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September 17/Third Quarter Moon
Some history of the ERA and a TV Recommendation
While Becka and I stayed with Mom while Bill/Will and Rachel were taking some respite in August, we semi-binged the mini-series Mrs. America on Hulu. Becka had seen it before and really wanted to watch it with one of us. It begins as the Equal Rights Amendment(ERA) is approved by the the US House of Representatives(1971) and US Senate (1972) and follows a changing cast of characters through its ratification process. It sticks closely to Phyllis Shlafly as the leader of the antagonist movement to the ERA, and on the ERA side follows Gloria Steinem and a revolving list of influential actors.
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I would have loved to have Mom’s commentary on the show. As it was, I was glad to watch it in Mom’s living room with Becka while Mom was across the apartment in her bed. It was filled with accurate sets of the Shlafley’s household (according to her daughter) and I related to the more eclectic and down to earth 70s apartments that portrayed how the other half lived. The show drew me in through the familiarity of the set and the ethos and the juxtaposition between the organized and stratified household of the 50s and a new, bohemian way to live, which I recognized. I learned much about many figures in the movement most of whom I had never heard of before. As we watched, Becka googled events and characters.
Each episode begins with the disclaimer that it is a fictionalized account of events and some characters are invented. The author, Dahvi Waller, known or her work on Mad Men, has said it is not meant to be a myopic of any one of the women but more of an origin story of the division that exists in our country. Initially the movement itself paid no attention to Phyllis Shafly and her Eagle Forum and showed the struggles and intricacies of getting a diverse group to work together. And like Mad Men, it did portray the blind spots in the movement, without words. Which as a member of the generation who grew up watching along, there is a recognition in that. The viewer gets to silently witness the uneven power dynamics between white women and women of color, the competing special interests, and how hard everyone is working to stick together. And the fears that Shlafly played on to gather her counter movement.
After I finished watching, I googled around myself to check on what was being said about the shows veracity.
Gloria Steinem is not thrilled by the story. She says that it does not share the truth that “Phyllis Shlafly didn’t change one vote and it was the insurance companies and the economic issues that defeated the Equal Rights Amendment.” (see YouTube video linked below). I appreciate her criticism of tokenism, that by making Shafley the villain it gives her more credit than she deserves, and it was “the insurance companies and financial interests” that defeated the amendment. I hope we all have a better understanding at this point in our history about how those corporate interests swirl around to become the forces that be. Thank you Gloria for keeping our attention focussed in the right direction. So note of warning, don’t get too focussed on Shlafly, there is so much else there.
As it is, the story was a compelling portrayal of the timeline of the ERA fight and its actors. And it may be that Cate Blanchette as Shlafly kept me watching. Neither side was portrayed with a myopic lens. It portrays a complicated time, a huge upheaval in society, where women faced conflicting values and priorities. But the movement had been growing for a long time. The ERA was originally drafted in the 20s. My mom was born in 1949 and her life was a trajectory of the movement. Her movement over her life upset the status quo of her family, a status quo so deeply engrained in our greater social behaviors that the process couldn’t have proceeded without causing deep rupture in the fabric of our society. So here we are today. Perhaps Shlafly herself, as the face of a movement, was tokenized by the corporations? Her last book, The Conservative Argument for Trump, was published posthumously, one day after her death. Her influence is still being played out.
Pictured below is mom with members of the Feminist Caucus. I have posted this photo once before. The Minnesota Feminist Caucus was founded in 1973 and these women most likely gathered in 1976 or 7. When I was about 8 years old. Koryn Horbal is on the far right and another of the women is Jeri Rasmussen, both died in 2017 and 2018 respectively, and I have linked their obituaries. Gloria Steinem was quoted in Koryn’s obituary.
Thanks to Becka, Will/Bill, and Kris Sigford who hooked me up with the above info about the photo when they responded to my original post.
If you end up watching Mrs. America, please reach out and let me know what you think. If you have any more information on this history and/or my mom’s role in it, please contact me. If you know of anyone who would be interested in this topic, please pass this newsletter along.
On Yoga Poetry Radio this past week a breath practice for better sleep and a gentle floor practice, down dog exploration click through to listen!
And most of all, thank you for reading along. More soon.
Much love, Tina
Resources for further study:
If you don’t remember the details (like I didn’t), you may want to watch the series first and then come here and read the links below. Spoiler Alert!
Here is a very readable Minnesota history of the feminist movement by Cheri Register which includes Dayton’s men’s only dining room (in 1970, the dark ages obviously), a “rock the boat” model of change that included all types, Arvonne Fraser and Phillis Khan both admired by mom, and follows Koryn Horbal’s career from creation to the women caucus to going to the 1977 Women’s conference in Houston. Like the show. http://collections.mnhs.org/mnhistorymagazine/articles/61/v61i02p062-075.pdf
Liz Lenz recent Substack Newsletter Post about where the ERA stands today.
A more recent Men Yell at Me
A MNopedia article about the founding of the Minnesota Feminist Caucus along with a timeline of important events and naming of involved peoples. https://www.mnopedia.org/group/dfl-feminist-caucus
This article from the guardian discusses the problem with vilifying one woman as a token to place the blame of the defeat on: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/may/22/tv-account-of-1970s-feminist-history-not-very-good-says-gloria-steinem-hay-festival
This article from slate breaks down the accuracy of the first 3 episodes: https://slate.com/culture/2020/04/mrs-america-accuracy-fact-fiction-fx-hulu-miniseries.html
What Phyllis Shlafly’s Daughter says: https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/a32141764/phyllis-schlafly-daughter-anne-cori-mrs-america-criticism/
What Phyllis Shlafly’s niece says: https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/a32141764/phyllis-schlafly-daughter-anne-cori-mrs-america-criticism/
Gloria Steinem talks about Mrs. America at about 4:50 minutes into this video:
Adding this link to a history of Roe vs Wade from Letters from an American by Heather Cox Richardson below. Includes Friedan and Shlafly in the record.