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“Mrs. America” Is A Must-See Show About A Different Kind Of Feminist

Ever since the trailer for the miniseries “Mrs. America” was released on April 15, fans have been patiently waiting with hopes for a show that would bring attention to the feminist revolutionaries of the 1970s. The FX historical drama did not disappoint as it highlights the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, but with a twist. The story details the fierce battle between a group of second-wave feminists and a group of housewives, but it is told from the opposing side with much of the spotlight given to conservative anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett).

The opening message reminds us that certain scenes and characters have been fabricated for creative purposes but are “based on actual events that occurred during the political struggle and debate over the Equal Rights Amendment.” Despite its fictionalized aspects, “Mrs. America” has no shortage of well-known feminist figures including Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman) and Jill Ruckelshaus (Elizabeth Banks). The portrayals from this highly star-studded cast are not only physically accurate but also display a great deal of female empowerment.  

Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem in “Mrs. America.” Photo provided by “Mrs. America”/Twitter.

The show opens in the year 1971 with a fundraiser fashion show for the reelection of Congressman Phil Crane (James Marsden). Schlafly is shown modeling a stars and stripes bathing suit and appears to be content with America’s current conservative ideals. She initially dismisses any concerns about the Equal Rights Amendment (E.R.A.) such as those from her friend Alice Macray (Sarah Paulson) expressing that “there’s so many more pressing issues.” Those thoughts quickly shift after a meeting with Crane and Barry Goldwater in which her only topic of argument involves the amendment.

Schlafly spots an opportunity and voices her thoughts at the Daughters of the American Revolution mother-daughter luncheon where she regards the E.R.A. as “a threat to the traditional American family” that is “just as dangerous and even more insidious” than Soviet military threat (her usual topic of interest). Schlafly appears on talk-shows, writes weekly newsletters and even bakes bread for the men of the Illinois legislature all with the help of her fellow housewives in strong efforts to cease the enactment of equal rights. After getting to know Schlafly and her chilling nature, we are introduced to her opponents with the remainder of the miniseries highlighting a new woman each episode. 

Photo provided by Elizabeth Banks/Twitter.

For instance, the third episode focuses on Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba) — the first black woman to be elected to Congress and be a candidate for a presidential campaign. The primary worry of her campaign was that she would prioritize women’s issues in comparison to a white male candidate who would deal with other matters. Chisholm mentions to her fellow feminists that “unless we demand true equality, we are always going to be begging men for a few crumbs from the pie, treating women for an empty promise.” Aduba’s performance reveals to audiences that Chisholm wasn’t simply doing this for her own personal gain but for the good of the nation. 

The story touches on many topics still relevant to American politics today. Particularly in Episode 2, Steinem deals with a personal fight towards legalizing abortion. In one scene, a fan asks her to sign the first issue of Steinem’s magazine Ms. — specifically the page titled “We Have Had Abortions.” The two instantly connect as Steinem reflects on her own experience undergoing the procedure. 

Schlafly is constantly being contradicted throughout the series as she faces much discrimination as a woman but nonetheless persists to fight against feminism. In the scene of a meeting regarding the E.R.A., she is not only ignored but asked to be the notetaker for the meeting despite having the most expertise. Even her own husband, Fred Schlafly (John Slattery), is doubtful towards her election for Illinois’ 23rd Congressional District in 1970 causing her to lose hope in her future political agenda. These are only a few instances of the many throughout the series where Schlafly experiences belittlement and ignorance towards her role as a strong conservative woman. Blanchett’s portrayal of such a strong-minded, passionate woman is not only spot-on but also adequately resembles the sexist actions and inequitable mentality shown towards women during this historical era. 

“Mrs. America” is no history lesson. In fact, if you have no prior knowledge of the E.R.A or the  main players involved, you should probably do your research before watching. It is, however, a great representation of the events that took place in an attempt to ratify the amendment while presenting both sides of the spectrum. The motive of the show is to show modern-day feminists the conservatives they’re up against or simply to revisit these historical moments in an effort to initiate a new era of protests, campaigns and social movements. It also acts as a reminder that the Equal Rights Amendment and all of its opposing conservative voices still exist in the country. 

Jacqui Pash is an Entertainment Intern for the 2020 Spring Quarter. She can be reached at jpash@uci.edu