The Feminine Mistake: Burkean Frames in Phyllis Schlafly's Equal Rights Amendment Speeches

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Virginia Tech


Situated within the larger scholarship on the women's liberation movement of the 1970s exists a body of literature that analyzes the rhetorical functions of pro- and anti- Equal Rights Amendment messages in relation to communication studies. Although limited in scope, this literature acknowledges the tremendous impact of Phyllis Schlafly's STOP ERA campaign in the prevention of the ratification and unratification of states. However, with the exception of a few theses and dissertations, a lion's share of published articles proclaim the STOP ERA and Schlafly herself to be predominantly negative and serve solely as prevailing threats to the women's movement. As a result, heterogeneous scholarship grounded in communication theory proves limited when applied to critical rhetorical analyses of anti-feminist rhetoric. Using Kenneth Burke's frames of acceptance and rejection as a perspective for rhetorical criticism, this thesis demonstrates how Schlafly's conservative ideals functioned rhetorically through acceptance-based frames in the past, and through rejection-based frames after the failed ERA ratification in 1982. In doing so, I provide today's scholars with an important body of knowledge to further examine the ERA debate and its influence on contemporary feminism. Until rhetoric is fully explored within the cultural and historical conditions distinctive to Schlafly's main speeches during the ERA debate, meaningful debate about the women's movement and feminism's current state is subject to remain truncated.



Phyllis Schlafly, Equal Rights Amendment, Burkean frames, feminism