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The True Story of ‘Mrs. America’

It is 1973, and conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly and feminist icon Betty Friedan trade verbal barbs in a contentious debate over the Equal Rights Amendment at Illinois State University. Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique and “the mother of the modern women’s movement,” argues that a constitutional amendment guaranteeing men and women equal treatment under the law would put a stop to discriminatory legislation that left divorced women without alimony or child support. On the other side, Schlafly, an Illinois mother of six who has marshalled an army of conservative housewives into an unlikely political force to fight the ERA, declares American women “the luckiest class of people on earth.”

Then Schlafly goes for the jugular. “You simply cannot legislate universal sympathy for the middle-aged woman,” she purrs, knowing that Friedan had been through a bitter divorce. “You, Mrs. Friedan, are the unhappiest women I have ever met.”

“You are a traitor to your sex, an Aunt Tom,” fumes Friedan, taking the bait. “And you are a witch. God, I’d like to burn you at the stake!”

Friedan’s now-infamous rejoinder is resurrected in this fiery exchange in “Mrs. America,” the nine-part limited series from FX on Hulu. Combining real history with the standard dramatic license, the scene captures the spirit and vitriol between pro- and anti-ERA factions during the fight for women’s equality. Starring Cate Blanchett as Schlafly, the Dahvi Waller-created show chronicles the movement to ratify the ERA, Schlafly’s rise to prominence and the contentious forces that epitomized the culture wars of the 1970s.

Read entire article at Smithsonian