It’s 1971, American troops are still fighting in Vietnam. Richard Nixon is President and is engaged in ongoing peace talks with his USSR counterpart, President Brezhnev. Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett) is scheduled to talk about the arm’s race, to give a women’s perspective on local television. She knows her stuff. She’s ran for Congress as a Republican candidate. The talk-show host is enamoured, not only is she knowledgeable, she’s beautiful. He wants her to go to Washington with him and talk to Senators, including Barry Goldwater. He’s a man who knows the money men, the men with power and hoping for a bit of hanky-panky. She smiles as she’s been told to do. She’s good at smiling. Good at most things. She’s a leader and follower.
Next up, we get Schlfly at home in Missouri. Her husband Fred Schlafly (John Slattery) is a successful businessman and her father to her six children. He indulges her political ambitions and her networking and her Rolodex and secretary and organising local mothers into a white, middle-class mother’s group against the Equal Rights Act, because it keeps her out of harm’s way. She indulges him. After her trip to Washington, where she’s the only woman in a roomful of Senators discussing the arm’s race and latest proposed legislation, which she’s read and is able to slap down a Senator like a school teacher quizzing an errant pupil that’s not done his homework. At home she’s too tired for sex, but he isn’t. It’s his choice and her obligation.
Perhaps I should use different similes. Metaphorical language tends to reinforce the idea of his-story being the dominant ideology. With first-wave feminists such as Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, focussing on social context. Man, Woman, Other, with the distinction of being female and being constructed as a woman. Being gendered allows patriarchy to perpetuate the status-quo. St Thomas Aquinas’s idea of women being an ‘imperfect man’. In the tradition of women being nothing but an empty womb. Setting us up for the fight against abortion, which as we know from Roe vs Wade women won in the Supreme Court in the United States but has been rolled back again and again. With the poor, working class and black women overwhelmingly effected. It’s no great surprise that Schlafly received a standing ovation at the moron’s moron’s Presidential rally in 2016, when Trump was running for office. And the President of the dis-United States attended her funeral. As a rule of thumb, whatever Trump is for, I’m against. Betty Friedman (Tracy Ulman) and Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale) are having a conversation about who Phyllis Schlafly is, while Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne) is foregrounded. It’s a conversation about nothing but everything. The reply sums her (and him) up. ‘She’s a right-wing, nut-job’.
Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, was also a right-wing, nut job. She didn’t believe in sexual discrimination either. But, ironically, in early-seventies Britain, Prime Minister Edward Heath only kept Thatcher in Cabinet as Education Secretary because she was the token woman. In the same way, the viewer, from a different viewpoint, almost feels sorry for Phyllis Schlafly when she gets to attend a coveted meeting with Barry Goldwater and the other state senators in the Senate. The stenographer, a woman, naturally, is asked to leave because talks about nuclear missiles is too important an issue and she doesn’t have security clearance. But Phyllis Schlafly primed to speak and show her mettle is slapped down and asked to take notes and minutes. Women should know their place isn’t spoken, but shown. That’s great drama.
Carol Hanisch (1970) coined the term, ‘the personal is political’ and the second-wave feminist movement that is dramatized here ride on a righteous wave against ‘right-wing, nut-jobs,’ which crashed against Thatcher/Reagan. We lost the ideological war and live in the right-wing, nut-job world now of hatred and entrenched social divisions. I’ve only watched the first two episodes of nine. The second episode feature Gloria Epstein, she’s beautiful too, but perhaps I shouldn’t be saying that. Judging people by the bogus standards of the male gaze. Perhaps I’ll watch more episodes. I’m a prisoner of my birth and personality (personal–reality) aren’t we all? Aren’t we all?