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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mad Men & Mad Women

Excellent essay by Julia Baird in Newsweek about the circumstances of women during the 1960s and the way they are portrayed in the TV show. Some highlights:

. . . The years that preceded the onset of the second-wave women’s movement were marked by a strange kind of private violence and turmoil. While suicides were still rare, between 1960 and 1970 the number of American women who took their own lives increased by 32 percent. More commonly, there was a deep frustration, restlessness, and resentment many women tried to articulate to spouses, doctors, and therapists—as Betty Friedan put it, a “problem that had no name.”

. . . I often wonder, as we watch another gripping season of Mad Men, now set in 1965, why it isn’t called Mad Women. In the early 1960s, men’s rebellious or indulgent behavior may have been destructive and odd, but it was seen as normal, or at least explicable, while women’s was stigmatized or pathologized. And these women are getting mad. We can see the beginnings of the women’s movement in the flashes in the eyes of the female workers, lovers, and spouses—the hurt look on Don’s secretary’s face when he gives her an envelope of cash for her Christmas bonus the morning after he slept with her. We see it when Joan throws a box of roses at a boss she thought had professed his love for her, crying, “I am not your darling.” She hates, she says, being made to feel like “a helpless, stupid little girl.” And we see it in Peggy’s regret and loneliness as she lies in bed with a man who thinks he “took” her virginity.

. . . Mad Men is set on the cusp of a time when anger becomes rage. When women realized they weren’t insane, or hysterical — they were mad.

. . . . All this is worth remembering because in so many abstract, judgmental debates about women today, we forget the madness and acute frustration of generations past—as well as what remains the same. . . When Mad Men’s women hear Monroe has died, they grieve. Joan tells Roger: “This world destroyed her.” In a way, her death in ’62 marked the end of a time of mute, tragic victims and the beginning of an era when women began to speak, loudly, and refused to be the strumpets and “stupid little girls” too easily dismissed, or destroyed, by the world. Today feminism is scapegoated for many ills and depicted as anti-mother. We forget how much, in fact, it helped keep our own mothers—all of us—sane.



Blogger Mad Men Girl said...

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10:27 AM  

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