The Women Who Oppose Legal Equality for … Women
A New Resource for the Goods on the Bad Gals, Bad Guys, and Other Anti-Heroes Trying to Thwart Progress on Equality, Voting, Climate Change, and More
They’ve always been with us, the women who oppose the legal equality of … women.
Lost to the wrong side of history are the anti-suffragists, the well-off white women who opposed giving all women, or any woman, an equal right to vote. Those largely conservative voices defended the status quo and ignored the manifest injustices of the way things were. They did not make America great.
Other versions of this regressive archetype abound, like Hazel Bryan Massery, whose hateful shouting at Elizabeth Eckford for integrating Little Rock’s Central High School is captured in iconic photos from 1957. Massery later sought to redeem herself, but Eckford wrote:
“True reconciliation can occur only when we honestly acknowledge our painful, but shared, past..."
Then there are those more recent — but not modern — anti-heroes, like Phyllis Schlafly who gained fame and fortune for opposing the Equal Rights Amendment (the ERA). It provides simply that: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” It continues to stun me that this statement of basic human rights, first introduced in Congress 98 years ago, remains blocked from our Constitution.
As the insightful Ilyse Hogue wrote in The Forge last year, Schlafly used her power in the right-wing firmament not only to thwart the ratification of the ERA but also to claim to her followers that :
the “new buzzwords of equality — whether they were applied to Black people, gay people, or women — were tantamount to attacking your family, your way of life, and your privileged status.”
This reminds me of “what’s past is prologue,” as William Shakespeare penned in The Tempest, and what a tempest her toxic rhetoric continues to fuel posthumously. The wave of bills banning the honest teaching of history, dubbed “Critical Race Theory,” echo her divisive tactics.
Shlafly was repeatedly lauded as a champion by a pay-to-play group called the “Independent Women’s Forum” (IWF), which has carried on her legacy of opposing the ERA since its founding 30 years ago. IWF began as a defense of Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. It was seemingly premised on the appalling suggestion that if Thomas did not sexually harass all women — namely the white conservative women who launched IWF — he could not possibly have sexually harassed any women, namely the Black women who accused him: Anita Hill and Angela Wright, who were willing to testify under penalty of perjury about how he mistreated them. He denied it, and was confirmed to a lifetime position on the Court.
IWF reprised that misogynistic legacy in 2018 in its dark-money funded defense of Brett Kavanaugh after he was accused by Christine Blasey Ford of attempted sexual assault. That’s not all: IWF has also opposed the Equal Pay Act, Title IX’s guarantee of equality for women and girls in athletic opportunities, Paid Family and Medical Leave, and much more. Despite all that, IWF’s long-time funder and leader — the political operative Heather Higgins, an heir to the Vicks Vaporub fortune — was rewarded by being named to a right-wing slate stacked onto the federal commission that marked the centenary of the 19th Amendment last year.
The proliferation of IWF’s spin on FOX and elsewhere is one of the reasons for this new Substack.
These are more than old battles. They are part of an ongoing war over what’s true.
You can learn more about that in Alyssa Bowen’s research in this inaugural edition, as she details how IWF has attacked health measures backed by sound science during this deadly Covid-19 pandemic.
We also look into other right-wing women’s groups like “Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagles,” which is now led by two men. One is Ed Martin, the co-founder of “Stop the Steal,” a discredited effort that has peddled debunked claims of systemic voter fraud in the 2020 election. The other is John Schlafly, her son. Notably, they helped promote events on the Mall on January 6, which ultimately led to the violent insurrection at the Capitol to stop a key function of American democracy: the counting of certified Electoral College votes for president. Trump was rightfully impeached for this high crime, but craven partisans blocked his conviction, even though a majority of U.S. Senators found him guilty, guilty, guilty.
Our mission in launching this Substack is to create a resource for compelling information about these right-wing women’s groups and others who are spreading disinformation that damages our democracy, in our opinion.
We’ll also be documenting the track records of well known brands and front groups that are up to no good and trying to thwart widely popular progressive policies.
We hope you’ll find this research into the dark arts of the right-wing and the beguiling power of greed both illuminating and infuriating. We sure do.
But there are also reasons to be hopeful and resilient! We’re shining a light on some of the champions of equality and fighters for a healthy democracy — like Nancy MacLean, the author of Democracy in Chains, which exposes the dark money operations that bankroll front groups and distort our elections and public policy fueled by oil billionaire Charles Koch and others. We’ll also highlight the music, art, and poetry that inspire us and help sustain us as we pursue our relentless research.
