In theory, feminism is an easy concept to understand and an even easier cause to get involved in. But for any number of reasons, some women see feminism as the enemy.
The new series, Mrs. America premiered last month on Hulu. Set in the 1970’s, it follows the battle for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). It seems that ratification is on the horizon. Writer/activist Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), Representatives Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale) and Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba), and journalist Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne) are four of the women who are the faces of the feminist movement. Their goal is to see the ERA enshrined as constitutional law. Standing in their way is Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett), a conservative activist and lawyer who will move political h*ll and high water to prevent the ERA from being ratified.
I’ve seen eight of the nine released episodes and I am hooked. The main thing that strikes me is that the issues that these women were fighting for fifty years ago are the same issues we are fighting for now. If nothing else, this series reminds me how far we have come and how far we need to go before American women are truly equal.
It also humanizes the characters, especially the ones that are based on real women. We see them as giants and icons, not as human beings who were as fallible as anyone walking down the street. That humanization also stretches to the women who were against the ERA.
From the liberal perspective, it would be easy to label them as right wing nut jobs who are siding with the patriarchy. But in this series, they are portrayed as women who are scared. From the time they were born, they were told that the ideal life is to marry, have children and maintain a home. When the second wave of feminism began to affect the culture in the 1960’s and 1970’s, it felt like the rug was pulled out from beneath their feet. I absolutely do not agree with their political or cultural perspective. However, I understand the feeling of not knowing what to do when you are told that everything you know and love is wrong.
I absolutely recommend it. I would also not be surprised if this series did very well come award season.
The final episode of Mrs. America premieres Wednesday on Hulu.
Instead of writing about women that we all know about, I want to talk about the women who I have come from.
My mother, coming of age during the second wave of feminism in the 1960’s and 1970’s. As an adult, she balanced work, marriage and motherhood. Granted, it was a not easy at times, but to watch my mother do it all was and still is awe-inspiring.
My grandmothers, first generation Americans and members of the Greatest Generation. Born during WWI, growing up during the Great Depression and coming of age during World War II, they understand perseverance in the face of hardship.
My great-grandmothers, born in the shtetls and towns of Eastern Europe. They faced poverty and discrimination at every turn. They came to America, looking for the freedom and opportunities that did not exist in the lands of their birth. They worked in sweatshops and lived in crowded tenement buildings. They fought for their rights as women and workers. It was not paradise, but their fortitude and courage paved the way for future generations.
There is an old saying: a house divided cannot stand.
A political movement whose ultimate goal is equality cannot last when hate worms its way into the movement.
Theresa Shook is one of the founders and leaders of Women’s March, the face of the modern feminist movement. She has called on her co-founders to step down due after accusations of antisemitism and anti-gay sentiments were made known to the public.
To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. If we are marching and protesting to ensure equality for one group of people, we must do the same for all. We cannot say one thing in private and say something else in public. We cannot demand equal rights for all women in public and in private make antisemitic and anti-gay remarks in the private.
In case these women forgot, this generations feminists did not just become feminists out of thin air. We stand on the shoulders of Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. All three of these women are not just icons of the second wave of feminism, but Jewish as well. The fact that antisemitism has infected Women’s March spits on these women who paved the way for us to fight for our rights.
When we have true equality, it will happen when we work together, not when we denigrate one another because of religion or sexuality.
After spending a half a century in the movement, she has learned a thing or two. In her 1997 book, Letters to a Young Feminist, she is not only writing to the up and coming generation of feminists, but she is also breaking down the movement into digestible ideas. In the book, the list of topics she writes about includes parenthood, marriage, why the right to choose important, the cattiness that often occurs between women, etc.
I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed it because what Ms. Chesler is writing about needs to be talked about openly and honestly. While she writes with authority, her writing does not come off like an adult scolding a child. She is using her experience to guide the women who will one day pick up the mantle of feminism and continue what Ms. Chesler and her colleagues started decades ago.