Mrs America’s Prosthetic Feminist Memory: The ‘Discovery’ of a Cool Feminism for Postfeminist Times

Presented by: Dr Marg Henderson and Dr Anthea Taylor (USyd)

Date: Friday 10 September 2021
Time: 12–1pm
Location: Online via Zoom 


Abstract

In the conclusion of her study of feminist history in popular culture, Dana Heller called for feminists “to seize aggressively onto and restock the cultural memory banks” to counter a historical amnesia and a retrograde historical revisionism bedevilling feminism in popular memory (2002, 97, 96). The Emmy-nominated FX on Hulu television drama Mrs America (2019) is a major attempt to do this restocking in relatively culturally hospitable, but politically difficult, times. Across its nine episodes, Mrs America offers a new televisual rendering of American second-wave feminist history, refracted through the women who mobilized for and against the Equal Rights Amendment (hereafter, the ERA), and one woman in particular, Phyllis Schlafly—the series’ eponymous anti-heroine.

This paper examines the series as an example of a televisual feminist prosthetic memory—a mnemonic device that supplements, counters, and is a phantom spare rib for feminist and non- or anti-feminist cultural memory alike. We are particularly interested in the impact of postfeminism as context of production and reception for the tropes and devices mobilised to make this phantom limb. Today I discuss the ways in which the series constructs (or maybe discovers?) a cool feminism for contemporary times in its casting, production design, and retrofitting of contemporary feminist and postfeminist themes and ideologemes. As such, the 1970s American women’s movement receives a makeover, providing a cautionary lesson about cool in the present, and expressing implicitly and explicitly modern American feminism’s debt to African American women and its part origins in the Civil Rights movement.


Presenters

Margaret Henderson lectures in literary studies in the School of Communication and Arts; Anthea Taylor teaches in the School of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. They are authors of Postfeminism in Context: Women, Australian Popular Culture, and the Unsettling of Postfeminism (2019).


 

About Research Seminar and Workshop Series

 


School of Communication and Arts Research Seminar Series

The research seminar and workshop series occur each semester, each with a different topic and guest speaker from UQ or otherwise.

Friday, 11 March
12-1pm

Online via Zoom

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