Mrs America is the true story of the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and its opposition led by Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett).
Phyllis Schlafly battles pie, menopause and Bella Abzug
At the outset of the episode, Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett) has a pie thrown at her face by a man in the middle of a Women’s National Republican Club meeting. Even as everyone around her loses it, Schlafly manages to retain composure with a, “Well I’m glad it wasn’t a cherry pie because it would have stained my dress.” Schlafly has gained enough notoriety with her anti-feminism and is perceived as a traitor to her own sex by many, including her Princeton-attending daughter Phyllis Jr (Olivia Scriven) who changes her name to Liza to avoid being associated with her mother.
It is April 1977. Jimmy Carter is the President and Congress is dominated by Democrats. Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale), after an unsuccessful Senate campaign, is appointed by the President to serve as chair of the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year. In that role, Abzug is to oversee the National Women’s Conference in Houston in November, seen akin to the boss battle in the Mrs America universe. Abzug plans to run the conference as a political convention, meaning each state will hold meetings to elect representatives from both parties to send to Houston in November. Schlafly’s STOP ERA squad pulls out all stops to win delegate spots at the convention. Schlafly, who’s forced to step out of the spotlight because of the pie incident is in the throes of menopause, which makes her extra sensitive to what she perceives as her lack of relevance as she sees her the anti-ERA movement gain momentum without her.
Bella Abzug battles conservatives and the gay rights guys
Abzug may be in the position of power she’s wanted, but she definitely feels the pressure. For starters, she’s unequivocally pressured to convey that gay rights are part of the women’s rights agenda. Then she’s dissuaded from making Betty Freidan (Tracey Ullman) a commissioner because of her history of excluding lesbians from the movement. Then, as the Schlafly squad seeks to undermine the convention by seeking to win delegate spots, Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne) warns Abzug for not keeping the conservatives at bay. “This was supposed to be our Eden and you let the snakes in.” Mid-way, Abzug decides to pull the plug on gay rights, in the process upsetting both Steinem and President Carter’s advisor Midge Costanza (Anna Douglas). However, she comes around towards the end, stating that supporting women of every colour and orientation should be central to feminism.
Cate Blanchett and Margo Martindale are superb, conveying a lot in moments of silence. There are two scenes, in particular, that stand out. When Abzug leaves Friedan’s home and hails a cab, her face is a swirl of emotions as she contemplates their conversation about what it means to be a radical feminist. You can sense the conflicting feelings and thoughts swimming in her brain and how she’s tugged in 100 different directions. The second is when Schlafly, unable to sleep, snoops through her daughter’s mail and finds a mixtape. She pops it in her player and ‘Cherry Bomb’ by The Runaways bursts through the speakers. The camera stays on Schlafly’s face and you see bewilderment, horror and then slowly, comprehension dawn onto her as a fledgling idea takes wings.
Creator: Dahvi Waller
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Uzo Aduba, Sarah Paulson, Tracey Ullman
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
Read our recaps of the previous episodes here.