'Mrs America' Episode 7: Phyllis Schafly's daughter changing her name highlights that 'personal is political'
Are children expected to mimic the political line that their parents toe? Often. Is that what happens? Not always
Spoilers for 'Mrs America' Episode 7 'Bella'
Have you ever heard of the phrase, “The personal is political”? It’s a phrase, a slogan really, that has its roots in the second-wave feminist movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s in the US. While the origins of the slogan are disputed, many attribute it to Carol Hanisch, a radical feminist and writer of that era, who popularized it in her essay titled ‘The personal is political’, a part of her anthology of essays ‘Notes From the Second Year: Women’s Liberation in 1970’. Hanisch used it in the context of personal experiences and actions and microaggressions as a part of bigger political machinery.
The phrase, while not used at all in ‘Bella’, Episode 7 of FX’s biographical miniseries ‘Mrs America’, makes itself conscious in the chapter’s overarching theme. While the episode centered around the relationship between Bella Abzug, played by character actor Margo Martindale and Gloria Steinem, played by Rose Byrne, it was a relationship of conflicts. The part where the personal and the political become truly inseparable is shown in the life of anti-feminist demagogue Phyllis Schlafly, played by Cate Blanchett.
Schlafly’s character in the show, and in real life, is that of an exemplary hypocrite. She, a woman of privilege, managed to balance her career as a lobbyist and her family because she could. She was rich. She was powerful. She had the support (most of the time) of her rich husband. Yet, she fought, and successfully so, against the Equal Rights Amendment, a legislature that would guarantee women economic freedom and equal pay among other things.
In many ways, Schlafly was public enemy number one for women across the country. And one of these women, as per the show, was her own daughter, Phyllis Schlafly Jr., who out of sheer embarrassment of being associated with her mother’s crusade, changed her name to Liza. She, per the show’s depiction, a liberal feminist, did not like her mother’s campaign against the ERA. The show’s depiction of Liza’s feminism is both a little on-the-nose and inadequate at the same time. There are no references to her belief system. It is, however, audaciously highlighted through her choice in music: ‘Cherry Bomb’ by the all-female punk-rock band, The Runaways.
Despite the fact that in real life, Liza would go on to support a lot of conservative voices -- Bustle reported that according to FEC filings, she contributed thousands of dollars to President Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign and to Senator Roy Blunt, who remarked upon Schlafly’s 2016 passing that the conservative campaigner was “a valued friend” -- the ideological difference between the mother and daughter is an important factor in the portrayal of the movement and otherwise as well.
Are children expected to mimic the political line that their parents toe? Often. Is that what happens? Not always. In a battle between what is morally right and wrong, the younger generation is often seen as the keeper of conscience. Take, for example, the recent mass-usage of the phrase “Okay, boomer”, a way to challenge the authority of conservative baby boomers by the millennials. Think of the kind of regularity with which you see the younger generation documenting their dissatisfaction, and often anger, with their parents’ conservative philosophies on social media.
With Liza as a device in this case, ‘Mrs America’ once again makes the case that Schlafly’s success as a conservative voice did not mean she was right. It only meant that she was successful. And what better way to make that point, than by pitting her own daughter against her?
'Mrs America' drops new episodes on Wednesdays only on Hulu.