Mrs. America on Hulu is exactly the kind of prestige television drama I’m looking for. It’s well costumed, it’s well written, and it’s got a stacked cast that includes the likes of Uzo Aduba, Sarah Paulson, a deliciously vile Cate Blanchett, and, most importantly, Rose Byrne wearing what can only be described as definitely a wig.
The show details the dangerous and (mostly) true to life legacy of Phyllis Schlafly, whose opposition of the ERA and radicalizing of conservative, white women across the country makes for great television and a sad reminder of how the ripples of her impact on politics are still being felt today.
Schlafly was anti-choice, homophobic, and decidedly self-interested to the point that she was willing to sacrifice the rights of all women for the sake of her own success. She was, quite literally, not a feminist, which is why an interview with Variety, in which Rose Byrne appeared to call her the quintessential feminist, seemed so out of place.
Phyllis Schlafly has passed, but if you could sit down with her, what would you ask her?
I feel like you wouldn’t have to ask her much, and she would just take the reins and start to talk, and talk, and talk, and talk. She had some uncanny ability to talk and not draw breath … six kids, a law degree, a marriage, an activist to the anti-fems. She was a first-rate feminist. Absolutely. [Laughs] Talk about an independent woman.
It seemed more than a little out of the ordinary for Byrne to come out, guns blazing, declaring Schlafly a feminist, and as it turns out, it was. The interview, initially given on Variety’s podcast The Big Ticket, and then transcribed for the article, appears to have left the sarcasm with which Byrne delivered the statement on the cutting room floor.
Variety initially doubled down on the out-of-context quote in a since-deleted tweet when they first shared the article on Twitter. The Rose Garden, or Byrning Bush (I’m just spitballing here, I don’t know if Rose Byrne fans have a name), was quick to jump to her defense and point out, as is so often the case, that tone did not translate across mediums, and that she was clearly being sarcastic.
Not to invoke the ire of the Byrning Bush (I’m partial to that one, I think), but, sarcasm aside, I didn’t particularly enjoy Byrne’s comments about Schlafly’s gay son being a surprise twist, or a test she had to overcome.
And she ended up having a gay son.
I know. What a great twist, right?
It just took my breath away. That’s the ultimate test for somebody like her. How do you manage that? How can you keep that under your control? You can’t. It’s huge. It is Shakespearean. Exactly. It’s that dramatic scale. You couldn’t write it.
I don’t love the idea that anyone, even in jest, thinks that a gay kid being born to a homophobic parent is some kind of Shakespearian irony or moralistic reckoning to be dealt with. It’s true, I guess, that you couldn’t write it, but that’s only because it’s a kind of trauma that is all too real for the people who’ve had to experience it.
In lighter news from the interview, it looks like Byrne is dealing with social distancing in pretty much the same way the rest of us are.
But then in true Byrne comedic fashion, she doesn’t miss a beat when asked how she’s staying sane at home. “Just alcohol, drugs [and] porn,” she cracked.
And with that, I’ll happily take my place back in the Rose Garden (ugh, I really can’t’ decide) and continue to think fondly of Byrne and her Gloria Steinem wig forevermore.