Last night, more than 500 students, faculty, and community members crowded the Glass Pavilion at Johns Hopkins University to hear “The Feminist Debate: The Role and Struggle of American Women Today” between Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal and Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly.
Schlafly painted an idealistic picture of life for women in the 1800s, saying that women in the 1800s had wonderful standing that has been eroded by the feminist movement. Smeal countered that, in the 1800s, women could not vote, own property, or go to school, and that non-whites, immigrants, and blacks enjoyed virtually no rights, and that slavery was legal and widely practiced at the time. Smeal outlined the accomplishments of the feminist movement, citing the gains it has made for women, people of color, and gays and lesbians, from winning Title IX to the Family and Medical Leave Act to the recent Violence Against Women Act. Smeal asserted that there is still much work to be done, for example, combating gender apartheid in Afghanistan, and securing the reproductive rights of women not only in the United States but around the world. Schlafly condemned the feminist movement, saying it was only about “baby killing and lesbians.” Smeal took her statement head on, saying, “Our movement doesn’t back off from what we stand for” but proudly advocates safe, legal, and accessible abortion as well as lesbian and gay rights.
When asked what role college students could play in the future of the feminist movement, Smeal responded, “Young people are the movement. Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance members from St. Mary’s College, the University of Maryland at College Park, Goucher College, and the University of Maryland at Baltimore Country attended the forum, as well as students from Shippensburg University and Johns Hopkins University who will be participating in the Feminist Majority Foundation’s campus program this year.
C-SPAN recorded the debate, and will air it in rotation beginning this evening.