While they had many of the trappings and structure of an average American household, it was impossible for the children not to realize that her mother was very famous. “Oh, yes. Oh, yes, I knew she was famous,” Anne said. “Because she was constantly on the news. We had media in our home. Her office was in our home, so at any given time, I could answer the phone and it might be CBS News.”
Unlike many children of famous people, Anne enjoyed the commotion. “At the time, in the seventies, it was very exciting. I felt like we were in the hub of activity and the whole world was interested in what we were doing in our home. And so, it was exciting. Now, of course, my mother was vilified rather intensely. Betty Freidan called her a traitor to her sex.”
Anne believes she benefited from the experience of being Phyllis Schlafly’s daughter. “I think what it did for me was it toughened me,” she said. “I learned how to stand up to bullies, and I’m grateful for the experience of standing up against the world and saying, ‘Oh, this is right,’ and being able to feel confident in standing up to people who disagree with me.”
Anne now lives in St. Louis with her husband Tom. Tom is the son of Carl Ferdinand and Gerty Cori, who together won the 1947 Nobel Prize for physiology. The couple hosts fundraising events for conservative causes.
Anne owns a kitchen store in St. Louis that sells culinary equipment and hosts cooking classes. The website features pictures of mouthwatering dishes such as duck tacos or Venetian lasagna that are sold in the shop. Ann’s skills at cooking are another part of her inheritance from her mother: Phyllis Schlafly’s specialty was the souffle, daunting to so many cooks. Phyllis’ recipes have been collected into a cookbook, “Faithfully Phyllis: Phyllis Schlafly’s Favorite Recipes,” available at the Eagle Forum website. Phyllis was especially accomplished with that most daunting of dishes, the souffle.
“My mother loved souffles,” Anne revealed. “The souffle can be intimidating even to experienced cooks, and, of course, everybody thought my mother was intimidating, so a souffle by Phyllis Schlafly is doubly intimidating. But she loved separating eggs and whipping up the whites, and so we put five different souffle recipes in the cookbook.”
Anne has served on the board of Eagle Forum since 2008, and from 2012-2016 regularly hosted the radio show “Eagle Forum Live.” And now it seems that Ann and the women of Eagle Forum will once again be called into battle against the ERA. Why, after all these years, is the ERA suddenly an issue once again?
“I think the continuing movement to ratify ERA, pushed by the left, was kind of a fringe movement until 2018,” Cori said, “when all the Democratic women elected to Congress that year showed up to Congress wearing white and big ‘ratify ERA’ stickers. That is when people started to recognize that this was a possibility. If we amend the Constitution, it should be done with a full and robust debate across the country, and not just a couple of states. We shouldn’t amend the Constitution in the dark of the night, but we should have an open and robust conversation about whether or not this is a good idea.”
When Phyllis Schlafly, who died in 2016 (but not without giving the left one last thing for which to hate her—a ringing endorsement of then presidential candidate Donald J. Trump) was fighting against the ERA in the 1970s, she was mocked for predicting all sorts of things would result from ratification, including women being drafted into the military, a decline in traditional marriage, and the legalization of same-sex marriage. How absurd, feminists said. How alarmist. Since all of these are now part of the culture, or in the case of drafting women, a likely development, even without the ERA, why bother with a second fight? Does it really matter?
According to Cori, the battle is even more important today. While some of the policy issues affected by the ERA would be different in 2020 from 1978 – even Schlafly wasn’t worried about any ambiguity in the meaning of the word “sex” in the amendment – some of the core principles from her argument against it remain sticking points of the modern debate. Opponents argue, just as Schlafly did decades earlier, that the ERA replaces the equality women already enjoy with sameness, erasing from the law and from our society any distinctions between the sexes, to the detriment of women and girls.
“Some people see it as just a feelgood amendment,” Cori explained. “They say ‘Well, then it would put women in the Constitution—why not?’, but as I said, it puts sex in the Constitution, not women. I think in the 1970s there was a general understanding that sex referred to biological men and biological women. But that understanding does not exist today. And, so, with the rise of transgender movement, there’s a whole new hornet’s nest on what is the meaning of this amendment, and there’s no doubt that ERA would that people didn’t consider before. So, for example, we have high school girls’ athletics that have been invaded by transgender boys. Well, under the ERA, you could not prohibit transgender boys being on girl’s teams.
“Far from being harmless,” Cori continues, “I believe that the real pernicious effect of this amendment would be on the most vulnerable. Having the ERA in the Constitution is not going to make a bit of difference for someone who graduates from Harvard Law School, but it will make a host of differences for women who are incarcerated, or women who want to go to women’s shelters that no longer can prohibit men from sleeping in women’s shelters, it will harm women in factory work who right now have a Pregnancy Accommodation Act. That is, there are hundreds of laws that help women because of their circumstances of being women, and pregnancy accommodation is one of them. So, when women no longer get breaks because they’re pregnant, that is something that harms vulnerable women who are in jobs where they don’t have other options.”
“A souffle is intimidating even for experienced cooks. Everybody thought my mother was intimidating, so a souffle by Phyllis Schlafly is doubly intimidating.”
This is why Phyllis Schlafly is suddenly in the news again. Given the stakes, IWF’s Inez Feltscher Stepman thinks that the effort to smear Schlafly on “Mrs. America,” may have done what Phyllis’ opponents always do: underestimated her. By letting Phyllis talk in the movie, she made some great points, and they came through loud and clear, despite the effort to turn her into a villain.
Meanwhile, the daughter is preparing to fight the ERA a second time. What could be a better way to prepare than cooking some of Phyllis’ favorite dishes? After all, Phyllis and her army of housewives outraged the likes of Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, and Friedan by showering wavering legislators with their delicious apple pies, and preserves. Those apple pies really got their goats!
With that in mind, here is Phyllis’s Schlafly’s favorite souffle, which Anne no doubt will prepare to fortify her family for the new battle.
Phyllis Schlafly’s Hot Chocolate Souffle
½ cup butter
½ cup flour
1 ½ cups milk
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Melt the butter and add the flour and stir to make a paste. Add the milk and bring to boil. Remove from heat and add the chocolate and let melt. Whip the egg yolks with the sugar and salt and stir into the chocolate mixture. Add the vanilla. Whip the egg whites until stiff and add a couple of tablespoons of sugar. Fold the whites into the chocolate and spoon into buttered soufflé cups (use ten six-ounce ramekins) and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Serve immediately with whipped cream.