I completely agree with Stephanie Coontz below. It’s important for women to fully understand HOW THINGS USED TO BE before we can fully understand how things are now — and why we still, unfortunately, have to fight for things like contraception, choice, equal pay and opportunity, education, etc. I mean, just look at Liz Trotta’s opinions for this week’s unfortunate example of why we still need to fight (there’s a GOP / Fox “News” woman for you!).
GOP presidential candidates like Rick Santorum, who want to impose their religious / social views on the lives of others, are a threat to society and to progress generally, and to women in particular. You don’t have to label yourself a ‘feminist’ to realize we’ve got it better today than they had it in the ’60s and other than white males, seriously, who would want to go back to all that?
“Mad Men’s” authentic portrait of women’s lives in the early 1960s makes it hard for some women to watch. Over the course of its first three seasons, I interviewed almost 200 women from the same era for a new book on the Greatest Generation’s wives and daughters. Many had suffered from the same numbness that plagued Betty Draper in the first season. They had seen psychiatrists who were as unhelpful and patronizing as the one Don Draper hired for his wife, or they had been married to men who displayed a sense of male entitlement similar to Don’s. Those who had worked, whether before or after marriage, had experienced the same discrimination and sexual harassment as the female employees at the show’s ad agency.
Yet to my surprise, most of these women refused to watch “Mad Men.” Not because they found its portrayal of male-female relations unrealistic — in fact, many recounted treatment in real life that was even more dramatic and horrifying than that on the show. It was precisely because “Mad Men” portrayed the sexism of that era so unflinchingly, they told me, that they could not bear to watch.
The rest of us, however, should tune in for a much-needed lesson on the devastating costs of a way of life that still evokes misplaced nostalgia. We should be glad that the writers are resisting the temptation to transform their female characters into contemporary heroines. They’re not, and they cannot be. That is the brilliance of the show’s script.
“Mad Men’s” writers are not sexist. The time period was.
Note: Okay, except for the dresses. I do love the women’s clothes on this show. We could go back to the styles. Nothing else.