“We are in the midst of a conservative revolution,” stated Rosemary Thomson, played by Melanie Lynskey, in the historical drama “Mrs. America” streaming on FX on Hulu. “It’s bigger than the ERA now,” Thomson explained. The nine-part series is based on and dramatizes the story of the movement for and against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) which would guarantee equal protection, regardless of gender, under the U.S. Constitution.
As history played out, we know that Phyllis Schlafly, depicted spectacularly by Cate Blanchett, and her crusaders kept the Constitutional amendment from passing the required 38 states by its deadline, despite the strong bipartisan momentum it had coming out of the Senate and the House of Representatives. In fact, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment just this year, making the series relevant today.
With the music, style and fashion of the 1970s as the backdrop, each episode of the series focuses on the prominent second-wave feminists Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug and G.O.P. activist Jill Ruckelshaus. Each character is brought to life with an excellent cast, with Schlafly’s anti-ERA platform as a driving force.
Schlafly is portrayed as cunning, ambitious and complicated. Initially her Stop ERA lobbying organization was largely dismissed until Schlafly mobilized conservative women, arguing that the ERA would cause women to be drafted into the military and lose protections such as alimony and child custody in the case of divorce.
Schlafly’s sheer force of will transcended stopping the ERA from passing and became a revolutionary, religious tide that advanced a conservative agenda. With hired help at home and a sister-in-law dedicated to Schlafly’s family, she gets a law degree, runs for congress, and has ambitions to be in President Ronald Reagan’s cabinet. Representative Bella Abzug, played by Margo Martindale, stated that Schlafly was actually a feminist. “She may be the most liberated woman in America,” Abzug said.
The series helps to gain a deeper understanding of the feminist movement and the conservative backlash, with storylines and positions that continue to this day.
Community resident Karen Welden watched the series and said, “Schlafly was prescient. She thought the ERA would shake the foundation of the American family. I think she was right.” Fellow resident Tammy Heflebower stated, “I believe if you are a citizen of the U.S., you should have equal rights under the law.”
As the ERA continues to be debated, “Mrs. America” raises many complicated issues and opens the door to have worthwhile and important discussions that affect us all.