While Mrs. America gives its viewers plenty of fiercely feminist characters to fall in love with, my favorite character on the show is Alice Macray. She may be fictional, a conglomeration of several Phyllis Schlafly’s followers, but to me she’s the person on the show who most clearly demonstrates human capacity for change and growth.
This week’s episode, titled Houston, follows feminists and members of the Eagle Forum – Schlafly’s conservative interest group – as they travel to the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Texas. Schlalfly herself can’t attend the conference, putting Rosemary Thompson in charge and entrusting Alice to deliver a speech against the Equal Rights Amendment. Alice however, crumbles under the pressure and scrutiny of the women’s liberationists and ultimately realizes she doesn’t wholeheartedly believe everything the Eagle Forum stands for.
She has this realization over the course of a few poignant scenes. First, when she arrives at the hotel in Houston, she finds that it has been overbooked and she has to share a room with Audrey Rowe Colom, a black Republican woman who later became the leader of the National Women’s Political Caucus. She also learns that Pamela, another fictional character who has traveled to the conference with her, hasn’t told her husband she was coming to the conference because he wouldn’t have allowed her to go. Alice’s first response is that Pamela should go home or that they should call her husband and tell him where she is because it’s his right to control where she goes. By the end of the episode, however, Alice has changed her tune.
Once she gets to the convention, she is interviewed by a news anchor who asks her how she can be anti-ERA when the polls show that the majority of Americans support the amendment. Alice is stunned – she doesn’t know how to defend herself, nor does she know what to make of this information. If the majority of Americans are pro-ERA, then doesn’t that mean she’s missing something? Doesn’t that mean her scope of the issue is incomplete in some way? Alice flubs her answer and Rosemary Thompson berates her, saying she should have just said “the polls are wrong.”
Afterward, Alice steps down from giving the anti-ERA speech on the convention floor and returns to her hotel room, watching on TV as their resolution fails to receive any support. Later in the evening, she goes to a bar and is having a drink when she strikes up a friendship with an older woman. The woman consoles her, tells her that “everything looks brighter when I pray,” and bonds with her over raising children. She says things were simpler when they were girls, but admits that she had fewer choices than women today. Then, in a moment that shakes Alice to the core, the woman says that when she became active in NOW, everyone in her town thought she’d become a radical lesbian.
Alice is enraged that she’s been chatting with a “libber” and runs off, but her night takes a turn when the effects of too many cocktails and a “Christian pill” (likely a Valium) finally hit her. She wanders around, meeting different women and getting a glimpse into what women’s liberationists are like. This push, out of her comfort zone, is what helps Alice understand that her perspective of the world is limited – she can be an example to all of us as we try to grow and understand people who have different experiences than us.
The next day, Alice tries to convince Rosemary and the others to meet the liberationists halfway. In a raw moment she says “I came here to defend myself, but I have to ask who exactly is attacking us?” While Rosemary completely dismisses her, Alice is forever changed; in an emotional scene at the end of the episode, she and Pamela are the only STOP ERA members standing in favor of a resolution to “not be divided and defeated again.”
Liyanga de Silva is an intern in NOW’s Communications Department