Inspirational and captivating television can’t hurt anyone right now, and FX on Hulu portrays a historical movement, just from a different perspective.
FX on Hulu’s Mrs. America tells the story of the effort to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The ERA, a proposed amendment, never passed and its goal was to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. The amendment was first introduced in 1923 by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman and only gained popularity in the 1970s. Thanks to Phyllis Schlafly, the real-life, staunch conservative who mobilized STOP ERA, a grassroots movement consisting of housewives protesting abortion, the ERA was three states short of the 38-state ratification requirement.
The FX show on Hulu has nine episodes and each episode is centered on a main character or a main event. The show follows the ERA’s biggest feminist icons –– Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba), Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale), Jill Ruckelshaus (Elizabeth Banks) and the ERA’s biggest conservative anti-feminist icon –– Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett).
Although the entire season is centered on the ratification of the ERA, the show looks at feminism almost objectively from both the “libbers’” side, as Schlafly puts it, and from the conservatives. Those who watch the show are most likely pro-feminism and Mrs. America knows that, therefore, Schlafly is portrayed as the show’s “villain” wherein she doesn’t support feminism and the ERA.
By featuring such an unpopular individual as the centerpiece of a show about the efforts to ratify the ERA, the audience is forced to sympathize with Schlafly and that is thanks to Blanchett. The acting in the show is perhaps the most riveting aspect. The actors look identical to their characters, namely Byrne as Steinem and Martindale as Abzug. The show does an accurate and encouraging job in portraying Steinem’s efforts to launch and build Ms. Magazine.
The show does a fantastic job of portraying real-life problems, like marital rape (trigger warning: the show does show marital rape in very mild detail), abortion (the show doesn’t show an abortion; it talks about legalizing abortion), women in the workplace, LGBTQ issues, women in government, black feminism and women in journalism.
Unfortunately, not everything in the show is accurate. Sarah Paulson’s character Alice Macray is fictional. The character is an amalgam of all suburban, conservative women who were radicalized by the STOP ERA movement. As the show progresses, Macray becomes a core character and relatable for the majority of American women.
“Alice doesn’t drop her conservative mindset completely. She’s fundamentally a homemaker and a wife and a committed Catholic. I don’t think she jumps into the other lane. She’s just had the wool pulled from over her eyes, to see the world more clearly and more broadly,” Sarah Paulson said in an interview with Vulture. “The main thing was the discovery that these women who she perceived to be her enemies were also just also people. Before, they were threatening ideas. That certainly lands us right in the middle of the conversation we’re having today about how much an isolated point of view can only feed one angle. This is an example of Alice venturing very bravely into another world.”
Although those watching know the fate of the ERA, the show does a fair job of keeping the tone motivating and empowering. Throughout the season and especially at the end, there is photographic evidence of the torch relay from Seneca Falls to the 1977 Houston National Women's Conference, congresswoman Chisholm joined hands with Sen. George McGovern at the 1972 Democratic National Convention and Schlafly campaigning.