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This is a fact that was more quickly grasped and used by Phyllis Schlafly and her resistance camp than by the feminist insurgents, who were, at first, so busy recruiting for the barricades that they left the main base vulnerable. Schlafly, however, was a good deal more cunning than anyone first thought. She has potentially a strong feminist background: a daughter of the Depression, she worked in a munitions plant to put herself through Washington University in St. Louis. Feminists might initially have mistaken her for a kind of grandstanding Betty Crocker, but Schlafly and her supporters marshaled all the fear and uncertainty that trails every social revolution, trimmed it and turned it against the opposition. ERA would encourage everything from rampant homosexuality to unisex bathrooms, from women draftees in combat to women victims of some squalid unisex millennium. Cheap and scary, sure, but as they say about such quibbles in Hollywood, "Hey, it worked."
No one took much notice that Schlafly's insistence upon strength through inequality could have been based on a fear and contempt for men at least as deep as, say, Radical Feminist Ti-Grace Atkinson's. What emerged instead was the image of Phyllis Schlafly as defender of the traditional values, defender of the home. No matter that all the sociologists and all the statisticians and all the activists said Ozzie and Harriet were gone for good, that the conventional nuclear family, with Dad bringing home the bacon and Mom cooking it for him and the kids, survived in only 28% of American homes. The divorce rate almost doubled in the past decade, and the percentage of people living alone rose from 5.3% to 8.3%. Still, that family with the bacon is for many Americans not just the ideal family, but the American dream itself. Schlafly not only defended the home, she defended the dream, and her constituency has triumphed, for the moment, because dreams die hard.
But the lasting strength of families is not in tradition, it is in the capacity for change. Few novelists in years have written as well about the ferocious fragility of family love and family life as John Irving. The World According to Garp has a protagonist—no, a hero—who breaks conventional roles as if they were a halfhearted hammer lock, who not only tends the kids while his wife works and keeps the house in order, but actually takes joy in his tasks. Pride. Fulfillment. The book was more than a smash. It was a true literary phenomenon, and there are surely very few admirers of Garp who think, as the boys in the barroom still say, that he got his balls busted.
Nitpickers will be quick to raise a point: T.S. Garp was a writer, and writers work at home. What of the millions of other men who have to work away? What happens to the children with both mother and