In Mrs. America, Rose Byrne and Cate Blanchett both gave impactful, brilliant performances and were both the heroes of their opposing stories.
The FX show Mrs. America on Hulu has received much critical acclaim. This show weaves a tapestry of experiences and characters, placing them in their historical context while making it relevant for today. The show incorporates multiple perspectives in its nine-episode run and is made amazing courtesy of its brilliant writing, performances, costumes, and more.
Featuring a stellar ensemble cast, the miniseries tells the story of the Equal Rights Amendment and the feminist and anti-feminist movements that surrounded it. Phyllis Schlafly and Gloria Steinem are two important characters of the show, distinctly different and shown as such. Here are the reasons why they are each the heroes of the show.
Phyllis: The Show Begins And Ends With Her
The first and last shot of Mrs. America features Phyllis Schlafly. The show begins and ends prominently with her. It is her story, her family, and her life around which the narrative is structured.
The show spends an inordinate amount of screentime on Phyllis Schlafly. Whether it’s her political life or her personal life, the show goes into all aspects of Phyllis’ life. With Phyllis being visited in every single episode, and with her being the primary character the viewers follow, it is not too much of a stretch to call Phyllis the protagonist.
Gloria: The View Of The Progressive Movement
While Phyllis is the anti-hero, Gloria could be said to be the “accidental” hero. It is mostly through the perspective of Gloria Steinem that viewers see the progressive feminist movement. Even though each episode highlights a different character, Gloria Steinem pops up almost everywhere.
Gloria is as ubiquitous in the parts of the show that reflect the progressive movement as Phyllis is in the parts showing the anti-feminist movement. Her presence is felt and constant throughout the show, making her the lens through which viewers get a sample of the progressive movement.
Phyllis: Rallying The Homemakers
Say what you must but Phyllis Schlafly was able to make the homemakers a political force to reckon with. She got them out of their homes and brought them into the political and social scene. She inadvertently gave many women the agency and voice to air their opinions and even break away from the very cause that brought them out in the first place – as seen with Alice.
Her ability to engage with them in ways they were comfortable with, including the bread and jam stunt, shows how she was able to reach out to women in similar stations as her.
Gloria: Refusal To Play Along With The Media
The media loves a good “catfight” and the feminist movement proved to be such an area where many attempts were made. By misquoting and printing without context the statements made by feminist leaders about other feminist leaders, the media wanted to portray them as bickering women.
Gloria Steinem refused to play along with this, not giving them sound bites, even when she was asked to reply back to statements made by Betty about her. She was firm in her stance not to allow the media to make it seem as though women have only bad things to say about each other.
Phyllis: The Ultimate Anti-Hero
Phyllis Schlafly represented the “far-right nut” according to Jill Ruckelshaus on the show. She was a fringe right-winger who was able to make herself into a mainstream advocate for the women on the right. The miniseries takes pleasure in portraying her as the ultimate anti-hero.
While, at many moments, it seems as though she simply manipulated the situation for her own political ends, in some scenes, like during her confession, viewers are able to get a glimpse of the person who truly believed in some of the things she said, as well.
Gloria: The Spokesperson And Figurehead Of The Feminist Movement
Gloria Steinem came to be seen as the figurehead of the feminist movement. Right from the first episode, viewers can see how Gloria “accidentally” came to be seen that way courtesy of her media savviness, and her eventual growth and development into an important leader of the movement.
Mrs. America follows Gloria Steinem through her progression as one of the most vocal leaders of the progressive movements. The showrunners of Mrs. America don’t hold back from showing her flaws, and her obvious blind spots, as well.
Phyllis: Her Blind Ambition
Phyllis Schlafly would go to any length to win her cause and further her political ambitions. Even when many in her STOP-ERA movement are not comfortable with their ties to the John Birch society and even the Klan, Phyllis doesn’t mind involving them if it helps her cause.
Her ambition and her chase to achieve her ends by all means possible are truly terrifying for viewers to watch. Mrs. America shows the ease with which she chose to disregard the people who were uncomfortable with her outright hate.
Gloria: Refuses To Engage With Phyllis
Even when Betty and Bella finally decided to engage with Phyllis Schlafly, Gloria Steinem held firm in her stance to not do so. She believed that by sharing a platform with her gave Phyllis the currency she needed to be seen as mainstream and someone to be reckoned with.
This also showed the lengths to which Gloria went to avoid a direct confrontation with a woman, in hopes of not tainting the feminist movement. Gloria didn’t give in, unlike the others, and stood firm.
Phyllis: Cate Blanchett
Cate Blanchett gives a performance of a lifetime in Mrs. America. She captures the acerbic wit of Phyllis Schlafly, closely resembling her way of talking and her overall demeanor while approaching the character with empathy. Playing the anti-hero is difficult, but Cate Blanchett does it so well that viewers may, at times, end up sympathizing with the character.
It is Blanchett’s ability that pushes Mrs. America to become the brilliant show it is. One look at the interviews of the real Phyllis Schlafly will show how much effort Cate Blanchett has put into studying the character.
Gloria: Rose Byrne
Rose Byrne, with her long hair parted in the middle and her aviators, is a vision. She plays Gloria Steinem with suaveness and sensitivity. There is a moment in the episode “Houston” when Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem walks along a corridor with a background score. That moment is truly one of the most iconic shots in the show.
The superstar nature of this feminist icon is portrayed beautifully by Rose Byrne in a brilliant performance. There is a sort of style to her gait, lingering from her days as a dancer, and that is beautifully shown in her characterization.