20 Mar Why the ‘Retro Wife’ Threatens America’s Economy

Though I wish America could ignore New York Magazine’s “Retro Wife” cover story, the lesson of Phyllis Schlafly forces us to pay attention. The “Retro Wife” here is Kelly Makino, who stays home with the kids, “spoils” her husband, and wants her daughters to “have a career that you can walk away from at the drop of a hat.” This is 2013. It feels like we are stepping back in time, so let’s really go back:

“Today, the Chicago State House fell just five votes short and the dream of women having equal rights to men is over.“

This was not the early 1900s, it was 1980. Wedged between Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and the King of Pop’s “Thriller,” the United States voted down equal rights for women.

Though hard to believe, it is vital to remember. Those five votes in Chicago are the reason why, no matter how absolutely ridiculous theNew York Magazine portrayal of husband-doting-homemaker Kelly Makino appears, we have to pay attention. In 1980, the “Retro Wife” was Phyllis Schlafly. Today, she is Kelly Makino.

Why should one “Retro Wife” matter so much?  Because a culture of “Retro Wives” can bring the American way of life to a grinding halt.

As a “Retro Wife,” Phyllis Schlafly saw it as her duty to provide for the defense of “the real rights of women” which she defined as “the right to be in the home as a wife and a mother.” It was this mantra and her determination that led to the defeat of an amendment supported by politicians ranging from Ted Kennedy and George Wallace, to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter. And despite the amendment’s overwhelming passage by Congress, Phyllis Schlafly led the movement that defeated equal rights for all women.

Ironically, Phylis Schlafly was a hardcore working mom.  She sold three million copies of her book and led a grass roots movement over 25 years, that required her to be on the road continuously. Despite fighting against equal rights for women, when it came to her own career, she leaned in as hard as any woman ever has. And, in the PBS special, MAKERS: Women Who Make America, she reflected, “I’m very proud of my family and my six children, but teaching conservatives that it is possible to win, that was a real accomplishment and that would be the one I’m most proud of.”

The defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment meant that all progress in creating an environment that supports working women stopped. Why is this an American issue and not just another round in the mommy battles?  Because retro wives like Phylllis Schlafly and Kelly Makino delay the forward progress of our economic system and that impacts every American.

Here’s how:

Today, a critical stop on the assembly line of the American worker is graduation from college. Follow the graduates of the top 100 universities in the United States, and you will find an overwhelming number of them in leadership positions. You’ll find them creating policies in Washington, leading schools, and running Fortune 500 companies and non-profits.

Now, wipe out 57% of them. 57% of our top graduates are women.

We have an assembly line popping out future leaders, more than half of which are women, and a working environment that doesn’t support them. This is a problem not just for women, but for the American economy facing a colossal brain drain.

It takes about 20 years from graduation to being in the “belly of the pipeline,” the point where top graduates become top leaders. It is during these critical years that women are both vital and vulnerable.Unsupported by the companies and the culture that surrounds them, they leave the “assembly line.” As Lisa Belkin explains, they are not opting out; they are being pushed out.

If we can’t change the system and change it quickly, the American factory that produces such a powerful output, that provides our defense and our infrastructure, that provides our paychecks and the many things we enjoy, is going to lose 57% of its raw material. Imagine trying to build a car when 57% of the parts are missing.

It is 33 years since we ceded our power to Schlafly and we should tolerate “Retro Wives” speaking for the masses even less today. There is a direct correlation between women in the workforce and a country’s productivity. According to Goldman Sachs, “A reduction in barriers to female labor force participation would increase the size of America’s GDP by 9%.” This is not a “mommy war” – this is a battle for America’s future – and none of us can afford another generation of “Retro Wives” impeding American promise.

If the image of Phyllis Schlafly scares you, the “Retro Wife” should terrify you.

To the “Retro Wives” like Kelly, I say, “You have the right to live your life how you want to; you can lean back so far that you’re lying down. That’s your choice.  But if a reporter shows up to portray you as a model of American life, say one of two things, ‘My life is not a model for America. In 70% of our households with children, all adults work. We need to create more policies and a cultural shift toward supporting the 57% of our graduates who are women so they can go out and produce the life that I enjoy.’ And if you can’t do that, just say, ‘No comment.’”

As a leading lifestyle and parenting expert for working women, Samantha Ettus specializes in coaching the busiest parents on the planet. She is a bestselling author, radio host, and speaker. Join her community here or connect with her here

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Samantha Ettus is a bestselling author & corporate speaker. The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe for Success and Satisfaction will be released in September.