Thank you for all you are doing to make our world a better place (unless you are working with IWF, for example; then you should know that we plan to make crystal clear all of the ways you don’t).
With deepest gratitude,
Lisa Graves, Executive Director of True North Research
The Dangerous Undermining of Public Science Expertise by Dark Money Groups
Feature by Alyssa Bowen
In late May, an Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) Senior Policy Analyst, Kelsey Bolar, appeared on Fox Business about the latest right-wing talking point on Covid-19: the supposedly “troubling” possibility of companies mandating that workers receive the vaccination.
Bolar insisted on that segment that she wasn’t an “anti-vaxxer,” but referred to the vaccines as “experimental.” Public health officials meanwhile have refuted the label of experimental and other seemingly dangerous and false claims, such as that the vaccines skipped necessary safety trials.
Despite Bolar’s critique of companies adopting a policy intended to safeguard the health of workers and customers, it is notable that she is an analyst for a pay-to-play group. For example, IWF has accepted money from vaping giant Juul and then defended … vaping. IWF has also been underwritten by right-wing funders such as the Bradley Foundation, Randolph Foundation, Sarah Scaife Foundation, various Charles Koch groups, and the dark money ATM of the right: DonorsTrust. (IWF used to be operated jointly with Koch’s Americans for Prosperity and its predecessor.)
IWF representatives have even used the term “junk science” to describe climate change and to defend numerous corporations selling products that independent scientists have linked to cancer, including the weed-killing chemical Round Up, talcum powder (linked to ovarian cancer), the medical sterilization chemical Ethylene Oxide, and the agricultural pesticide chlorpyrifos.
The organization has also long attacked government agencies, such as the EPA and the Food and Drug Administration, that were created to protect the American public from products that harm people. IWF also applauded Trump’s plan to “prune” the EPA and roll back Obama-era energy regulations that aimed to lower carbon emissions. Meanwhile, IWF challenged the EPA’s smog standards and efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, IWF and its related group, the Independent Women’s Voice, have made numerous statements that could undermine public confidence in the weight of scientific expertise. For example, they attacked the Center for Disease Control (CDC), which has been vital to researching and giving public health advice pertinent to the control of the deadly virus. For example, IWF/V called CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky “untrustworthy” and accused the agency of “cramming [vaccines] down Americans’ throats” before knowing they are safe.
Earlier this month, IWF/V leadership claimed on Fox’s Big Sunday Show that “a number of Americans are dead, because of what the American government did,” actions such as not pushing hydroxychloroquine as a Covid-19 treatment and not reopening the economy sooner. In fact, peer-reviewed research found increased mortality rates among Covid-19 victims who used the anti-malarial drug tauted by Trump.
IWF/V leadership also maligned Dr. Anthony Fauci, a renowned expert, as “untrustworthy.” IWF Fellow and Fox News Contributor, Lisa Boothe, has claimed “you’d have to be an idiot to believe anything Fauci says.” Other IWF/V associates have asserted that the virologist “single-handedly put the nail in the coffin of public trust in public health,” and even suggested it is “about time” that he gets his “comeuppance.”
On Fox News, Fox Business, and Boothe’s Gingrich 360 podcast, people tied to IWF/V have insinuated that Dr. Fauci was personally responsible for the Covid-19 virus, a discredited claim being spread because the CDC has funded research against pandemics globally, including a lab studying infectious diseases in Wuhan, China. Boothe also gave Donald Trump, Jr., a platform on her podcast to claim that Fauci is “not a scientist,” despite his actual credentials, and to assert Fauci is just a “bureaucrat in a lab coat” who wants fame.
Vaccines have been essential to the recent and rapid drop in Covid-19 cases and deaths across the country. Worryingly, the New York Times recently reported that cases are no longer falling and may begin to rise again due to the seemingly more contagious and deadlier Delta variant. Experts have found the vaccines hold up against this variant.
Yet, IWF/V fellows have defended “vaccine hesitancy” and the most basic of measures to prevent the spread of the virus. IWV’s outgoing President, Tammy Bruce, even accused public officials who supported the physical distancing of unvaccinated from vaccinated individuals of “resorting to segregation.” She claimed this was offensive to the Black community, due to the inhumane Tuskegee experiments and more, and “if they refuse to have an experimental vaccine injected” they will be segregated.
