Did you see the wonderful last episode of Mad Men? As one who has followed the show for all its years, I have to say that it ended “perfectly”. A few episodes back, I was really wondering how it could ever be wound up to a satisfying conclusion. But Matthew Weiner did it!
Here’s my perspective: I began practising law in 1973. I had graduated from law school in a class of 130 students where exactly ten percent of the class were women. And we thought that 13 was a big number. Fortunately, the job market for lawyers was pretty good and so I practised law for almost thirty years. What were the relations between men and women in the profession during those years? Very much like what has been portrayed on Mad Men.
I have to say that the television show got it right! Over those years, women’s status was precarious to say the least. Time and again, they were bitterly resented by many men who did everything they could to undermine women as professionals in the workplace. They were denigrated in sometimes clever, amusing and subtle ways but more frequently in ridiculously crude ways. Mad Men shows the changes in women and men at work.
Go back a generation. My mother, who was a teacher, had to retire the moment she became married in 1938. The generation of women in Mad Men [working in the late nineteen fifties and early sixties] didn’t have it much better. The expected role of women was marriage, raising children and keeping house for her husband. Possible work? Retail, nurse or teacher.
Let’s look at what happened in Mad Men with three of the most central female characters, Betty, Joan and Peggy.
Don’s first wife, Betty, represents the starting point—the 1950’s housewife trying to make a perfect home and family which of course is an impossible task. You might hate her as a mother, as I did, given the way she treated her children. But you could understand how she was who she was. A woman—no, a child herself— who was furious with the repression and the low esteem men had for women. But she did try to fill the role of mother and housewife.
But Peggy! She’s the new woman. Right from the beginning you could see she was about to kick over the traces and fight her way in a man’s world.
So what happens to Peggy? How does she change? I think this picture says it all! In one of the last episodes, she’s moving to McCann Erickson the mega-ad firm.
Don’t forget Joan. So beautiful and sexy that she had every man wanting her. And that would suggest she would have some power. Which she did but only on that level. Her story is one of frustration whenever she attempts to move beyond supervising the secretarial pool. The price exacted for rising up the ranks is steep. She earned her partnership at Sterling Cooper by agreeing with the men to sleep with a client. You may be disgusted with the client but he wasn’t the only one. What about the partners who happily prostituted her?
Here’s Joan at the new ad agency trying to maintain her authority in the new order. The man in this scene is making it clear that he’ll be a great help to her in her climb up the ladder provided she sleeps with him. Just when she thought she had some power, it all comes down to sex.
But several seasons earlier, Betty Draper has begun to change. It’s like watching cracks rip open the street before the full force of the seismic quake strikes. You can see the cool and calculated release of anger in the video where she starts shooting pigeons. In part it’s a story about the women’s movement and the growing assertiveness which was necessary to survive.
You can see the growth of the women’s movement and the growing assertiveness which was necessary to survive. It all happened! I only hope that at least in some ways it is better today.
Did you live through that time? What’s your story? Please leave a comment.
Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice; and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the newly released and final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing. Presently, The Drawing Lesson is a Wattpad Featured novel which you can read in it’s entirety right here Wattpad.com