Mrs. America Season 1 Episode 6, “Jill,” is all about making concessions no matter where one stands in the fight for women’s rights.
The episode focuses on Jill Ruckleshaus, a pro-ERA activist from the right, played by Elizabeth Banks.
Betty Ford: You should be front and center, Jill. Who better to prove that feminism isn’t a dirty word? A Midwestern mom of five…you’re American as apple pie.
Having Jill go head to head with Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett) on a more personal level rather than a big, public debate is an effective way to show conflict within the Republican party. Up until now we’ve seen clashes among the left and their feud with the right, but now we get a glimpse into the tensions Conservatives have independent of their problems with the Democrats.
Jill and Phyllis’ conversation at the bar is eye-opening for Phyllis even if she promptly closes them being so set in her warped convictions. Jill seems to have the upper hand, at first, but then Phyllis’ lack of empathy and internalized misogyny riles her up—similar to how Phyllis got under Betty Friedan’s (Tracey Ullman) skin at the debate showcased on Mrs. America Season 1 Episode 4, “Betty.”
However, Jill does get one last parting jab in that sticks:
You want to get ahead climbing on the shoulders of men, Phyllis, fine. Just know, they’re looking right up your skirt.
At the end of the episode, Phyllis gets a taste of exactly what Jill was talking about. Powerful white men crack jokes about sexually harassing their secretaries and Phyllis is obviously disgusted by it, but she plasters on that smile and politely chuckles, waving the horrors of it aside to keep her seat in that room.
Phyllis chooses willful ignorance on the matter of workplace sexual harassment because it helps her cause—a cause that she believes helps women.
Blanchett, again, shows her skill with nuanced, split-second reactions. There is so much bottled up in this woman with contradicting morals who is fueled by patriarchal ideals, and Blanchett brings these competing emotions to the surface for us to see, but subtly and briefly, conveying multiple feelings all at once.
You do not want to take your eyes off of her in a scene lest you risk missing one.
While this episode examines Jill’s role in the fight for the ERA, it highlights the many internal dilemmas within Phyllis Schlafly. A conservative woman—one who is “American as apple pie”—on the opposite side of the fight challenges Phyllis in a deeply personal way.
Phyllis is constantly making concessions and turning a blind eye to anything that might disrupt the momentum of her movement. Alice (Sarah Paulson) voices her concerns about Pamela (Kayli Carter), and Phyllis dismisses it on several occasions. Phyllis lets Lottie (Cindy Drummond) have the vice president position on the Eagle Forum in order to secure her subscribers even though the woman plagiarized Phyllis to begin with.
Jill endures unwanted touching on the regular and must placate these sexist politicians in every situation just to be considered, to be given crumbs. But the biggest concession she makes on this episode is having to work behind the scenes so as not to jeopardize her husband’s chances at being on the ticket with Ford.
He doesn’t even get the job in the end so it’s all for naught.
Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale) makes concessions in a similar way to Phyllis, by putting on blinders. She is clearly disturbed by the stories of secretaries on the Hill, but shining a light on that doesn’t directly serve her agenda at this time—better for her to focus on winning the Senate seat and help them later than to expose rampant sexual harassment now.
She’s making concessions for women as she claims to fight on their behalf.
Bella: When I graduated law school, my mother said, “Wear a hat and gloves. That way, they won’t mistake you for a secretary.”
Shirley: Well, when did the gloves come off?
Later, Bella concedes to Shirley (Uzo Aduba) saying, “We’re all secretaries to them.”
There is a lot happening on this episode, everyone with their own priorities, but there are several stand-out scenes that unify the major themes, especially with the continually strong stand-out performance of Blanchett as Phyllis.
In addition to the well done scene between Phyllis and Jill, there is also Phyllis’ confessional, which is raw and emotional and, frankly, a bit scary. There’s so much about what she fights for that she doesn’t even really understand, and someone who has a fierce passion with very little understanding is a dangerous thing.
Why would God put this fire in me if he didn’t want me to act on it?
What did you think of this episode of Mrs. America? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Mrs. America airs Wednesdays on FX on Hulu.
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