Generation Ratify’s Mrs. America Webinars are Exactly what Feminism Needs Right Now

Developmentally Edited by Alexandra Hidalgo
Copy Edited and Posted by Megan Elias

This piece is part of a series on the “Rethinking Sisterhood” webinar panels. Take a look at our articles on the second panelthird panelfourth panel, fifth panel, and our article on the series as a whole for more about Mrs. America and activism.

Phyllis Schlafly, a name most people haven’t heard since the 1980s, sealed in the vault of history as one might do with an ancient plague, was a profoundly accomplished and educated woman. She worked as a ballistics gunner and technician in World War II, received a master’s degree in 1945 from Radcliffe College, the sister school of the then all-male Harvard University, authored numerous books, and was a deeply persuasive rhetorician. In the words of feminist artist and activist Natalie White, “On paper, she was the biggest feminist there was.” Yet her main political adversary was the Equal Rights Amendment. Why would anyone oppose equal rights? And even more strangely, why would a woman who traveled the country giving lectures and lobbying for political causes while leaving her six children at home oppose equal rights? 

The FX show Mrs. America, created by Dahvi Waller, aims to answer those questions. The panelists in the first webinar in the “Rethinking Sisterhood: The Role of Media in Affirming the ERA” reflected on the failures and triumphs of the series, the characters it portrays, and the women’s liberation movement. The first installment, titled “Mrs. America: Cultural and Intergenerational Views,” aired last Thursday. The webinar series, which is hosted by the activist youth organization Generation Ratify and co-organized by agnès films, Directed by Women, Equal Means Equal, Media Equity, and Women Occupy Hollywood, will continue for four more consecutive Thursdays, airing from 5:00-6:00pm EST, when audiences will have the chance to tune in and join the conversation. 

I attended the first webinar last Thursday and it started just like you’d expect. A sign up box where I typed in my email, then a link for me to click when the time came. I really had no idea what to expect once I entered the Zoom meeting. At first I was nervous that the panelists would see my Height of Quarantine Fashion: sweatshirt and hair I neglected to brush. I was very thankful that the only people able to use their cameras were the panelists themselves, while viewers could type questions and comments in the chat.


Pastel art of three women with film reels in the background.

Generation Ratify’s official art for the webinars.


And what amazing panelists they were! Barbara Winslow has been an activist for civil rights and women’s liberation, and an accomplished historian of those struggles, since the 1960s. She once even found herself at a dinner party where Schlafly herself was one of the attendees. Natalie White is a feminist artist and the Co-Director of Equal Means Equal, an organization that has led the charge for reviving the ERA. She organized a 250-mile march from New York to Washington, DC to champion the amendment. Belan Yeshigeta is a high school student and the Associate Director of Generation Ratify, and is fighting for the current generation to be the last one without equal protection under the law. Katharine Anderson, the State Director of Generation Ratify Minnesota, has worked in environmental and gender activism, and has recently turned to storytelling to share the lessons of activism and politics. 

The goal of the hour-long discussion was to get points of view on Mrs. America from people with different gender activism experiences. The panelists stated their impressions of the show and how they felt it fit into a larger picture about the current fight to ratify the ERA. Each woman was incredibly knowledgeable. Andersen appreciated the intersectional approach the show took, acknowledging the fact that the women’s movement, like environmental activism at the time, was fragmented and trying to be more unified across the country. 

All panelists agreed that Phyllis Schlafly left a terrible legacy behind that we are still coming to terms with as a nation, but that the show did a good job of pointing out why both Schlafly’s camp and the pro-ERA side struggled with in-fighting and disagreement. Schlafly preyed on the fears of white, middle-class, married women, and the women’s liberation movement often left queer women and women of color out in the cold. Yeshigeta noted that, at the time Mrs. America takes place, women of color are often forced to choose one aspect of their identity to fight for. You can join the Black Caucus, or you can join the women’s liberation movement, but by choosing one, you’ll get shunned from the other. She explained that, unfortunately, in the four decades since Mrs. America,  the situation isn’t so different today. The webinar was a great place to discuss that injustice towards people who feel torn between multiple identities. 

A screenshot of a Zoom panel with five women panelists.

A screenshot of the panelists.


Each speaker also pointed out the same qualm about the series: Mrs. America treated the ERA like it was something that disappeared 40 years ago. But as everyone who tuned in that Thursday will tell you, the fight has never been more alive. We at agnès films have posted an open letter to film studios and creative outlets everywhere demanding they paint an accurate picture of the dynamic nature of women’s activism, Generation Ratify was founded with the express purpose of finally getting the ERA into the Constitution, and Equal Means Equal, as well as Attorneys General from Virginia, Nevada, and Illinois, filed lawsuits to urge the ratification of the amendment in Virginia. Some of the letter’s signees include actress and activist Rose McGowan, Nevada State Senator Patricia Spearman, film directors Lizzie Borden and Eva Husson, Lizzy Jagger and her father, Mick Jagger, feminist artist Natalie White, fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger and daughter Ally Hilfiger, Jerry and Rupert Murdoch, Outlander star Caitriona Balfe, Fear the Walking Dead actress Mishel Prada, filmmaker and producer Vanessa Hope, and Ted Hope, head of Amazon Studios.

I think the most important talking point of the evening was the fact that we haven’t won yet, but we haven’t given up. One thing I’ll take with me, Which Winslow pointedly brought up, is that the 14th Amendment, the one many people credit with providing women equal rights, actually explicitly excludes women as citizens. Conversations like the ones Barbara Winslow, Natalie White, Katharine Anderson, Belan Yeshigeta, and everyone in the audience had last Thursday are crucial for making progress. The next webinar about Mrs. America is on Thursday, May 21st from 5:00-6:00pm EST.

You can learn more about Generation Ratify on their Website, Instagram, and Twitter and watch the webinar on their YouTube. For further reading, you can check out our articles on the second panel, third panel, fourth panel, fifth panel, and our article on the series as a whole. To learn more about Megan, visit her profile.