Phyllis Schlafly was a Catholic mother of six children who campaigned against the American Equal Rights Amendment back in the 1970s. So it was a racing certainty that she would be portrayed, in a TV mini-series, as a smarmy hypocrite. And that’s how Cate Blanchett plays her, in Mrs America, currently showing on BBC Two (and available on iPlayer.)
Against the redoubtable Phyllis and her fusty housewives is an array of mostly young, hip, attractive “Women’s Libbers”, led by Rose Byrne as the lovely Gloria Steinem. You can get the picture even without viewing the mini-series – although, admittedly, it does feature some excellent performances. The most striking is Tracey Ullman as the feminist Betty Friedan. I have met La Friedan, and she was, as they say in Brooklyn, one tough broad. Ullman “gets” her exactly.
I have also interviewed Gloria Steinem – twice – and there is one gaping failure in Rose Byrne’s performance. Steinem had (she’s still alive) a soft, Cordelia-like speaking voice and a tinkling, musical laugh. Rose Byrne has that hard, nasal twang sometimes heard in American women. Grating.
Phyllis Schlafly – who was academically very bright – opposed the Equal Rights Amendment because she believed it overlooked homemakers, would facilitate more abortion, and would lead to male/female shared public toilets. She wasn’t wrong about some of her predictions – although in the 1970s, I’d probably have dismissed her case. Friedan called her a “witch”, who she’d like to burn at the stake – Betty didn’t hold back! (There was also a strong rivalry between Friedan and Steinem.)
The producers’ slant is obvious, but according to Maria Steen in the Irish Times, the script falsifies history and distorts the record. In Episode 5, Schlafly is shown inventing case law in a debate, and is exposed. Ms Stein, who watched the historical debate, found it was the exact opposite: it was Phyllis’s opponent who was exposed for inventing case law.
Hollywood was never going to give Phyllis Schlafly a fair portrayal. Still, Cate’s costumes are perfection!
Equal rights may bring complications in law, especially when genders differ; but my recollection is that we were taught in convent school that “everyone is equal in the eyes of the Lord”.
Perhaps Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, picked up her commitment to equality and fairness from her own Catholic education – she attended the (quite posh) Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles.
She’s been speaking about these principles for a UN initiative for young women called “Girl Up”, which strives to “advance girls’ skills, rights and opportunities to be leaders”. She encourages young women to “challenge the norm” and “keep pushing against inequities”, to “believe in working for true equality”, and to push forcefully to “be in charge”. She also extols compassion and “doing what is right”.
The Duchess is an accomplished speaker and could well have a political future. Yet I wonder if some young girls will still think “marrying a prince is the best career move of all”? Knowing how little girls drool over princesses, it gives Meghan an extraordinary cachet.
It’s being said that office life, once the norm for most employees, has little future. Post-Covid, most people will want to work from home if they can, via electronic media.
A huge amount of human interaction, learning from one another, jolly banter, camaraderie, cooperation, and the lasting friendship of colleagues will be lost to a generation if most people work home alone from their computers.
Since choirs are presently banned to help avoid spreading the coronavirus, I’ve suggested to our parish priest that music at Mass might be provided by a single cantor. Perhaps accompanied by a fiddle.
During lockdown, I availed myself of various streamed Masses online, and several featured a cantor – quite often a young woman soprano. However, the PP says that the bishops are wary of permitting even a single voice. It’s not that they disapprove – but if someone did pick up the infection in church, they could be held liable. Lawyers, you see.