As I read the recent op-ed from Gloria Steinem and Eleanor Smeal in the Los Angeles Times this weekend, I couldn’t help but be struck by how much Mrs. America really did get wrong.
With Phyllis Schlafly as the “protagonist,” the show relies on irony and the incongruency between her lobbying and her personal life to show viewers that the Eagle Forum and STOP ERA are not organizations we should support. For those at NOW or other women’s organizations, still working tirelessly to see the Equal Rights Amendment enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, it’s easy to see how ironic it was for Schlafly to be contesting the ERA. But for mainstream viewers, the distinction isn’t all that clear.
In relying on subtleties like Alice questioning whether the STOP ERA march was really two times bigger than the pro-ERA one, Mrs. America fails to educate its viewers on the actual history of the ERA. As Steinem and Smeal articulate in their piece, the show falsely credits Schlafly with, essentially, the entire opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment – and they’re right. What was actually driving the movement against the ERA were the corporate interests of insurance and other industries.
And because it neglects to mention this driving force pushing back against women’s constitutional equality – which is still in full force today – it also does its viewers a disservice. Mrs. America doesn’t really tell us what the ERA is actually about – it gives lots of reasons as to why Eagle Forum and Republicans don’t want it, most of which are bogus – but it fails to remind us why we still need it. It features cat-fight-like debates between Schlafly and leaders of the women’s movement, only to discuss women being included in the draft, or not receiving alimony from their ex-husbands.
Mrs. America doesn’t tell its viewers that the ERA would prevent insurance companies from charging women higher rates for less insurance coverage. It would mean that we no longer have to pay extra for products marketed to or “designed for” women – also known as the pink tax. It would mean that equal pay is guaranteed at the federal level. It would mean that women and LGBTQIA+ people are protected from pregnancy and motherhood discrimination at the federal level.
But Mrs. America also fails to tell us that the ERA is closer than ever before.
Just before the end credits of the final episode, the show throws in the fact that the three necessary states ratified the ERA after the deadline passed in 1982, with that final and momentous vote happening just this year. It also makes the claim that the women’s movement has not had the same kind of influence since 1970.
Former women’s movements have given women today more opportunities than ever; that progress has opened the doors for women to work toward so many other goals, especially those that are intersectional. Maybe the “women’s movement” doesn’t have the same kind of elusive force as Mrs. America claims, but that’s because women as a whole have become a political and economic force to be reckoned with, regardless of which movement we are a part of.
Blog by Liyanga de Silva, Communications Department intern at the National Organization for Women