Reproductive Rights TV Shows The Trump Era Gender Pop Culture

How ‘Mrs America’ explains feminism through an anti-feminist perspective

Ah, the second wave of feminism! The historical movement that brought with it the Equal Rights Amendment Bill (or the ERA)!

The show Mrs. America portrays the complexities, inhibitions and feminist set-ups of the entire 1970s movement to fruition. I have been a fan of Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, and Betty Friedan since the day I could pronounce and spell feminism, and I’m happy to say that the show does them justice.

Mrs America presents the journey of many second-wave feminists. However, unlike most other shows, Mrs America focuses mainly on Phyllis Schlafly and the hypocrisy of the Right Wing party. The idea is executed brilliantly, with the focus being on different women throughout the nine episodes aired. It is an honest and jaw-droppingly beautiful portrayal of the women who fought for and against ERA.

The cast is breathtakingly original with Uzo Aduba, Cate Blanchett, and Rose Byrne stealing my heart. I can’t sell the other women short because everybody had a particular role to play and they played it so well. It was like a mesh of cogs running smoothly, enabling the show to be as powerful as possible.

The image shows three women in the background of women protesting for women's rights.
[Image description: The image shows three women in the background of women protesting for women’s rights.] Via Mrs. America
The show allows us to get to know Phyllis Schlafly, the Conservative Head who rallied against ERA, and, yes she is that character who is not only homophobic and sexist but also blindly believes that marital rape isn’t rape.

The show starts directly from Phyllis’s perspective, a nuclear policy expert turned housewife, mother to six children, and off the top of the bat, very bourgeoisie. Her ideologies against the rise of feminism are argued upon with valid arguments (according to her). Her argument delved into how the ERA would reduce the position of the traditional housewife in the particular household setting and would disrupt the sociologically and morally deemed ‘correct’ family way of life. This makes her create and gather a whole entourage of women who back her against the ERA by literally protesting against the movement. And, lo and behold, this causes the ERA to not be passed in Congress.

You will hate and simultaneously be filled with pathos for Cate Blanchett for the stunning portrayal of this disgusting yet complex character.

There is this one scene (spoiler alert!) where Phyllis’s husband forces her to consent to sex, and you see the pain through Blanchett’s eyes which honestly gives her character such depth. Understanding personality development because of years of normalization of patriarchy is what all of us as feminists strive to achieve. This again is a sexist mentality but facilitated by years of normalizing rape-culture.

The image is of four men surrounding one woman in a powder blue suit.
[Image description: The image is of four men surrounding one woman in a powder blue suit.] Via Mrs. America
My heart, however, goes out to Alice, a fictional character who is actually constituted as an amalgamation of various women from the Conservative wing. Played by Sarah Paulson, Alice is an integral part of the STOP ERA movement along with Phyllis. Her point of view for joining the movement was not sexist; she wanted the housewives to not be the butt of the jokes of all the feminists at that point (because frankly, not all feminists upheld the concept of choice at that moment). Alice’s transformation and change of character as she mixes with the second-wave feminists is poignant.

Mrs America, with its diverse cast and multifaceted outlooks on Chisholm (the first woman and Black candidate to run for the Democratic Party’s Presidential Nomination) and Steinem’s life, gave me another reason to reread all the feminist publications during the second wave feminist movement.

Tracy Ullman’s stunning portrayal of Betty Friedan moved my heart. Betty wasn’t shown to be a perfect feminist, she was a complex character with idiosyncrasies and quirks and thus, through the show, was completely humanized. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan is still the feminist treatise that shapes young girls, boys, transgender men and women, and the non-binary teenagers into feminists.

The image is of Sarah Paulson in Mrs. America as Alice
[Image description: The image is of Sarah Paulson in Mrs. America as Alice] Via Mrs. America
Again, the show dramatizes the lives of these women to great detail, but perfectly focuses on the hypocrisy of the Right-winged mentality and also throws light on the growth of the American left.

With a fantastic cast, stunning direction, and wonderful costumes absolutely staying true to the 70s with the flared pants and large hippie glasses, Mrs. America is an influential show that everybody needs to watch. You get to not just be entertained but learn about the movement. With the intricacy of politics running within the feminist movement, with disagreements between the women, and the backdoor politics of having to appease certain political elements, you get the good and the bad from a movement that shaped history for years to come.

A deeply feminist show that perfectly manipulates the economy, misogyny, and the growth and shift of politics in the USA, Mrs. America might be one of the best shows I have watched last year.

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!