Updated: Jun 18, 2020
For anyone with even a slight interest in politics, the Second-wave of the Feminist Movement, or 70’s stylized period pieces, Mrs. America is for you. After clicking on the title with whatever sliver of curiosity you have, you are guaranteed to be immersed in an educational recount of such a monumental era. As a 21-year-old self-proclaimed feminist, I have been left to mostly written mediums or documentaries about the more recent feminist issues to educate myself. Of course I knew about Gloria Steinem, Roe v. Wade, and the critiques of the Second-wave, but Mrs. America excels in granting us access to more intimate accounts of the women behind this world changing movement.
The latest FX show, which gained critical acclaim shortly after its release, perhaps confuses audiences because it begins by introducing a ring-winged woman who was against feminism. Based on true events, Phyllis Schlafly was an Illinois politician who was mostly famously known for her stance on many feminist issues. At first, I was confused about how a show highlighting an antifeminist aired in such a liberal media circle. But, the introduction of the E.R.A. into the plot suggests that the show's true intention is to demonstrate what life was like for all women in this heated political sphere, despite where they stood.
The Equal Rights Amendment is introduced into Mrs. America as the commonality between all these women figures whose backgrounds and political views are vast. The gist of this controversial act is presented in the show as the guarantee of making men and women legally equal. Each episode is introduced in a iconic 1970’s, yellow font with not only the episode’s central character’s name, but also creates its timeline by stating how many states have ratified the E.R.A. While at first you might be under the impression that this several part miniseries is to tell the true story of Phyllis Schlafly, the show progresses into this legislative act as being the centerpoint.
After the premiere episode that hones in on Schlafly, we are then given an authentic look into the life of arguably the world’s most famous feminist. Episode 2 introduces what’s happening on the opposite side of the extremist spectrum; a group of progressive feminists who are dubbed “the libbers'' by those in the Republican party. We start to see what today’s mainstream knows of the Feminist Movement in the 1970’s; women supporting each other, women rebelling the pressure to marry, and the milestone of abortion becoming legalized. The “Gloria'' episode shows less of what’s already been established as public knowledge about her, and more of the issues she internally struggles with. The TV show’s depiction of her life entails her navigation of being sexualized in the public sphere and in her work place, despite all she’s fought for. It is also in this episode that we are introduced to more intersectional issues, such as Black womens’ place in the movement, that not only comments on prevalent issues today, but segues into the following episode.
Uzo Abuda broke away from her most well known role in Orange is the New Black, to portray such a well renowned Black woman politician during this era. The sliver of Shirely Chisholm’s impressive career shown in this episode is her run for president. As the first Black woman to ever run for this position, she is faced with both praise and doubt. While many of her white feminist colleges support her efforts, she faces hesitance from the Black community. At one point, her loyal feminist friend, Flo, remarks to her, “Some of the brothers question whether you’re really the candidate for Blacks for just women.” This begins to introduce the additional layers in feminism, and how many women have lived different experiences than those who are white, straight, cisgender, and at the front of the campaign. It could be said that since this era is not known for recognizing these differences between women, Mrs. America is commenting on this more prevalent issue in today’s wave.
The show is being released in what some might consider, the good old fashioned way, as its episodes are airing weekly. As of right now, we only have an insight on four women that shaped this movement. Most recently profiled, was Bretty Friedan, a Jewish feminist whose work, The Feminine Mystique, is often credited as what started the second-wave. The fourth episode begins with Roe v. Wade winning in the court. While we get a glimpse into Friedan’s personal struggles with her ex-husband's remarriage and her dating life, we get a deeper look into how other characters are developing as well. It’s as if the more the show goes on, the more we experience the story from further away, and the more we see these women’s lives intertwining with each other. Through Friedan’s story, we learn about intersectionality’s place in the movement, and owing women credit where credit is due. Though the characters are all combating in their different ways, they are women fighting in a male-dominated space. Contrary to my initial belief, this episodic structure has led me to believe that the season will leave on a note of unison between the entirety of the female ensemble, and less so a sense of competition.
Mrs. America is streaming on FX and on Hulu, with new episodes being premiered on Wednesdays.