Additionally, as early as April 2020, IWF was pushing to reopen the U.S. economy during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately harmed people from Black and Hispanic communities in the U.S. An estimated additional 550,000 people in the U.S. have since died from the highly contagious virus. IWF also played a leading role in efforts to demand the fast reopening of the country’s public schools, demonizing teachers and teachers’ unions whom they accused of harming children to get more money from the government.
Some IWF/V associates have also vehemently opposed mask wearing, even as global health experts have declared them both safe and effective at limiting the spread of the virus. IWF Fellow Laura Carno, the former Communications Director for Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert—who was accused of giving a tour of the Capitol to some of the January 6th rioters in the days before the insurrection—asked rhetorically if Dr. Fauci and Democratic leaders were vaccine skeptics for still wearing masks after receiving the vaccination. IWV’s Bruce even claimed that mask mandates were simply an effort by Democrats to “nudge” Americans into “surrender[ing] to government control of the most minute details of our lives.”
As the country is actively opening up and lifting the Covid restrictions that right-wing groups have opposed, IWF/V continues to attack key recommendations of the CDC. They have claimed, for example, that the ongoing CDC recommendation that children over two years old wear masks indoors in public spaces could be harmful psychologically and developmentally, despite scientific evidence that masks present no danger to children and that children will have learned social cues from the extended time they have spent with their unmasked parents at home.
Consumers and policymakers should be wary of the claims by IWF/V on policy issues, given its history. It does not speak for all women, and it has promoted narratives that are at odds with the weight of scientific expertise and potentially harmful to the public.
Hero of the Week: U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Co-Captain Megan Rapinoe
By Evan Vorpahl
The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) is a key advocate in the fight for equality, using its platform to draw attention to the gender pay gap in the U.S., even for the best athletes in the world. In 2020, U.S. women in general were paid 82 cents on the dollar compared to men, per the U.S Census Bureau, a gap that widens even further for women of color. Despite misleading rhetoric from right-wing groups like IWF, the gender pay gap persists in nearly all occupations.
Megan Rapinoe, the co-captain of the team — which has won four World Cups and four Olympic gold medals — is a leading voice on this issue and more. She has been targeted by the Independent Women’s Forum, which claims the gender wage gap is a myth and called the team’s lawsuits “misguided.” Here are some actual facts to know:
The women’s team has been more profitable AND more successful than the men’s team, but the men make nearly $10K more per win (by team), and nearly $2M more for simply qualifying for the World Cup.
Looking at the World Cup, the disparities are quite large. The women’s World Cup had a total prize of $30M of which the winners took home $4M. The men’s World Cup total prize money was $400M and the winner took home $38M —significantly more than the total amount in the women’s tournament.
Between 2016 and 2018 the USWNT generated almost $1M more in revenue for the U.S. Soccer Federation than the men’s team. The USWNT’s net revenue was also higher, as the men’s team generally has higher expenses. More people tune into women’s soccer in the U.S. than men’s, and the 2015 women’s World Cup Final was the most watched soccer game on TV in U.S. history.
True North Research applauds Megan Rapinoe for being a Real Champion for equality.
A Conversation with Professor Nancy MacLean, the Author of Democracy in Chains
True North Research co-leads a new project called the BOLD ReThink and has launched a series of Dialogues for Democracy about how to rethink public policy to boldly advance the public good and unmask the opponents of progress.
The first conversation in this series is between True North’s Lisa Graves and Nancy MacLean, the author of Democracy in Chains and a professor of history at Duke University. Here’s a taste:
LG: Why should the average American care about Charles Koch?
NM: So many of the puzzles of our public life can be solved when you start paying attention to Charles Koch. He is of course one of the richest men in the world. One of the most influential as the head of the largest privately held corporation in America and someone who has been investing in transforming our public life for over a half a century… [That’s one reason we’ve seen such an effort] to shackle the will of the [majority] and to grossly empower a minority that knows that the majority doesn't want the agenda that it's trying to institute.
Watch the full conversation to learn more about how people are fighting back against that billionaire’s legislative and judicial agenda and how you can advance progress.
We’re just going to leave this here... from IWF’s latest email of right-wing grievances:
Here is some musical relief from the late Sharon Jones: This Land Is Your Land.