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Generational View on Mrs. America

Mrs. America launched on FX and Hulu this week, focusing on the real life events surrounding the effort to rafity the ERA amendment in the 1970s. We at Romance Daily News thought it would be interesting to compare how two generations of feminists experienced the first three episodes of the series, which are currently available for viewing.

Lori Perkins, the Publsiher of RomanceDailyNews and a 4th gen feminst, was a young girl during the events that took place in the series. She was lucky enough to have met Bella Abzug, who was her Congressperson in the 70s, and can attest to the political tornado that this woman was. Although she was too young to join the National Orgainization of Women (NOW) in the 70s, she still has her ERANOW button.

Olivia Haveron is a graduating college senior. As a young woman in her early 20s, she explained that her knowledge on this part of the women’s movement was very limited. “While I have always known of its existence, the intricate details of the ERA ratification were way beyond the scope of my education. Watching Mrs. America gave me an interesting insight into the direct opposition as well as the proponents for the proposed amendment. I have grown up in a world in which women have had more freedoms and rights than ever before, yet still have to fight to be equal to their male counterparts.”

From the opening scene of the show, Phyllis Schlafly, played by Cate Blanchett, who is also one of the producers, is depicted as a strong, level-headed Republican woman. She constantly defies the stereotypes associated with housewives, such as running for Congress twice, or mobilizing a team of housewives with her own newsletter on her political agenda; yet, she is a firm believer that women should not have to step away from the traditional housewife pedestal even if she does this with the help of a silent, black maid. Schlafly believes that if women were to do so, the whole American system would fall apart. Haveron said that “as a woman of my time, I find this comment to be ridiculous, and in a sense, I think that she is not a firm believer herself in her speech.” Schlafly in this moment, claims that the movement is simply a bunch of women who cannot find a man to marry them.

Observed Perkins, “The hypocrisy of Schlafly and her followers is apparent to the viewer today, but was never even touched upon in the 70s.” After appearing on a talk show in the second episode, the host questions the validity of her argument. Schlafly repeats the soundbites that once the ERA is approved, it would usher in non-gendered bathrooms and their daughters being drafted, arguments that you can still hear today as the ERA has finally been ratified by the number of states necessary to put it on the national agenda.”

Haveron continued, “In a sense, I see Phyllis as a woman who wants to have equal rights, but is shut down by the establishment she founded and married into. Oftentimes, her facial reactions, when she is not taken seriously, depicts a sense of hopelessness. When she chooses to run for Congress, her husband Fred states how it is different for a man to be in Congress than a woman because she would leave her family behind and ‘spilt up the family.’ Distraught, she eventually chooses to drop out of the race because she needs to stay at home for the family. The viewer, seemingly, can see little glimpses into her own doubt on the issue of the ERA.”

The series takes you through the founding of Ms. Magazine with Gloria Steinem (played by Rose Bryn) at the helm, fighting the everyday sexism of Clay Felker, who was the money behind the magazine. The third episode also focuses on the Presidential campaign of NY Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (played by Uzo Aduba) and subtly touches upon the racism between white and black feminists in the struggle to run against Nixon and get Steinem’s abortion rights issue on the Democratic Party platform. Said Perkins, “while some might find the minutiae of the founding of the women’s movement a little too detailed, those of us who lived through it will be riveted, especially with the performances of these amazing actresses.”

Haveron continued, “I am more aligned with the views of the women’s movement, especially as a strong feminist. In episode two, Gloria Steinem declares, ‘Until we have that right [to control our own bodies], we will never be equal.’ This quote stands in time with major issues fought by feminists today. Not only are women diminished by lack of equal pay or other fundamental rights, but the fact that we are not allowed to control our own bodies creates a roadblock that will forever completely limit the rights of women. This is not only in terms of abortions, no matter your stance. Today, in many states, women are still unable to have control of their own bodies, whether the circumstances. Many must have the approval of their husbands and/or have children, if they even have the option. The autonomy of a woman can never be equal to man if we are not allowed to have control of ourselves. The movement is about the oppression of all women, not just some.”

“I think this is an important piece of popular television,” Perkins commented. “I can’t remember the last time I saw a female-focused TV series about how women shaped American ideas. I am so glad to have this show airing at a time when we are re-launching the fight to ratify the ERA so that a younger generation can see and appreciate what it took to get there. And how fortuitous that we are captive before our content so that multiple generations can watch and discuss together”

Haveron added, “Mrs. America, thus far, has given much insight into the lengthiness of the fight for women’s equal rights. With the knowledge now in mind, my own views become heightened. The ERA and women’s movement was rarely mentioned throughout my schooling. At most, I heard briefly about it. Steinem says, people are always trying to split apart women, it takes more power away from us. Mrs. America shows an emotional look into the fight for women’s rights that delves more and more into the complications and outcry for and against the movement.”

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