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Mrs. America settles it once and for all, of how normal it is for women to dissent. Feminism has never been ONE supreme way of achieving equality, has it?
Since the beginning of time, men have been at each other’s throats, invading territories, and indulging in wars that ripped the world into fragments. They have divided humans based on superficial hierarchies like race, sex, caste, etc. And they haven’t even spared splitting families over property disputes and others.
Yet, we never dare to label them as “men being men’s worst enemies.” But, one woman talks against a woman, and society goes to great lengths to ascertain that all women hate each other.
As Gloria Steinem says in the recent Disney + Hotstar miniseries, Mrs. America, “They have found the perfect smokescreen to hide their chauvinism – women.”
It is true that women need to fight together to uproot patriarchy. But the unfair obligation to always be nice to each other, is yet another unreasonable expectation shoved down our throats.
Mrs. America settles this once and for all, of how normal it is for women to dissent. After all, feminism has never been ONE supreme way of achieving equality. There are inroads that cut through various intersections, always leaving women scratching heads, for prioritising one over the other.
Mrs. America is the story of the battle of second-wave feminists to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 38 states of the USA following approval from the Congress. What seems almost accomplished gets stalled by the movement led by conservative woman, Phylis Schlafly.
The show explores the women’s rights movement that was at the political uprising in the 1970s. Moving past the debate of Housewives vs. Working women, the show sheds light at the crises feminists had to deal with, in themselves, though they were fighting for the same cause.
The crisis which was always overlooked as fighting and catfights prove to be a necessary record of understanding how feminism works and how it evolved as an inclusive platform.
Gloria Steinem wants to stop women from being butchered on kitchen tables for abortion. Shirley Chisholm fights for equal representation of African American women. Ginny wants gay rights to be included in their agenda and so are many other women pushing for different motive. But they are all fighting for ERA.
Now, in the 21st-century backdrop, it doesn’t even look as a matter of differing opinion. All thanks to the feminists for making it way more inclusive and intersectional. Today if you are a feminist, it is a given, that you vocally support LGBTQ and all other minorities.
However, that was not the case back then, when your affiliation towards one group would mean you are against the rest. These women, though they agreed on all the demands conflicting with popular opinion, had to sound careful so as not to hurt the majority sentiment. Or anything that translated as political support, which ultimately decides the fate of the ERA.
The episode, where Shirley Chisholm runs for president, portrays this conflict brilliantly. Shirley co-founded the ERA movement. However, her allies were critical of supporting her run because they knew the chances of a black woman winning a white man were slim.
They could not risk locking horns with a potential president with whom the fate of ERA lies. With tears, they cheer for Shirley when she delivers her roaring speech of being the first person to have the audacity to shake the system up.
It was like being stuck between the rock and hard place. They could neither risk losing a potential winner nor the woman who could go with them all the way down the line. However, they manage to lobby the VP candidacy for Shirley.
There are plenty of other examples as well. Gay rights and abortion rights were time and again pushed to back burner by the male legislators. Bella, the head, keeps assuring it would be included later as the time was not ripe then.
They fight on and give it neutral terms like sexual preferences and reproductive rights. But, the moment the women decide to play hardball, Bella gets fired by the president himself. Following which all her employees resign in solidarity.
The Feminists’ Democratic also approaches the opposite camp. They know the conservatives are sneaking into the National convention, but, decide not to stop them and have different opinions on the floor. And their reasoning is that, “What is the point of having a group of people in the room agreeing over everything?” Isn’t that the same problem we have when a group of men decides on women’s issues?
It would be a travesty to not praise the top-notch performance of Cate Blanchett as Phylis. I watched a few videos of real Phylis and must say that the actor is a pro for donning her perfectly.
Phylis is the poster woman of a conservative catholic glorifying women’s role at home but never actually been crippled to one herself. She is intelligent and ambitious, who knows to get anything done. And she desists being a pushover in legal debates and goes on to study constitutional law.
ERA has never been her interest. But she realises that was her route to the defence or foreign policy cabinet, which was denied to her by her male counterparts. Her final shots where she tears up and sits to peel the apples after being deceived by Reagan, make one wonder whether to feel bad for her or rejoice that she deserved that.
The epilogue with actual footage honestly moved me to tears. This story really happened and the women worked their butts off. Why did not we pick up the thread from there and go on?
Somewhere along the line, we lost the momentum. But, why? In India, the 33% reservation is a dangling carrot similar to the ERA, so when do we fight like the 70s American women?
A version of this was earlier published here.
Picture credits: Still from the series Mrs. America on Disney+Hotstar
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