‘Mrs. America‘ is a Hulu mini-series that provides engaging infotainment on feminism, and more particularly, the second-wave feminists’ fight to get the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) ratified. The mini-series takes a look at how an unlikely opponent, Phyllis Schlafly, was able to successfully challenge the ratification. That ended up changing the entire political landscape forever. However, the biggest strength of ‘Mrs. America’ has been the way the show tackles various aspects of feminism and avoids looking at the topic through a singular lens. The fifth episode is titled ‘Phyllis & Fred & Brenda &Marc.’
Mrs. America Episode 5 Recap:
The episode begins with Gloria, her boyfriend, Brenda, and Marc Feigen Fasteau attending a “provocative” feminist play. Marc tells the group about not having a title for his book on gender stereotypes. On the other hand, Fred’s interviewer asks Phylis to be in his photo, but she refuses as the interview is for Fred. A Republican in Nixon’s administration calls Gloria, Brenda, and another woman about a women’s task force. Speaking about the ERA fight, he suggests a televised debate with Schlafly. Brenda challenges Schlafly for a debate.
Fred shows Phyllis his interview in the newspaper, which mentions him as “Phyllis Schlafly’s lawyer husband.” On the other hand, Brenda goes out with one of Gloria’s friends, who is a photographer. Brenda and the photographer (who is female) end up kissing. Fred tells Phyllis that she should make Brenda’s challenge about a debate on marriage and have a couples’ debate. That way, she would be able to have Fred by her side and not worry about being grilled on the law (Fred is a lawyer). Phyllis tries to make her son, Bruce, prepare for the LSAT, but he is not doing too well. She ends up taking the LSAT.
Marc asks Brenda if she slept with anyone in Washington, D.C. Brenda tells him that she didn’t sleep with a man and then says she slept with the photographer. Marc tells her that he doesn’t mind her having slept with a photographer since she wasn’t a man. Brenda and the feminists’ group decide to accept Phyllis’s challenge. On the other hand, somebody comes to Phyllis’ door with John’s (one of Phyllis’ sons) wallet. He had lost it. Brenda hooks up with the photographer again.
Gloria’s boyfriend tells Gloria about Brenda’s experiment (Marc had told him). Gloria is slightly upset that Brenda did not tell her. On the other hand, Brenda thinks she is pregnant. Marc is happy. Brenda tells Marc about sleeping with the photographer again. Marc gets upset as he thinks Brenda might be falling for the photographer. They decide to postpone the argument because of the imminent debate.
In the debate, Phyllis mentions a divorce case wherein a woman lost custody of her children and had to pay for child support. Brenda asks her to cite the case, but Phyllis is not able to remember it. The interviewer asks Fred and Marc “who wears the pants in the relationship.” Marc says that his marriage with Brenda is an equal one. Fred, on the other hand, ends up calling Phyllis submissive.
Phyllis and Fred fight after the debate. Fred thinks that Phyllis wants to go to law school and isn’t too pleased with the idea. Phyllis ends up telling Fred that he does not do enough with his law degree. On the other hand, Brenda apologizes to Marc. Gloria sleeps with the Republican in Nixon’s administration. Phyllis tells John how she quit smoking by controlling her bodily urges. She is alluding to how he should control his “urge” to be homosexual.
Phyllis finds out that Fred’s office has been shifted due to a new senior partner. She gifts Fred a new bag and tells him that she will enroll in a nearby university so that she can also take care of her housewifely duties. On the other hand, Brenda and Mark ask Gloria and Brenda to be their child’s godparents. Gloria asks Brenda why she did not tell her about her affair. The episode ends with
Mrs. America Episode 5 Review:
‘Mrs. America’ episode 5 experiments with its format slightly by not focusing on a single woman. Instead, the episode revolves around the couple Brenda and Marc Fasteau Feigen. By doing so, the episode provides an engaging yet crucial look into the idea of marriage. By portraying the strength of Brenda and Marc’s relationship, the episode subverts the stereotype of feminists being unable to be in a happy, long-term relationship. However, the more important theme of the episode is the idea of marriage and how the traditional idea of it can be restrictive. The title of the episode is a reference to the 1969 movie, ‘Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,’ which revolves around the idea of free love or non-monogamy.
‘Mrs. America’ fittingly juxtaposes three relationships: those of the couples mentioned in the title and that of Gloria’s. By doing so, the episode manages to provide a multi-faceted look into the institution of marriage, leaving viewers with the thought that marriage can be what the couple involved make of it. It doesn’t have to follow a set “format” because the traditional idea of a marriage is the product of social conditioning.
Towards the end of the episode, Brenda tells Gloria that her affair was just a phase almost begrudgingly. This, in my opinion, indicates how there are some sacrifices in each and every long-term relationship. It ought to be everyone’s choice of how much sacrifice they are willing to make, and that should not be dictated by any societal notion.
Apart from the theme, the fifth episode also turns out to be one of the more engaging episodes of the mini-series. There are several integral moments in the episode: the debate, Phyllis’s conversation with John, Fred, and Phyllis’ fight, Fred feeling inferior to Phyllis. All of them combine cohesively to make ‘Mrs. America’ a stronger portrayal of the patriarchal nature of society. The fact that the show tells a historically true story makes this even more impressive.
However, the most impressive feature of the episode is how it portrays Phyllis Schlafly’s conservative views proving to be a problem for her. Her frustration with being held back by her husband and her marriage is easy to see. Yet, Schlafly decides to go to law school: an action that stands in stark contrast to her opposition to the ERA ratification. However, as Gloria Steinem writes in her book, ‘My Life on the Road:‘ “Inside, each of us has a purple motorcycle. We have only to discover it, and ride.”
Well, it seems as if Schlafly has found her purple motorcycle. In reality, Schlafly had had a failed political career and grasped on to her success with her opposition to the ERA to chart her own path. You can read more about that here. However, what Schlafly does not realize is the fact that her purple motorcycle is blocked by the very obstacle that she is attempting to support.
Read More: Who Was Shirley Chisholm From Mrs. America?