“Mrs. America,” a new series on FX Hulu, purports to tell the “real story” of the Equal Rights Amendment and Phyllis Schlafly, the woman who single-handedly led its defeat. Cate Blanchett, producer and star of the series, is beautiful like Phyllis—though not as beautiful. Blanchett has captured the cadence of Phyllis’ voice—the public speaking style, but not the soft graciousness. So even in private conversations with her family, Cate’s Phyllis is making a speech—only softer.
But, OK, one can do an admirable job of imitation that falls short but is forgivable. The unforgiveable is the insidious and ignorant twist she gives to Phyllis’ character: Devious, manipulative, selfish for starters. Blanchett’s Phyllis is flirtatious when it suits her—ingenuine about her own family life, ambitious and arrogant. THIS is the Phyllis Schlafly the Left wishes was Phyllis Schlafly.
But this is not the Phyllis I knew. Phyllis was beautiful, yes, but more than that, feminine and gracious to the core. The kind of beauty that comes from deep within, crowned by a smile that would light up a room accompanied by a twinkle in her eyes that did the same. She could have been a beauty queen, but that would have been too shallow a goal.
It’s true that Phyllis wasn’t interested in women’s issues. One of the first women admitted into Harvard in 1949, she was brilliant from the start. She graduated with a political science degree then later received her Juris Doctorate from George Washington University. No one I ever encountered laughed at Phyllis or marginalized her. Some may have tried, but her fierce intellect and unflinching ability to see through confusion like a laser and deliver soft and fast the truth of the matter in a way even her detractors could not deny repelled disrespect. Hatred, fear of her sheer force, yes—but not disrespect. “Mrs. America” alone is living 2020 proof that she was SO innately powerful, she must be destroyed even after her death.
It is true that the Equal Rights Amendment was all but a fait accompli when Phyllis came onto the scene. Thirty five out of the needed 38 states had ratified, all current and former First Ladies and Presidents—Democrat and Republican alike—had endorsed it. It should have been impossible to stop but enter the “villainess” of “Mrs. America.”
Phyllis’ first love was writing about Nuclear Disarmament and the Cold War. Having worked in a munitions factory during WWII, she loved America and was a fierce defender of her Constitution, strong national defense and Judeo-Christian values. The Republican platform, far more conservative than most Republican presidents have ever been, was the product of the hard work and fierce determination of Phyllis until the time of her death to steer and keep as the plumb line for conservative thought and values.
She was pulled into the ERA battle reluctantly. What unfolded was nothing short of miraculous. Through the publication of the Phyllis Schlafly Report and her ability to organize and inspire American women, those who had been busily raising their children were awakened. She led a battle that became literally a bloody one in Springfield as feminists poured blood over the capitol floor in protest. Illinois refused to ratify on the last day of the last year possible, handing Phyllis a great victory and radical feminists their final defeat.
In the process, Phyllis demonstrated an uncanny ability to see future implications of the Equal Rights Amendment. As early as 1976, she was debating Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystique,” and like a prophetess predicted what would come from removing all distinctions between men and women. Even Betty was an incredulous hearer four decades ago, unable to imagine such things as same-sex marriage, gender-neutral bathrooms, women drafted into the military, women paying alimony, men staying home to care for children. It sounded like science fiction, but Phyllis perceived the implications of the law and could not have been more prescient.
As the former president of Concerned Women for America, I had the great privilege of working with Phyllis on many things. During and after I left that position, we worked together to elect various conservative candidates. She taught me about the importance of the American patent system as I joined in that fight as well. Before CWA, in my Chicago radio life, I interviewed her many, many times, producing a special on her life. In the process we became friends.
When in her later years she would fly to D.C. on the arm of her son, John, she was always dressed impeccably, coiffed to perfection, her body aging, but her mind keen as ever. I don’t personally admire easily, but I admired Phyllis. I wanted to be like her when I “grew up.”
Sadly, I don’t think Cate Blanchett or her fellow Hollywood feminists can begin to comprehend a life well-lived and savored like Phyllis’. They can’t imagine it except from their own limited, embittered point of view. They can’t imagine the fulfilled life of a woman who loves her husband, her children, caring for her home, but caring also for the world around her—enough to make the necessary sacrifices to try and save it. They are not equipped to do what Phyllis did and so they must diminish her. Isn’t that what women have always done to each other? And I thought it was “liberation” the feminists were seeking.
As dastardly as the portrayal of Phyllis and the love of her life, Fred, is in “Mrs. America,” it really is so over the top, it’s laughable. Kind of like a Babylon Bee version of her life without the humor.
The truth about Phyllis was much more compelling, the fight over the Equal Rights Amendment much more complex and exciting than this dull, grinding fiction.