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‘Mrs. America’ Explores Feminist History Through the Eyes of Phyllis Schlafly

Activist Phyllis Schlafly wearing a "Stop ERA" badge, demonstrating with other women against the Equal Rights Amendment in front of the White House, Washington, D.C., February 4, 1977. Date: 4 February 1977 Source: Activist Phyllis Schafly wearing a "Stop ERA" badge, demonstrating with other women against the Equal Rights Amendment in front of the White House, Washington, D.C. Author: Warren K. Leffler

A new drama miniseries depicts the true story of the quest to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and how it was opposed by a famous conservative woman, Phyllis Schlafly.

Premiering on FX on Hulu, the nine-part miniseries stars Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly, who was a Harvard educated nuclear proliferation expert at the time. Emmy winner Dahvi Waller (“Mad Men”) and Academy Award-nominated Stacey Sher (Django Unchained, Erin Brockovich) serve as series creator and showrunner.

Phyllis Schlafly was born in 1924 and although her mother was the primary breadwinner of her Depression-era family, Schlafly opposed feminism. Running for Congress in 1952, she held politically and socially conservative views and was against abortion. In 1972, she founded the Eagle Forum, a conservative political interest group, and remained its chair and CEO until her death in 2016.

Part of the reason why Schlafly opposed ERA was that she believed equalizing the rights of men and women would weaken the U.S. military if the draft was no longer male-only. Additionally, Schlafly believed that ERA was designed for the benefit of young career women, and warned that if men and women were treated equally, it would threaten the security of middle-aged housewives without job skills.

The new miniseries promises to explore several views of other women from that era too, including famous second-wave feminists Gloria Steinem (portrayed by Rose Byrne), Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman)—along with Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug and Jill Ruckelshaus. It explores how one of the toughest battlegrounds in the culture wars of the ’70s helped give rise to the Moral Majority and forever shifted our political landscape.

It may sound surprising that a notoriously conservative political figure, who also opposed gay marriage and the theory of marital rape, is being given a high-profile media portrayal. However, creator Dahvi Waller, who took women’s studies courses in college, explained the rationale for the new miniseries.

“I don’t think we do ourselves any favors by thinking of people who don’t agree with us as one-dimensional monsters,” she explained.

“We tend to tell the story of social movements in this country only from the point of view of the heroes of social movement and progress—without really delving deeply into the ensuing backlash. And there is always a backlash,” Waller continued.

Perhaps exploring the other side of great social issues will simply provide us a more well-rounded view of the issues themselves, even if we remain on the same side afterwards.

The first three episodes of Mrs. America premieres on FX on Hulu, Wednesday, April 15. New episodes will premiere weekly on Hulu, Wednesdays.


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