On this chapter of The Queerest Things I Watched Last Week, I rise out of the ashes to finish my post on the queer parts of the Hulu mini-series Mrs. America.
You may have noticed I didn’t publish a #QTIwlw post last week, or if you were really paying attention, it did post unfinished for a few minutes. I was in the middle of writing my post when my kid started yelling from downstairs. Long story short: our dryer caught on fire and the fire department had to come and put it out. The wife, kid, cat and I made it out fine, but we are displaced for about 3-4 months as our house gets gutted and renovated.
It was one of the scariest experiences of my life (and I’ve been held up twice) followed by a very overwhelming week of navigating Insurance, adjusters, cleanup and restoration companies. We’ll be okay and luckily we get to stay in an Air B&B right on our block so we are surrounded by the support of our very awesome neighbors. I do miss our TVs though. In the meantime, I’ll make due with streaming services, because the mission to document Queer Television must go on!
- Mrs. America – Season 1 [Streaming]
The Hulu mini-series Mrs. America is loosely based on the story of the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, and the conservative backlash led by Phyllis Schlafly, played by Cate Blanchett. It’s a star-studded cast of actors playing real-life people and fictitious characters on both sides of the ERA fight.
Every episode starts with a disclaimer: “Some characters in the program are fictional and some scenes and dialogue are invented for creative and storyline purposes.” But from what I’ve read, the writers did a lot of research into the actual events that took place. I think the show did a good job of telling history while addressing layered and complicated personal issues behind the scenes for everyone involved.
I embarrassingly know very little about the 70s feminist movement. I think I took one Women’s Studies class in college and probably skipped a lot of it. It was very interesting to look back at it from today’s perspective. Now more people are aware of Intersectionality and the need for it to be woven into every progressive and equal rights movement. Then not so much.
Margaret Sloan is one of the real people portrayed in the series. She was a Black feminist, lesbian, civil rights advocate and one of the early editors of Ms. magazine. This is what happened when she tried to pitch a story on tokenism in the workplace.
She is promptly ignored after that.
There was also a camp of feminists, most notably Betty Friedan, who did not want to include lesbians in the feminist movement, because in her words, “Homosexuality…is not, in my opinion, what the women’s movement is all about.”
Another real-life person portrayed on the show is Brenda Feigen-Fasteau. She was a prominent ERA proponent who debated Schlafly many times on TV. Her husband at the time was also a vocal ally of the women’s movement. In Episode 5 “Phyllis & Fred & Brenda & Marc”, Brenda meets Jules, a photographer played by one of LezWatch’s favorite actors, Roberta Colindrez at a conference in DC.
Since Gloria Steinem is busy that night, Brenda winds up hanging out with Jules and breaking into the Watergate pool. It’s not long before they’re doing more than just swimming around.
Back at home, Brenda’s husband Marc can tell something’s up and asks her if she slept with anyone in DC. She’s like “I didn’t sleep with a man…” From that, he figures out it was a woman.
Marc is okay with it because he’s a hip feminist dude and wants to give her the freedom to explore her sexuality. However, he also lets her know he wouldn’t be so open-minded if it was a guy. Um, okay.
Back at the Ms. magazine office, the host of “The Tomorrow Show” invited Brenda and her husband to debate Phyllis and her husband on National TV. Team ERA thinks this is great because Brenda is the poster child for a cis straight married feminist.
That look of queer panic on Brenda’s face. Joke’s on you, Bella Abzug, Brenda’s not done making out with Jules.
I guess Jules wasn’t a one-time, “we had too much to drink” event.
I loved seeing Margaret hanging out at the queer bar too! I hope the real life Margaret found her people in Oakland.
Brenda and Marc fly out to LA to do the show and Brenda discovers something else about herself — she’s pregnant. She tells Marc and he’s excited, but Brenda not so much. She confesses to the hot lesbian photographer in the room.
Marc’s like, “I thought you were just looking to experiment.” Brenda presses pause on the conversation because right now they need to look like the perfect straight feminist couple for national television.
Even with everything going on, Brenda and Marc slay the debate.
After it’s over they resume their talk.
That didn’t exactly answer his question, but Brenda loves Marc, and with a baby on the way, she’s going to stay with him.
At the end of the episode, Brenda is washing dishes with Gloria and trying to be all-in with her new role as mom-to-be. Since the debate, Gloria learned about Jules and brings it up.
Brenda’s sadness really got to me in that scene. She’s saying it was just a phase, but you can tell from the pain in her voice it’s not.
Margaret Sloan-Hunter moved to Oakland where she established the Women’s Foundation and helped organize the Berkeley Women’s Center and the Feminist School for Girls. She also published a series of thirty-eight poems called “Black & Lavender” in 1995. Sadly she died in 2004 at age 57 of a long-term illness.
Brenda Feigen published a memoir, called “Not One of the Boys: Living Life as a Feminist.” According to the book, her real-life timeline matched closely with the show. Although her first experience with a woman was not with a photographer names Jules, it did happen around that time as well as her pregnancy. Brenda divorced her husband in 1990 and now lives in California with her wife Joanne Parrent.
This week: I’ll try to make it another week without a disaster happening, but with 2020 I can’t make any guarantees. I may muster the strength to write about Hightown. Spoiler Alert: I don’t like it.