Women Vs. Feminists
A populist movement—the antifeminist crusade of the mid-1970s—stymied a supposedly inevitable progressive victory. Sound familiar? Kay S. Hymowitz reviews “Divided We Stand” by Marjorie J. Spruill.
The scene may feel familiar: an out-of-touch Republican establishment, bitter debates over gender roles, an angry populist rebellion. In “Divided We Stand,” Marjorie Spruill describes a polarized America that will be recognizable to any consumer of today’s news. Her story is set, though, in the 1970s and depicts, in the words of the book’s subtitle, “the battle over women’s rights and family values.”
In Ms. Spruill’s telling, the battle was unexpected. By the mid-1970s women’s rights were not only ascendant but appeared to be uncontroversial even among prominent Republicans. The Supreme Court, intellectuals, educators and moderate religious leaders were all on board. Landmark bills like the 1963 Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act had eroded legal sex discrimination, and a growing number of women were serving in high-level government positions. The Equal Rights Amendment, a priority for activists, had been passed by Congress in 1972, and by 1975 polls showed that 58% of Americans supported its ratification. The tide of history had seemingly turned.
Ms. Spruill organizes her narrative around the National Women’s Conference, scheduled to take place in Houston in November 1977. Blessed and funded by federal and state governments, the conference was designed....
This piece originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal