Much has been and will be written about the way FX’s Mrs. America defiles and maligns the late Phyllis Schlafly, the iconic conservative activist and author who defeated the Equal Rights Amendment and gave conservative women a voice on the political stage. The limited series, whose first three episodes dropped this week on Hulu, has plenty of bile to go around. Surprisingly, it saves some of it for the radical feminists who are the show’s ostensible heroines.
Surprising because in its early trailer, Mrs. America sold itself as a celebration of second-wave feminism as it waged righteous war against the dark forces of the “patriarchy.” But as the early episodes show, the series feels little nostalgia for the heydey of Gloria Steinem, whom it portrays as vain and self-centered. As the pretty young face of the movement, Steinem (Rose Byrne) has few qualms about pushing aside first-wavers embodied by the frumpy Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), who deeply resents being put out to pasture by her acolytes.
And in an episode reminiscent of Bernie Sanders, Mrs. America shows how feminists colluded with the Democrat establishment to throw presidential hopeful Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba) under the bus in order to prop up the more centrist George McGovern. Chisholm, the first black woman to run for the White House, feels the bern of betrayal. The fact that her so-called sisters are exclusively white only worsens the sting.
Today’s mainstream media doesn’t want you to remember, but the early days of feminism were rife with ideological battles and backstabbing that would put a medieval court to shame. Feminists fought among themselves over pornography, gay rights, and the role of minorities in the movement.
Mrs. America restores some of the warts even as it airbrushes others, resulting in a docu-fiction that is a bit less knee-jerk than you might expect from liberal Hollywood.
Of course, it’s a minor concession given how Mrs. America so blatantly stacks the deck against Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett), who so far comes off as a conniving ice queen and a walking anachronism — a devoted wife and mother of six who performs sit-ups at home in her pearls and admires how eagles mate for life.
In an early scene, the feminists receive a mailer of Schlafly’s soon-to-be-influential newsletter, which they carelessly toss aside. “Who the hell is Phyllis ‘Shaffley’?” one of them asks. The series plays Schlafly’s values for laughs, but it also observes how feminism’s arrogance and condescension toward middle American values was the movement’s biggest miscalculation.
It’s a lesson that many on the left still haven’t learned.
To be clear, though, this is part of a broader Schlafly-focused revisionist trend in Hollywood. Last year, Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel smeared Schlafly in its third season by having a character describe her as “racist and sexist,” while another character implied that she was anti-Semitic. In reality. Schlafly was pro-Israel and expressed admiration for Golda Meir.