I grew up with Reagan-omics. For the first 10 years of my life, I thought trickle-down economics was the norm. I had no idea how we got here or even if there was a different way. And, I have found our history books and classes did an okay job at the survey of where we are, but general education often forgets the important nuance. As an adult, I have found Historical Fiction can provide an interesting way to tell a story of our previous times and pique interest in the actual events. In that vein, I was excited to watch Mrs. America – a story that worked to tell both sides of the Equal Rights Amendment. After watching this, I have a better idea of where we come from: we come from a place that vacillates between working towards a progressive world for everyone and succumbing to fear that paralyzes progress.
Mrs. America arrived on our streaming devices in April 2020, 7 months before the US presidential election, one month after our global pandemic lockdown began. I watched it this week, the first full week of January 2021. I was struck with how eery and relevant the notes at the end are today, almost one year after it dropped. We are still hotly in the middle of a stage in life where we are succumbing to fear that paralyzes progress.
To date: Trump has lost the election, he refused to concede but has loosely recognized he lost, his supporters descended on the Capitol last week in an attempt to take over, the ERA has been passed in 38 states, women are unprecedentedly affected by this global pandemic, many people find themselves succumbing to fear that paralyzes progress – and that is one reason we’ve seen the rise of things like Q’Anon.
I found Mrs. America to be a timely reminder of our history – a short, effective recap of how we got to where we are. Phyllis Schlafly, our antagonist, has since passed away, but not before completing her last book, The Conservative Case for Trump.
As a storytelling piece, I found Mrs. America to employ a stellar cast, written with an excellent script, produced paying attention to details down to what glasses and dinnerware were used and what foods were served. Mrs. America took me back to my childhood. The series takes place from 1972-1980. I was born in 1978, so my memories were triggered by what my mother, aunts, and others wore, served, and used. My memories were triggered by whatever media I consumed in those very young years. My memory was triggered remembering the vestiges of Carter and my formative years to age 10, with Reagan as my president.
In fourth grade, a friend asked me, “Who do you want for president?” And, I replied, “Reagan, I guess.” For, he was all I knew. I had no idea at the time that the war on mothers and trickle-down economics directly affected everything about my life, to that point, in a very negative way.
And, for this reason, I appreciate the work the creators of Mrs. America did to completing this historical reflection. I love the homage to feminist leaders who I have heard of and those who I have not. It has inspired an amazing curiosity to get to know these thought leaders better, because we need their dreams and our dreams to rise, now. I appreciate the way Mrs. Schlafly was presented. The first episode was based entirely on her report against the ERA where she shares her flagrant ideas about the privilege women have.
I appreciate this point of view, especially in today’s day and age, and talk of privilege, because this woman, college-educated, with a well-employed husband, clearly had a lot of privilege. Her complete lack of understanding, perhaps even amongst her peers, of how others could live a different life is an important point to understand. She sat near the top of the mountain, and she refused to consider the support that got her where she is. While advocating for the rights of housewives, she built a coalition of housewives that went to work. She built a coalition of people who were succumbing to fear that paralyzes progress. This progress was helping THEM build this coalition. The irony is not lost.
We can take Mrs. America as a history lesson of what happened and we can learn from the mistakes made. Housewives were afraid their daughters would be drafted to war, they’d lose rights to alimony should they get divorced, and that they had no respect from those desiring to work. They were afraid that they would no longer be able to support their families in the ways they were. They were afraid their daughters would be killed in war. (But why weren’t they equally afraid for their sons?) They were angry their position in the home wasn’t respected by other women (and what about the men?). So, they found themselves succumbing to fear that paralyzes progress. They succumbed to fear to protect what they knew out of fear that anything else could be better.
And, the feminist movement didn’t hear their fear. The feminist movement shunned them as casualties of the war. Their valid concerns, albeit misplaced in many ways, were ignored. And, by ignoring a large voice, the Equal Rights Amendment did not pass within the prescribed deadline. These women did not feel listened to.
Listening. This is what we need to work on. Listening to those voices who say, “I’m not being heard!” Whether is a mother who stays at home with her kids or a person of color who says, “MY lived experience is different than yours.” We need to stop talking when someone says they aren’t being heard. We need to put away our own biases and truly listen. Only then… only when we walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, honoring their lived experience, only then will we STOP succumbing to fear that paralyzes progress. If we truly want women to be treated equally under the law, we must listen to all the voices.
In the meantime, let us ask this new Senate to rescind the deadline for the ERA. 38 states have now passed it, the required number to make it an Amendment to our imperfect constitution. Let this, ratifying the ERA, be our path to fighting for progress, starting now.
- Colohan, Kathryn Elizabeth, Jill S. Niles, and Krista Joy Niles, “Equal Rights Amendment.” ERA. Accessed January 11, 2021. https://www.equalrightsamendment.org.
- Colohan, Kathryn Elizabeth, Jill S. Niles, and Krista Joy Niles. “Two Modes of Ratification.” ERA. Accessed January 11, 2021. https://www.equalrightsamendment.org/pathstoratification.
- ———. “Virginia Ratifies the ERA.” ERA. Accessed January 11, 2021. https://www.equalrightsamendment.org/blog/2020/1/27/x0pqlkthiacyhpt31lxbppxthnxh6d.
- Schlafly, Phyllis. “What’s Wrong with ‘Equal Rights’ for Women? – 1972.” Iowa State University: Archives of Women’s Political Communication, January 1, 1972. https://awpc.cattcenter.iastate.edu/2016/02/02/whats-wrong-with-equal-rights-for-women-1972/.
- Waller, Dahvi. “Mrs. America.” IMDb, April 15, 2020. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9244556/?ref_=ttep_ep_tt.