BY ELAINE HOPKINS
A new television series, “Mrs. America,” explores the people involved in the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a battle that continues to this day. The series streams on Wednesdays on Hulu.
The first episode introduces Phyllis Schlafly and briefly her opposition –– Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug. Friedan, the Peoria native, authored one of the most important books of the 20th century, “The Feminine Mystique,” a book that kick-started the women’s movement.
The main character in the show, though, is anti-ERA activist Phyllis Schlafly of Alton, Ill., whose wealth and class status have already liberated her. The first episode dramatizes Schlafly as a rich and smart woman with black servants to run her household and manage the children while she is a writer and volunteer. Her husband, a lawyer, reluctantly supports her activism.
She has become an expert on national defense issues and is invited by a Congressman to meet with lawmakers in Washington, D.C. But in the meeting she is ignored by the men and asked to take notes. Her Congressional sponsor then makes passes at her. Instead of being furious, she smiles sweetly then turns her activism against the ERA.
Whether this scene is true or written for entertainment is an interesting question. Also in question, Schafly’s portrayal as a lively, lovely woman instead of a rigid religious moralist.
The film’s portrayal of the past and use of period artifacts is interesting. They include the classic book by Friedan known to have changed history in its advocacy for women.
The stars in the film include Cate Blanchett as Schlafly, Rose Byrne as Steinem, Tracy Ullman as Friedan and Uzo Adubba as Chisholm.