Hollywood report: Phyllis Schlafly and Mrs. America

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FX on Hulu recently premiered a new series called “Mrs. America.” The series is a hit piece on Phyllis Schlafly, set during the 1970’s in the midst of the struggle to adopt or reject the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment), and the important women on either side of the campaign.

We all know that Hollywood isn’t interested in history – unless it gives them a way to portray the right as the villain. So just how bad is “Mrs. America”?

Phyllis Schafly stands up to radical feminism

The ERA was sailing to ratification in the early seventies when Phyllis Schlafly and her fellow activists rose up to stop it. They argued that the ERA would take away privileges they already had, such as not being drafted in a war. They also argued that there were already federal sex discrimination laws so a constitutional amendment was not needed.

In a stunning blow against the trend of the times, Schafly succeeded in killing the ERA.

The ERA is being talked about again, with Congress passing a bill affirming it, and the state of Virginia ratifying it, bringing the total to 38, the needed number to then become the 27th  amendment to the constitution, that is, if it hadn’t expired.

Mrs. America

The arguments for and against the ERA should sound familiar as they are the same now as they were back in the 1970s.

The setting is based on true events and people but the creator did take the liberty to fictionalize some events and characters.

Before each episode begins there is a disclaimer of sorts:

This program is based on actual events that occurred during the political struggle and debate over the Equal Rights Amendment. Some characters in the program are fictional and some scenes and dialog are invented for creative and storyline purposes. 

That last sentence is important to remember as the series unfolds, pitting conservative homemakers against feminists. As you can imagine, the storyline is designed to denigrate the homemakers and to lionize the heroic founders of the feminist movement.

The Schlafly family was not consulted in the making of this series

In fact, Schlafly’s family was not consulted during the creation of this series. Dahvi Waller, the creator, said she wanted to craft her own version of Schlafly. According to the Daily Caller Anne Schlafly Cori, Schlafly’s daughter said:

The maker purposefully excluded Schlafly’s family from production. Dahvi Waller said she did not wish to hear any first-person accounts of Schlafly because “she wanted to craft her own story.

Waller portrays Schlafly as overbearing, overly ambitious, preening, willing to compromise with racists, and degraded by her husband. A fictional best friend is included in the story to provide a disapproving presence as Schlafly supposedly compromises to get what she wants.

Go here to hear an interview of Schlafly’s daughter Anne Schlafly Cori and a rebuttal of the portrayal of Schlafly in Mrs. America.

Cori described the mother that she knew:

My mother was first and foremost motivated by her deep faith in God, and that formed all of her opinions and actions. And she had a really loving marriage and a true intellectual partnership with her husband. And that was one of the reasons why she was so successful, because she had this incredible security at home. They portray my father in really the worst possible light. They portray him as an insensitive brute.

One has to question the decision to cast Cate Blanchett as Schlafly because she makes Schlafly look good when the screenwriters are trying to make her look bad. Assuming that writers wanted Schlafly to appear as a shallow one-dimensional person, they failed. Blanchett’s performance is compelling and sparks admiration anyway. In fact, her performance is so good that it is imperative that one study the real Schlafly before embracing  Waller’s and Blanchett’s portrayal.

The real Phyllis Schlafly

By the time the ERA became an issue in the 1970s, Schlafly was a seasoned veteran in politics. Schlafly received a master’s degree in political science from Radcliffe College, the female affiliate of the all-male Harvard University, and had run for Congress twice. She also helped Barry Goldwater win the Republican nomination in 1964 with her self-published book “A Choice Not an Echo.

Schlafly was an amazing debater, amiably wrecking her opponents with facts and a smile. Many examples of her grace and wit under fire are available on Youtube. Episode 4 of Mrs. America includes her debate with Betty Friedan, the author of the Feminine Mystique, in which Friedan became so angry she called Schlafly a witch and wished that she could burn her at the stake.

Final thoughts

After four episodes and a lot of research, it has become abundantly clear:

  • That Schlafly viewed the ERA as an assault on the family and felt it her duty to fight against it. She was championing women, women who chose to invest themselves in their families. She was happily married and believed that being a mother was an “honorable vocation.” She believed that women had the best of both worlds, home, and career and that women had the freedom to choose their destiny. She believed that the majority of women did not want to be treated like men. She presciently believed that the ERA would be used to push for a  gender-free society. She believed that feminists denigrated and looked down on homemakers (they still do). She believed that the ERA was dangerous and would strip women of their privileges and subject them to the draft.
  • That the writer portrays Steinem and the other feminists as considering abortion to be the most important part of feminism, under the guise of the ERA which did not include abortion. As Steinem would explain it, abortion is the right for a woman to control her own body, the right to “terminate” an unwanted pregnancy. In episode four, this “right” was so important, Steinem tried to get the Democrats to include abortion in their platform at the 1972 Democrat National Convention which ultimately failed. The women who wanted the ERA to pass claimed that they believed in equal rights for men and women, but they really wanted unequal rights. What they really wanted the “right” to do was kill their own babies, a “right” no man possesses.

This series hinges on the push to ratify the ERA, which did ultimately fail thanks to Phyllis Schlafly and her grassroots movement. Together they took the feminists by surprise and ultimately defeated the ERA after thirty states had already ratified it and Republicans and Democrats had endorsed it along with Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter. Her accomplishment, with the aid of many homemakers like herself, was and is impressive.

In a time of renewed interest in the ERA, knowing what took place in the original push to ratify it is instructive as enough states have now ratified it. Mrs. America may be heavily biased toward feminism, but it is a fascinating glimpse into the politics of the 1970s, stirring more study of the events and people that shaped our world and politics, today.

Watch this Eagle Forum video to learn more about Schlafly:

Here is the real Phyllis Schlafly on the defeat of the ERA:

Warning: there are sexual situations in this series that will be offensive. Watch the trailer for Mrs. America:

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