Phyllis Schlafly on Women’s Responsibility for Sexual Harassment (1981)

Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly fought against feminism and other liberal cultural trends for decades. Perhaps most notably, she led the campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment, turning what had seemed an inevitability into a failed effort. Here, she testified before Congress about what she saw as the largely imagined problem of sexual harassment.

My name is Phyllis Schlafly of Alton, Illinois. I am a lawyer, journalist, author, wife and mother of six children, and am appearing here as the volunteer president of EAGLE FORUM, the national organization which has been leading the pro-family movement since 1972. I live in Alton, Illinois. My testimony concerns sexual harassment, the subject of this hearing.

First, let me say that I am excluding from my discussion any reference to criminal acts. Sexual crimes should be punished to the full extent of the law. I rejoice that the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld a state law against statutory rape, handing down a decision which reaffirms society’s right to treat men and women differently. However, crime is not our subject today.

Non-criminal sexual harassment on the job is not a problem for the virtuous woman except in the rarest of cases. When a woman walks across the room, she speaks with a universal body language that most men intuitively understand. Men hardly ever ask sexual favors of women from whom the certain answer is “no.”

The former Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, once spoke frankly about the relationship of men and women. She spent a lifetime working alongside of men, but she said no man ever told a dirty story in her presence. My experience has been similar to hers. Virtuous women are seldom accosted by unwelcome sexual propositions or familiarities, obscene talk, or profane language.

In those rare cases where a virtuous woman finds that sexual harassment is a condition of her employment, the social injustice is real, but as a subject for Congressional concern it is totally dwarfed by the injustice of sexual harassment or intimidation of women in the Armed Services who do not have the freedom to resign. Yet, many of the same people complaining about sexual harassment in the workplace are at the same time promoting the drafting of women alongside of men.

Let’s put this issue in focus. Anyone who is trying to make a “federal case” out of the problem of bosses pinching secretaries, and who at the same time is promoting the drafting of women along with men and/or the full sex-integration of combat assignments in the armed services, is playing political games with the term “sexual harassment.” Nothing in the world would create more sexual harassment than the drafting of 18- to 20-year-old girls into the army. Military policies which force volunteer servicewomen into “nontraditional” assignments have already created a major problem of sexual harassment. Attached to my testimony is a letter from Army Times of May 1979, telling what it is really like in the sex-integrated U.S. Army. The high rate of rape among American troops stationed in Europe is already shocking. (Stars and Stripes said there were 220 rape cases in 1980 involving American GIs stationed in Europe.)

The biggest problem of sex in the workplace is not harassment at all but simply the chemistry that naturally occurs when women and men are put in close proximity day after day, especially if the jobs have other tensions. That chemistry has always been present; what’s different today is that (a) there are many more women in the workplace, and (b) some women have abandoned the Commandments against adultery and fornication, and accepted the new notions that any sexual activity in or out of marriage is morally and socially acceptable. Attached to my testimony is a front-page article from the Wall Street Journal of April 14, 1981, entitled “Some Men Find the Office is a Little Too Exciting,” which describes some of the sexual tensions created by women in the workplace.

Andrew Hacker, a professor at Queens College in New York City, in an article in Harper’s magazine in September 1980, wrote: “Now husbands are increasingly apt to have as colleagues high-powered younger women who understand their professional problems in ways a wife never can. These affinities can emerge as easily in a patrol car as in planning a marketing campaign. Shared work, particularly under pressure, has aphrodisiac effects.”

Sexual harassment can be the mischievous label applied in hate or revenge when one party wants out of an extra-marital liaison between consenting adults. Neither Congress nor EEOC has the competence to sit in judgment on the unwitnessed events and decide who was harassing whom.

Sexual harassment can also occur when a non-virtuous woman gives off body language which invites sexual advances, but she chooses to give her favors to Man A but not to Man B, and he tries to get his share, too….

Senators and Congressmen should heed the oft-quoted prayer, “Lord, help me to change the things I can change, to accept the things I cannot change, and give me the wisdom to know the difference.” Congress cannot prevent or police the sexual attraction men and women have for each other. But Congress can:

(a) Stop the government-induced inflation which forces more and more women to join the labor force even though so many of them would prefer to be in the home.

(b) Keep women out of places where they don’t belong, such as on ships of the U.S. Navy, and in military academy dormitories, and in military barracks where there Is nothing between sleeping servicemen and servicewomen except maybe a curtain.

(c) Stop the Affirmative Action for women which forces women into jobs where the predictable effect is sex on the job and broken marriages.

Source: Committee on Labor and Human Resources, Sex Discrimination in the Workplace, 1981: Hearings Before the Committee on Labor and Human Resources (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1981), 400-402. Available via Internet Archive (