Mrs America is the true story of the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and its opposition led by political conservative, Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett) during the 1970s.
Cate Blanchett’s Phyllis Schlafly is complex and canny
At the onset of Mrs America, there exists the fear of feeling sympathy for conservative author, activist and vocal opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment Phyllis Schlafly, who fires off lines such as, “I think some women like to blame sexism for their failures instead of admitting they didn’t try hard enough.” Thankfully in Cate Blanchett’s expert hands, she doesn’t become an anti-heroine. Instead, she comes across as ambitious, shrewd, charismatic and possessing a limited worldview. Her canniness is evident from the way she changes gears from national security to Equal Rights Amendment, speaking against it at a meeting with Senator Barry Goldwater (Peter MacNeil), Congressman Phil Crane (James Marsden) and his colleagues. Ironically enough, this happens after she implicitly declares she’s never been discriminated against as a response to whether she will support the Equal Rights Amendment, only to moments later be relegated to secretarial duty by the men in the room. Schlafly’s mental calculus computes that speaking about women’s issues may probably be the only way to be heard in a male-dominated world, and so she does, though not in its favour. Later, she successfully rouses the attendees of a mother-daughter luncheon at her home to go against the Equal Rights Amendment by casually dismissing the “bitter libbers” such as Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne) and Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman). By the end of her speech, Schlafly has found her cause and an audience that will support her.
Gloria Steinem navigates fame and feminism
Steinem’s looks are constantly brought up in conversation. Schlafly and her supporters are confused over how somebody so pretty couldn’t land a husband. Her misogynistic publisher dismissively talks about how her “great pair of legs” is what got her hired as a writer. Even her fellow liberals and feminists only see her as a pretty face that would be ideal to represent the Equal Rights Amendment movement because then the men would listen. At one point, she laughingly asks Congresswoman and women’s movement leader Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale), “Is that why you need me? For my pretty face?” Without missing a beat, Abzug fires back, “We also need your tits and ass”. Glamorous, larger than life and venerated, Steinem paints an alluring picture. As the series progresses, a layered character emerges. She’s a liberated, unmarried, childless woman (Schlafly’s worst nightmare) living her best life. She resents the politicking Abzug is required to do. It bothers Steinem that Abzug is willing to compromise on the issue of abortion rights in order to cozy up to Democratic frontrunner George McGovern (John Bourgeois) for longterm gains. Steinem is a passionate advocate for abortion rights, but never ever as blunt as Friedan, which is seen by the other women as a good thing as Friedan’s brutal candour tends to work against her favour. The fight is personal to her, and she’s “fucking tired of waiting” and compromising to appeal to men’s sensibilities.
Creator: Dahvi Waller
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Uzo Aduba, Sarah Paulson, Tracey Ulman
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
Episode four releases on Thursday, April 23.