TW: Mention of abortion.
"It was the seventies!" Rose squawked, her hackles rising.
All Ivy wanted was an easy answer. An easy answer to a simple question so she could finish the assignment and get back to her life.
But now, Rose and Ivy glared at each other from across the kitchen table, claws out. Marilyn, not at all prepared for the role of mediator, slunk toward the archway that led away from the battleground and into the safety of the living room.
"Mom!" Ivy whined. "Are you hearing this?" Rose swivelled her chair to face her daughter. "Yes, Marilyn. Tell us how you're such a liberal."
Marilyn froze. As soon as her daughter started bringing home seemingly effortless A+ grades in her political science class, she knew this time would come.
"You know how I feel about politics. Within the family, the topic should be off limits. Like religion and football." Marilyn said this without turning around; she hoped it would be enough to release her.
"You're not liberal?" Ivy asked, her voice drowning in disdain.
"Of course, she's not! For such a smarty pants, you've sure missed the mark." Rose couldn't help herself. "What does your father do for a living?" She asked, slowly, as if speaking to a child with a learning disability. Ivy scrunched up her face.
"I know Dad's conservative. But Mom, she's an artist! No artist can possibly be a fucking Republican."
"Watch. Your. Mouth." Rose said, in angry staccato. Marilyn knew there was no untangling herself from this web. The time had come; she'd reached the cliff's edge. Now she had to, somehow, bridge the divide between the generations that held up her life from each end.
"Things have changed since the seventies, mom." Marilyn said, her voice barely above the timbre of a kitten's first mew.
"Well, no doubt they have. The country is overrun by immigrants. It's PC gone mad. Men are marrying each other! Did you know I can't even say 'master bedroom' anymore? It's absolutely ridiculous. And dear Phyllis died last year, didn't you know? God rest her soul."
"Phyllis Schlafly?" Ivy spat the name out as if it tasted of acid.
"Mrs. Schlafly is the reason I am who I am today. Young lady, you'd do well to take a page of two from her playbook."
"Wait a minute." Ivy said, a lightbulb pinging into life above her head. "You knew her?"
Marilyn let out a long, slow breath. Here we go.
"Ivy Rose, your namesake ran the campaign."
An entire weather system moved through Ivy's face. She looked at her mother in disbelief. Marilyn met her daughter's intense gaze with a sort of resigned apology.
"No." Ivy said, correctly interpreting her mother's look. "This is gold." She turned back to her grandmother. "While I cannot, in good faith, support your backwards views, I have a feeling I've hit the jackpot on this whole 'interview your grandparents' assignment."
Rose huffed. "I will not answer any of your questions if you refuse to give the movement the respect it deserves."
Ivy took a deep breath; this would be the biggest challenge of her year—to stay cool enough to dissect this atrocity at such close range.
“Okay, grandma. When you say you ran the campaign, are you talking about the campaign against the ratification of the ERA?”
Her tone gave Rose pause. Was her snowflake granddaughter actually getting inquisitive about this? Maybe the tides were turning. “Yes,” she said, not wanting to offer up too much right off the hop.
Ivy’s eyes were wide and filled to the brim with a sort of interested repulsion; like she was walking by a fatal car wreck and couldn’t unglue her eyes from the death. “Okay, wow. How did you get involved?”
Rose’s hackles softened, if only slightly. “I went to college with Phyllis.”
Ivy stayed quiet, using the tried-and-true therapist tactic to keep her grandmother talking. It worked.
“She was the picture of a woman ‘having it all’. All these feminists preaching about equal rights—Phyllis got a Masters in Art and a Doctorate in Law! And she had a family. The dichotomy is an illusion. Women can have it all—Phyllis was a prime example. Really, her and the feminists were on the same side.”
Ivy stayed quiet just a moment longer, to see if her grandmother would continue. She didn’t.
“Okay. Yeah, I can see why you’d admire her,” Ivy glanced over at her mother who was now standing statue-still in front of the sink, pretending to be busy with dishes when it was clear she was doing nothing but eavesdropping. “But don’t you think her professional ambitions were a contradiction to her political agenda?”
Rose sighed. “You’ve been reading Gloria Steinem, I see. Well, someone had to go to work for the cause. She was an incredibly intelligent woman and one capable of organizing. She went to bat for the common housewife. What did Steinem ever do for women?”
Ivy took another long, slow, deep breath. “A lot, actually. But that’s not what we’re talking about. No one was trying to demolish the rights of the housewife. Feminists only want one thing—”
“Equality?” Rose interrupted. “Equality would have stripped them from their benefits, shirked them of their privacy, and sent them off to war!”
“Phyllis fucking Schlafly went to war, herself!” Ivy exploded, making Marilyn turn around.
“Ivy! If you want this conversation to go anywhere, you need to have some respect. Take those filthy words from your mouth.”
Rose looked at her granddaughter with such a smug smile, it took every ounce of Ivy’s willpower to recapture her cool.
“You’re right. She did go to war. What does that mean to your argument?”
As Ivy inhaled, she wondered if there was enough air in the world to get through this. “It means she was a hypocrite.”
“Why?” Rose prodded. Because she took an opportunity that was presented to her? Isn’t that what you feminists are all about?”
Ivy’s brow furrowed so deeply Rose wondered if she was going to lose it into her forehead. “Okay, okay. I get what you’re saying. Schlafly wanted to protect the rights of the housewife. But what about the housewives who rallied against her? Feminist housewife isn’t an oxymoron. A woman can be both.”
Rose paused, and Ivy wondered if it was because she’d made a good point, or if her grandmother was using the air as a moderator, too. “The Equal Rights Amendment was an attack on the family unit.”
Ivy had to physically restrain her eyes from rolling. “There are plenty of feminists with families. Up until today I thought my mother was one of them.” She said, tilting her head to implicate Marilyn.
“I am a feminist, darling. I’m just not radical about it like you. Extremism is damaging on either side of the spectrum.” She came to sit down at the table, rubbing lotion into her hands.
“What’s radical about fighting for equality?” Ivy asked of her matriarchs.
“Legalized abortion is radical,” Rose said, holding up her hand to silence the visceral reaction forming on Ivy’s face. “Equal pay for equal work, I can get on board with. But the thing is, no woman who wants a family can possibly do equal work.”
“Okay, I have to know. What is it with you republicans and abortion? Why does it matter to you so much what young women do with their bodies?”
Now it was Rose’s turn to lose her cool. “It’s murder,” she spat the last word out like a fly had flown into her mouth.
“Okay, okay. We know you two are never going to agree on abortion. Can we steer back to the equal pay conversation? That’s much safer ground.” Marilyn had officially taken on the role as moderator.
“No! It’s my duty to at least try to get it through her thick skull that forced pregnancy is more murderous than abortion is!” Ivy decided there was no point in trying to keep calm anymore.
“Abortion is murder and that is that. We’re done here.” Rose stood up so quickly she knocked over her chair.
“Real mature, grandma.” Ivy taunted as Rose stormed from the room. “Guess what? I had an abortion last year!” She yelled, causing Rose to turn on her heels and stare with livid judgment at her granddaughter.
After a pregnant pause, she muttered just above her breath, “Enjoy hell,” and left with the thunderous slam of the front door.
“I hope you’re happy, Ivy. I hope you get a great mark on your assignment,” Marilyn said before following her mother out of the house, her words acting as a hose, hoping in vain to extinguish the fire her daughter had lit.
“Oh, mother dear, I think I will!” Ivy yelled after her, before taking her own storm to her writing desk. She began to type.