Mrs. America is a story about the Women’s Rights Movement, told from the perspective of a woman who majorly opposed it. The true story behind the show reveals a lot about how we got to be where we are now and the women who shaped history, or tried to, in the ’70s. As you get hooked on the series, here’s a quick rundown of what went down IRL.
Okay, so remind me what the ERA is.
The Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced to Congress in the ’20s, and first approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate in 1971 and 1972, respectively. That doesn’t mean it was automatically ratified, though. Each state had to choose whether to ratify the amendment, and it would only be added to the Constitution if three-fourths of the states ratified it. That’s when Mrs. America picks up, and it takes place during that fight for the ERA between 1972 and 1979. The amendment seemed likely to hit that three-fouths mark until, all of a sudden, conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly (played by Cate Blanchett in Mrs. America) started organizing and assembling housewives around the country in opposition to the feminist movement. Schlafly trained them to lobby government officials to “STOP ERA” and lead local chapters of her Eagle Forum.
Wait, why would any woman want to argue against the ERA?
Schlafly’s group voiced concerns that the ERA would mean young girls could be drafted into the military, even though the draft was abolished in 1973. The group also argued that this amendment would make it more difficult for women to win custody battles, lose their right to spousal Social Security benefits, and receive alimony.
Those issues were not necessarily opposed by the ERA’s supporters, however, Schlafly found every flaw in the wording of the amendment, and exaggerated and exploited them in order to slow the Women’s Rights Movement. She also warned that the ERA would lead to “lawless” gender neutral bathrooms everywhere, which is even more upsetting when you consider people are still fighting to have gender neural bathrooms today. Her movement, STOP ERA, then joined forces with radical anti-abortion groups, as well as white supremacist groups, in order to increase membership.
So what did the activists do in response?
The activists and politicians trying to get the ERA ratified were quick to point out that Schlafly, as a working woman who employed women to advocate against working women, was a hypocrite. But that didn’t seem to matter. Before they knew it, the “Moral Majority” had risen up and taken over American politics in the ’80s. The ERA was never actually ratified.
Are there other people in the series that are based on real people?
Yes! Schlafly and her Eagle Forum aren’t the only women whose stories are highlighted in Mrs. America. There’s Democratic Congresswoman Bella Abzug as well as White House staffer and Republican Jill Ruckelshaus, both of whom fought for the ERA. There’s feminist writers Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. There’s also Shirley Chisholm, the first female candidate to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Each episode of Mrs. America peeks into their lives as the anti-feminist movement grows, and while it’s kind of depressing, it’s also really entertaining.
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