Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly TWITTER/KIRSTBALLARD

FX’s Mrs. America is a nine-part mini-series about the campaign to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in 1970s America. The series centres on Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett), antifeminist, homemaker, and nuclear policy expert from Illinois who founded the alt-right ‘Eagle Forum’ and ‘STOPERA campaign’ in 1972. With the pastel suits and pearls of Schlafly set against the Woodstock glamour of Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne) and her fellow feminists, this historical drama has all the vintage nostalgia of its predecessor, Mad Men (also written by Dahvi Waller). Moreover, the sensitive script and thoughtfully drawn characters uphold the second-wave feminist dictum that ‘the personal is political.’

Uzo Aduba as Shirley ChisholmTWITTER/KIRSTBARRALRD

Schlafly is a despicable protagonist. Her lilting southern drawl spouts the stock antifeminist rhetoric of the pro-ERA feminists as ‘man-hating-unhappy-lesbians.’ Blanchett’s performance as this ‘First Lady of the Conservative movement’ is compelling, with her ready titter and Hollywood smile sugar-coating her hateful politics. Schlafly’s STOPERA and Eagle Forum movement also exhibit all the tactics associated with an alt-right post-truth campaign: the pithy sloganism used in the anti-feminist rhetoric is evocative of Trump’s own ‘Make America Great Again.’ Likewise, the use of skewed statistics is translated brilliantly into the 70s with Schlafly crassly chopping up tapes of speeches from ERA lobbyists to distribute to her supporters.

“Mrs. America aims to showcase the struggle of women to be taken seriously by the men in power.”

The writers, however, still manage to garner sympathy for Schlafly. She longs to go to law school and, without professional training, is publicly humiliated on a debate on national television. Indeed, this is both ironic and a testament to Schlafly’s carefully crafted character. Frustrated, intelligent, and ambitious, she would benefit from everything the ERA promises. As the exasperated activist Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale) says, Schlafly is probably ‘one of the most liberated women in America’ and a ‘goddamn feminist.’

Critics have questioned the accuracy of Schlafly’s portrayal, with Maria Donegan (Guardian US) claiming that, in reality, she was a vicious misogynist who believed victims of sexual harassment brought men’s violence upon themselves. While Mrs. America perhaps does not condemn Schlafly enough, her faults are still shown to be more than internalised misogyny.

Mrs. America (2020)TWITTER/ABBEYRADNIDGE

STOPERA campaigner Alice Macray (superbly played by Sarah Paulson) confronts Schlafly’s disregard of domestic abuse and exposes her emotional manipulation in the final episode when she screams: “Do you even care about me at all?” Macray’s internal conflict between her idolisation of Schlafly and misgivings about the STOPERA campaign is another clever and thoughtful plot line. In one of the most memorable and funny moments of the series, we join Alice on a Xanax-and-cocktail-infused sojourn towards ‘feminist enlightenment’ around the National Women’s Conference of 1977. Though perhaps rightly criticised for inaccuracy, these imagined personal histories deliver visceral and complex stories of women which are long overdue in the film industry.

Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem TWITTER/PAULSONRARE

Never seen without her mauve tinted aviators and a cigarette, Gloria Steinem is portrayed as the ‘pin up girl’ for the Womens’ Lib movement. Tension simmers throughout the series between Steinem and her forerunners: the waning radical Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman) and the spunky Bella Abzug. Within the Women’s movement we see flaws too, such as the shunting of black feminist issues. This is particularly visible in the opposition to Shirley Chisholm’s (Uzo Aduba) second run for president.


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Homophobia is also flagrant in Friedan’s rallies and in Bella Abzug’s ready dismissal of the gay rights resolution on the agenda of the Women’s Conference. However, it is misogyny, in all its glorious unadulterated splendour, that is the constant throughout this show. Whether in the frequent waist squeezes from sleazy Senators, to the ‘pin the cock on the feminist’ Playboy page featuring a nude illustration of Gloria Steinem, Mrs. America aims to showcase the struggle of women to be taken seriously by the men in power. Indeed, we grieve equally for both Schlafly and Abzug when they fail to be appointed into positions of power. The final shot of the show leaves us with a perfect paradox of Phyllis Schlafly: after receiving a phone call from Reagan to let her know he wouldn’t be appointing her into his cabinet, she puts on her floral apron and peels apples for an apple pie.

James Marsden as Phil CraneTWITTER/BITSMAG

Several states short of the 75% state ratification required to become federal law, the battle for the ERA is still ongoing today. The legalisation of abortion, one of the main propositions of the ERA, remains one of the partisan issues in American politics. Indeed, it was one of the main tenets of Trump’s Presidential campaign in 2017 to overturn Roe v. Wade (the Supreme Court’s decision in 1973 that essentially guaranteed the federal legalisation of abortion) and has resurfaced now following the death of pro-choice Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The popularity of the core ‘American’ family values that Schlafly monopolised are reflected in the contemporary grassroots Michigan Conservative Coalition: ‘Women for Trump.’ Schlafly’s final book, published the year she died, was titled ‘The Conservative Case for Trump.’

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