Mrs. America season 1, episode 4 recap – “Betty”

April 22, 2020
Cole Sansom 0
TV, TV Recaps
4

Summary

The show’s fourth installment gives us insight into the fiery personality behind “The Feminine Mystique”

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4

Summary

The show’s fourth installment gives us insight into the fiery personality behind “The Feminine Mystique”

This recap of Mrs. America Season 1, Episode 4, “Betty”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.


It’s 1973. Thirty states have ratified the ERA, and Roe v. Wade has just occurred. In the words of Phyllis Schlafly, “they’re winning.” Yet the “they” she refers to is much more fragmented than she believes.

This week’s episode follows Betty Friedan, author of ‘The Feminine Mystique.’ In previous episodes, we’ve seen her butt heads with Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug, who believe her fiery temper will give the movement a bad image.

The insight we get from her starring episode does little to change that image, although it does give us some more insight and understanding into her character.

She’s a minor celebrity, stopped on the street by women who say her book changed their lives, only to be overshadowed by a poster for Ms. Magazine showing Steinem that turns everyone’s attention away. When she goes on a date, the man wants to know what Gloria is like. To Freidan, she’s only a pretty face who’s take over a movement that should be driven by intellect.

Friedan is a “force of nature,” as Bella calls her, and can more than hold her own. On a talk show, she rebukes the host for interrupting her, using a trick she used for when her husband did the same wherein she repeats the word “orgasm” ten times until the man has stopped talking. It’s a winner, and the audience erupts into laughter.

Behind her back, everyone secretly admires her. Gloria cries “what [she] would give” to have written “The Feminine Mystique” herself. Even her friend Natalie agrees with the common opinion, saying “Betty is impossible. But without her, there’s no NOW” (National Organization for Women).

In private, she is concerned about her daughter’s revealing clothing and worries that the infighting between her and Gloria has caused more damage to her reputation than she bargained for. “I’m the wicked witch of the west and Gloria is Glinda,” she says, when “Phyllis is the real Witch.”

It’s this recognition of the true enemy that leads her to disregard Gloria’s advice to ignore Phyllis and challenge her to a one-on-one debate (after accusing her of being funded by the arch-conservative John Birch Society and, indirectly, the KKK). Given what we’ve seen from Betty’s perspective, her reasoning is sound; the ERA is in danger, and everyone is too blinded by Steinem’s star power to see it.

Their infighting is paralleled with those involved with the founding of the National Black Feminist Organization. At a party, leaders such as Flo Kennedy and Audrey Colom (who the show does not give nearly as big an introduction as it does to their white counterparts) discuss which groups to invite into their movements. They are sick of those who put gender before race but disagree over whether to invite lesbians to their cause.

This all comes after Margaret Sloan-Hunting elucidates the hypocrisy of Ms. Magazine, who she describes as “glorious as they’re struggling.” It all goes to show that what is seen as the “mainstream” feminism movement is one intended for upper/middle-class white women only.

The point is explicated earlier in an editorial meeting. Margaret expresses her interest in writing about “tokenism,” which is met with blank expressions. When she explains about different groups containing “diversity within ourselves”, the white women who surround her are at a loss. “There’s no hierarchy here,” says Steinem. “You’re not saying you feel that way here?” says another, in a classic example of times when if you have to ask the question….

While the show does a good job of showing the racial blind spots of Steinem & co, it puts much less effort in discussing Friedan’s homophobia, which is relegated to a throw-away line from Phyllis.

She prepares for the debate by practicing with her husband. Fred encourages her to drop the draft issue, which he believes is distracting, and calls Phyllis out on her blurring the lines between “law” and “norm.” Phyllis gets uncomfortable when he gets personal, asking her, “when your father lost his job, did the law protect your mother.” “That’s how you win a debate,” he tells her.

The debate itself goes as Fred Schlafly predicted. Betty shuts down the draft arguments, then calls out Phyllis’s contradictory statements, winning the applause of the audience.

It seems to be going well for Phyllis, up until the close, when Phyllis goes for the jugular. “The Era will not solve your personal problems,” she says, calling Freidan and her associates the “sisterhood of misery.” Betty snaps, becoming the “force of nature” Abzug described her as. “YOU ARE A WITCH AND I WOULD LIKE TO BURN YOU AT THE STAKE,” she yells. Despite the affection of a select group of fans, Betty knows she went too far.

As she resigns herself for having failed, for leaning into the stereotype everyone thought she was, her phone rings. Gloria, fresh from a series of harassing calls, notes, and a nude drawing from Al Goldstein at “Screw” magazine, calls to congratulate Betty. “Your book changed my life,” she tells her. Betty Friedan may have lost one battle, but she has already won the war.


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