Mad Men's Women
Do we all watch Mad Men?
If you don’t, you’re missing out. There is a gaping Mad Men shaped hole in your life. I implore you to fill it. Cancel your dinner plans, pilfer something fleecy and clear out your Skybox. Until you’ve witnessed the subtle genius of this uber polished sixties throwback, you are not allowing your enjoyment of television to reach its full, glorious potential.
For those who are hesitant, I may as well sell it honestly and divulge that Mad Men is, quite frankly, jam-packed with superbly well-dressed eye candy. Whatever tickles your fancy, rest assured, there will be someone for you to gaze at wistfully through the plasma glass of the television, pondering why you aren’t involved in a lifelong, non-platonic commitment with one of the many genetic masterpieces that the show has to offer.
Anyway, let’s pop the aesthetic semantics to one side. My real reason for bringing up Mad Men is because it allows us to take a stroll down memory lane to a time before I existed. Beneath the surface of whiskey-fuelled business in the metropolis and eerily idyllic suburban family life rests searing insight into a period that wasn’t all that long ago. A time when the working world was dominated by men, leaving women the choice to become a) their wives, b) their secretaries or c) both.
The series offers an exclusive, microcosmic glimpse of sixties gender relations in the workplace. In one memorable scene, Don and Roger – two head honchos of the flashy Manhattan ad agency in which the series is based – lounge in the mahogany panelled grandeur of their office, swilling straight liquor around cut crystal glasses. Don turns to Roger, and asks wonderingly, “What do women want?” Roger considers briefly. “Who cares?”
Rather than underscore the familiar points of modern day feminism, Mad Men serves as a classily packaged reminder of the adverse conditions which stirred second-wave feminism to unfurl in the first place. Unless they’re trying to market them a product, the men truly don’t care what women want. My intention here isn’t to demonise the conduct of businessmen half a century ago (too easy), but to commend the plight of the fictional working women in the series. After all, their hardships echo the struggles of the real women who had the nerve to try and carve their own space for success in a man’s world.
In order to wriggle their way onto the career ladder, the working females of Mad Men have to employ a level of strategy, patience and resourcefulness that I sincerely hope no one in today’s society would be forced to use. These are women who have no choice but to do what they can with what they’ve got. And they do it their own way. As one ambitious woman tells another early in the series, “You can’t be a man. Be a woman. It’s powerful business when done correctly.”
As we bask in the residual glow of our 42nd International Women’s Day, I am pleased to say (albeit to no one’s surprise) that things are looking up. The workplace for women is a far cry from the sixties hub of sexual harassment and dismissive assumptions about our capabilities. Our ideas have value. Our career choices aren’t limited by our gender. Sure, there’s room for improvement – but seeing as regression isn’t an option, the only way is up. As for Mad Men, I stand by my recommendation. I’m still not sure why it speaks to me so much. Maybe it’s because half the show’s writers are women.
Credit – Clare Toner