LEWISTON - For four decades, right-wing icon Phyllis Schlafly has been an anti-feminist spokeswoman for the national conservative movement.
Schlafly, now 81, brought her long-running campaign to Bates College on Wednesday night in a lecture titled "Conservativism vs. Feminism: The Great Debate," which played to a near-capacity crowd of more than 135 students and visitors at Chase Hall.
The event was sponsored by the Bates College Republicans.
For nearly two hours, she belittled the feminist movement as "teaching women to be victims," decried intellectual men as "liberal slobs" and argued that feminism "is incompatible with marriage and motherhood."
Disappointing none - especially the gaggle of women students who showed up sporting T-shirts reading "This Is What A Feminist Looks Like" - the presentation brought several moments of high agitation.
One came when Schlafly asserted women should not be permitted to do jobs traditionally held by men, such as firefighter, soldier or construction worker, because of their "inherent physical inferiority."
"Women in combat are a hazard to other people around them," she said. "They aren't tall enough to see out of the trucks, they're not strong enough to carry their buddy off the battlefield if he's wounded, and they can't bark out orders loudly enough for everyone to hear."
At one point, Schlafly also contended that married women cannot be sexually assaulted by their husbands.
"By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don't think you can call it rape," she said.
It was not a popular proclamation. But it was nothing out of the ordinary for the St. Louis homemaker who portrays her political stance as "pro-family" and has made a career of denigrating women who aspire to go beyond that role.
Schlafly herself holds a law degree from Washington University in her native St. Louis, as well as a master's degree in political science from Harvard.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Schlafly played an integral role in defeating the proposed Equal Rights Amendment.
"The ERA was a fraud," she said, comparing it to the absurdities of the political correctness trend of the 1990s, which also preached gender neutrality. "(The ERA) pretended to benefit women, but it didn't. It was just the nuttiness of feminists who were promoting an androgynous society. They didn't put 'women' in the Constitution, they put 'sex' in the Constitution."
While Schlafly said she has no problem with women raising a family and pursuing a professional career, she said they can't be done at the same time.
When asked if she could recall a particular issue about which she had changed her mind since taking on the ERA 40 years ago, Schlafly said she couldn't.
"I've always been a conservative," she said.
The admission outraged Tamara Wyzanski, a sophomore women and gender studies major.
"I was appalled," said Wyzanski, a co-leader of the Feminist Action Committee, a wing of a national group. "We're an educational institution and we're supposed to be teaching people to think critically, with an open mind. Not necessarily to be liberals, but at least to have an open mind."