Phyllis Schlafly to receive honorary degree

As I found out through feministing, Phyllis Schlafly will receive an honorary degree from Washington University in St. Louis this weekend. Schlafly graduated from Washington University in 1944 after working her way through college. In 1978, she received a J.D. from Washington University Law School.

Schlafly spent a decade battling the Equal Rights Amendment, is in favor of banning women from working in nontraditional fields, and opposes the teaching of evolution. She also insists that spousal rape doesn’t exist. According to her, a woman consents to sex when getting married, “and I don’t think you can call it rape.”

Many students and professors have protested against the university’s decision to award Schlafly an honorary degree. There are currently over 3,000 members in a facebook group entitled “No honorary doctorate for anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly.”

It seems hypocritical that Schlafly is opposed to women’s rights when she took advantage of educational opportunities, worked through school, and built a successful career as a lawyer and author. It is important for universities to allow people to express dissenting opinions, but Schlafly isn’t going to Washington University to give a speech. Instead, she is being honored for her life’s work. As others have pointed out, this sends a very negative message to the female graduates who will be receiving their degrees that day.

According to, Schlafly responded to the protests with name calling:

Schlafly said feminists are still angry with her for leading the successful fight against passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. She called feminism an ideology that preaches that women are victims.

“They’re not going to ruin my day,” she said in a phone interview. “They’re a bunch of losers.”

The Chancellor of Washington University responded to the protests and is standing by the university’s decision to award the degree.

Chancellor Mark Wrighton explained:

In bestowing this degree, the University is not endorsing Mrs. Schlafly’s views or opinions; rather, it is recognizing an alumna of the University whose life and work have had a broad impact on American life and have sparked widespread debate and controversies that in many cases have helped people better formulate and articulate their own views about the values they hold.

Schlafly certainly has “sparked widespread debate and controversies,” but is that enough to justify honoring someone with a degree?

Students who oppose this decision will be holding a silent protest at the graduation ceremony.

May 16, 2008 - Posted by | Feminism, Sexism | ,

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