Part of this failure was personality. But partly it was also because feminists were stared down by women on the other side. Almost from the beginning, antifeminists, like the opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment, organized by Phyllis Schlafly, claimed that feminism wanted to control peoples' personal lives. (Would that they were right!) Schlafly charged that passage of the ERA would lead to men's abandoning their families, unisex toilets, gay marriages, and women in the army. All of this has now happened, with no sign of the world's ending yet, yet Schlafly succeeded beyond her wildest imaginings.
Schlafly's domesticity was never some bliss of choice; she advocated a religiously dictated, sex-driven dependency. It was 1976, when Indiana was on the verge of becoming the thirty-fifth state to ratify the ERA, when Schlafly says she realized she needed to seek support from the churches. For her vision, she says she got "1,000 mainline Protestants, evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons and orthodox Jews" to attend an anti-ERA rally in Springfield, Illinois. "That is when the pro-family movement was invented," she says. "It was a coming together of believers of all denominations who would do two things--come into politics for the first time and then work together for a cause they shared."
Instead of challenging the legitimacy of orthodox religion as a source for public policy, feminism made the fatal error of denying the charges: We're not feminazis and we don't want to tell you how to live your life. We only want to give you opportunities. Whether individual women take their places in the public world is up to them. It's their choice.
So while Steinem was giving cocktail parties in the Hamptons for Cesar Chavez, and Schlafly was putting the tradition in traditional family, feminists retreated to the arena they could defend--that the public world should be open to women who wanted to work there. Building on the innocuous prohibition of employment discrimination based on sex, in the race-oriented ?1964 Civil Rights Act, conventional women like Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the ACLU began a legalistic, culturally circumspect campaign to open the office doors to women.
In the drive to offend no one, the feminist movement abandoned the home front. The radical Friedan didn't turn her attention to the family until 1981, in The Second Stage, and by then she had lost her edge. The tone of the book is dispirited and full of useless, grandiose, and wishful rhetoric ("women and men even now are transcending sex-role polarization...we can transcend that false antagonism between feminism and the family...and move beyond sexual politics"). All that transcendence was unworthy of the sixties radical she had once been, and the book was ignored. Real change occurred in the public world. But between the politically correct antipatriarchal spinsters like Steinem and the carefully bow-tied Justice Ginsburg, the family slipped away, untouched by the corrosive principles of feminism.