Reviews Television

Mrs. America: More Than a Glimpse into the Ratification of the ERA

In an age of gender equality and political radicalism, one might think it impossible for thousands of women to oppose the Equal Rights Amendment. However, conservative Illinois housewife and author Phyllis Schlafly led the anti-feminist movement against its Constitutional passing in the 1970s. Impeccably portrayed by Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett, Schlafly serves as FX on Hulu’s Mrs. America antagonist in a protagonist light. Classified as the “Wicked Witch of the Midwest,” she manipulatively brainwashes Congressmen, television viewers and fellow housewives into siding with her campaign. Providing alternate lenses into female oppression, Mrs. America educates quarantined streamers in an artistic fashion.

Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly (center) at a protest; Sabrina Lantos/FX

Consisting of a star-studded cast, Mrs. America functions as a revolutionary window into political polarization. Playing Ms. magazine founder and feminist activist Gloria Steinem opposite Blanchett, Rose Byrne channels societal frustrations as a tenacious underdog. Despite her clout at the time, Steinem struggles alongside her National Women’s Political Caucus co-organizers Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba), and U.S. Representative Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale) to overcome legal barriers and misogynist media. Rather than facilitating a cat fight between the contrasting activists, the realist drama tastefully shares their stark differences and mutual animosity through civil debates, romantic relationships and social environments.

From baking bread for Washington’s “breadwinners” to delivering pamphlets, Schlafly and her fellow housewives Rosemary Thomson (Melanie Lynskey) and Alice Macray (Sarah Paulson) form the STOP (Stop Taking Our Privileges) ERA national campaign, traveling across the country with groupthink members in attempts to carry out their mission. More than simply ruffling feathers, these anti-feminists relentlessly recruit women for their cause out of self-empowerment and misguided prejudice, creating further obstacles in the ERA’s nationwide ratification advancements. As a progressive pro-choice Republican presidential advisor, Jill Ruckelshaus (Elizabeth Banks) provokes inter-political party discordance, resulting in Schlafly’s Eagle Forum establishment and significant divide among voters at the 1976 Republican National Convention. Ironically debating whether or not women are equal citizens amidst the United States’ bicentennial, Schlafly continuously stirs the pot, citing fictional court cases in a debate with liberal lawyer/activist Brenda Feigen-Fasteau (Ari Graynor) and instigating false apprehension during trips to Washington.

Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem (left) and Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan (right); Sabrina Lantos/FX

With their juxtaposing motives becoming more evident as the television series progresses, dynamics shift among the women, and both the left and right wings increasingly display their complex consciences. Steinem persistently pushes for abortion legalization, because she underwent the procedure herself; and Schlafly advocates for the restricting conservative agenda due to her marital submission and fear of her daughters potentially getting drafted for war. Ruckelshaus grapples with freedom of speech while supporting her husband’s candidacy for vice president, and Chisholm fights for sexually assaulted women on the Hill out of exhaustion from consistent gender discrimination. Additionally, a Ms. magazine African-American employee quits her job to escape discomfort within the all-white office environment, and Feigen-Fasteau cheats on her husband with another woman out of sexual curiosity and marital defiance. Focusing on select influential women each episode, Mrs. America authentically reveals their internal dilemmas and profound relatability to current feminist friction, transporting viewers to an ever-present time capsule.

For individuals questioning the show’s agenda, watch the first episode and place yourselves in the characters’ shoes. Why did many suburban women maintain domesticity and stunt their sense of freedom? How did New York’s liberal female residents strive for Congressional social change? Wikipedia and high school text books may provide sufficient information regarding their existence and actions, but only Mrs. America successfully captures the opposing activists’ essence and emotional psyche behind their movements. Tune in Wednesday evenings at FX on Hulu for new episodes.

Featured image provided by FX

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