By LaKeshia Myers
During the mandatory COVID-19 cloister, I, like many others, took time to reap the benefits of my monthly movie streaming services (I pay for Netflix and Hulu and rarely have time to watch either). One series I enjoyed was “Mrs. America” a show that chronicles the quest to get thirty-eight states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. The nine-episode Hulu series largely focused on conservative Phyllis Schlafley’s efforts to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) as well as the lives of pro-ERA leaders Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem.
The ERA is a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. It seeks to end the legal distinctions between men and women in terms of divorce, property, employment and other matters. The first version of an ERA was introduced to Congress in 1923, but gained no real traction because of differing issues on the basis of race and class among women. The amendment was reintroduced in 1971 by former Congresswoman Martha Griffiths of Michigan; it was received by both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and sent to the states for ratification. Thirty-five states ratified the amendment by the original 1979 deadline; in 1978 Congress granted an extension of the deadline to 1982. Since 1982, the states of Nevada, Illinois and Virginia have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. The U.S. House of Representatives has also introduced a measure to permanently suspend the ratification deadline in order to pass the measure into law; but this has not yet passed the senate.
The series was not only historically accurate and balanced, it caused viewers to think about women’s issues broadly. Viewers were able to see the beginning of the Republican Party’s “moral majority” platform. The way in which women are often overlooked by men regardless of political affiliation; power dynamics within the home and the unique intersections between race, gender and sexual orientation. My favorite episode of the series dealt with Shirley Chisholm’s historic 1972 presidential campaign. In the episode Chisholm openly challenges resistance from feminists as well as patriarchal backlash from members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Conversely, Schlafley faced similar issues as her policies were often dismissed by men in the Republican party as she was labeled simply a “housewife”—Schlafley actually became a lawyer to earn credibility within political ranks and to be taken more seriously.
As a lover of history and politics, I enjoyed watching this story play out in an episodic fashion. I enjoyed the balance and fidelity given to the story and I recommend this for anyone who wishes to connect the dots to issues we still face today. As we are engaged in the fourth wave of feminism (also known as the #MeToo movement), I have noticed that intersectionality and women’s issues are again at the forefront of our society. Learning from the past, and the stories of Schlafley, Chisholm, Abzug and Steinem are necessary for women of all political backgrounds to come together and find consensus in order to champion policies that are inclusive for all.