Anyone who's read about the history of the Equal Rights Amendment or who lived it knew what was coming in Episode 9, the finale of the FX on Hulu limited series on the 1970s feminist movement. But creator Dahvi Waller hopes Mrs. America leaves viewers also feeling inspired. "That word, galvanizing, is definitely something that I hope audiences will take away," she says. "You have to know what happened and you have to know how messy it was, but ultimately, that depression hopefully transforms into anger and that transforms into action. My biggest takeaway from working on this series is that you can never be complacent even when you think, 'Wow, we've achieved that. We've come a long way.' There's always more to do and our rights are so tenuous and our position is so tenuous, so I think galvanizing is just the right word."
The real courage of Mrs. America was baked into its pitch: "To chronicle in nine episodes ... Phyllis Schlafly’s successful campaign to prevent ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, hook the legs out from under the women’s movement and aid the rise of religious-driven conservatism in our political arena," says Mary McNamara. "In other words, let’s all watch a nine-hour television show in which the heroes lose." McNamara adds: "In the last quarter-century, television has asked us to do many difficult things — root for gangsters and serial killers, read subtitles and stick with storylines that make no sense, because apparently, making sense is not the point. On certain occasions, it has even demanded that we believe a man could survive falling into a crowd of zombies or that it makes sense for the dweebiest Stark to win the game of thrones. But almost always, some sense of justice prevails; even in Chernobyl, the main heroes die, one by suicide, but they do so knowing that at least their work has not been in vain, that the main damage of the nuclear explosion has been contained."
Mrs. America showed, time and time again, the divide among everyday people is rarely so intensely drawn: "Despite its hard and frustrating truths, Mrs. America was never a downer series," says Allison Keene. "It never felt like TV vegetables, nor did it feel like an overly-glossy or imbalanced portrayal of the women at its core. Perhaps that was aggravating to some—that the likes of Phyllis Schlafly were not made into caricatures. But in Dahvi Waller’s series, nuance is the thing. Phyllis played the game in the support of men, and she ultimately got played by them. They would never support her back, something she found out far too late."
Mrs. America's biggest problem was having Phyllis Schlafly as the main character: "While I understand this viewpoint, it is still disappointing," says Princess Weekes. "Waller is aware that by not heavily including women of color, lesbians, and other queer women, she is perpetuating the same limited perspective that the wave of feminism depicted has always been criticized for. The show absolutely calls out those mistakes in its storytelling, but even within that acknowledgment, the characters who get the most screen time, character exploration, and focus are the white, straight characters: Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug, and of course, Phyllis Schlafly."
Mrs. America leaves behind a rattled feeling: "A lot of entertainment options feel unsettling these days, as my mind struggles to reconcile even the most mundane 'old normal' images on my screen—crowds, handshakes—with the new, weird reality of my life," says Katie Baker. "But Mrs. America, by being set in such a specific slice of the past, sidesteps this issue. Watching its blend of archival footage and winning performances, I felt so immersed in the world of 1970s feminist politics that I forgot to ever stop to fret about germs. But that doesn’t mean that the series didn’t still leave me a little bit rattled. What stands out most about Mrs. America is how thoroughly, depressingly modern all of its most retrograde aspects, from the battle over abortion rights to the weaponization of women against one another, are. One of the through lines of the show is the plight of the Equal Rights Amendment, which to this day has still not been ratified nationally."
Dahvi Waller recalls breaking down the real story of sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill amid the Brett Kavanaugh hearings: "I remember one moment that was particularly difficult was during the Kavanaugh hearings," she says. "We were breaking the story for the Jill (Ruckelshaus) episode, and one of our writers has found this unbelievable story of the 20 secretaries that Shirley Chisholm spoke out about, about the sexual misconduct on the Hill. Breaking that episode during the Kavanaugh hearings was just a really tough time. We used to joke that the theme is 'women really can’t win.' And then we would bake a cake that said 'women can’t win' because we’re women, and then we’d laugh about it. I’m so lucky. I found the greatest writing staff. We laughed so much. And they read all the books with me and slogged through the research."