Depiction of Working Women in Mad Men.

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Who would’ve thought that a TV show set in 1960 would provide a glimpse of mothers’ lives that’s still relevant today? What’s the cliché . . . the more things change, the more they stay the same?

 

I’ve been spending an hour each week with the new AMC drama “Mad Men,” which focuses on the lives of up-and-coming advertising executives who work on Madison Avenue, and the lives of the women who love and/or work for them. Watching the “Mad Men” characters – particularly the women -- through my contemporary eyes, I started making mental notes of the multitude of things depicted in this dark TV drama that no longer apply to today’s America, not publicly at least.

 

For example, today’s offices and homes are not likely to be brimming with ubiquitous cigarette smoke. Pregnant women don’t tend to smoke or drink alcohol anymore, at least not in the open for fear of getting shunned, arrested or having their sanity questioned. Strangers don’t routinely slap other people’s kids across the face if a child accidentally knocks something over. Professionals of the male persuasion (Michael Scott from “The Office” notwithstanding) don’t tend to blatantly leer at the women with whom they work or make remarks to those women about their clothing, weight and bodies, at least not without the fear of being fired or facing a sexual harassment lawsuit. And, for that matter, women aren’t openly patronized at every turn by being called, “Sweetie” or “honey,” told they belong at home and informed that their “women’s” concerns are petty and childish. Anti-Semitism, racism and sexism aren’t socially acceptable today and aren’t typically expressed in professional realms.

 

But aside from those antiquated “Mad Men” moments that literally elicited gasps for the depth of their political incorrectness throughout the show’s run thus far, there have been plenty of other moments when the beliefs about women and work in 1960 don’t seem vastly different from some of those held today. Forty-seven years later. To determine if my suspicions were on the mark, I recently watched an AMC marathon of “Mad Men” episodes, back-to-back. Here’s what I observed:

 

  • The only women with paid jobs are non-mothers, a divorcee/mom of two and a married woman whose husband was told that the way to convince her to quit her job and stay at home -- as he so desired -- was to “give her a baby.”

 

  • The aforementioned divorced mom of two, Helen Bishop, a Mount Holyoke-educated woman who worked in a jewelry store to support her family, was pitied by the at-home moms. Her fellow mothers derided her as “pathetic,” “desperate” and “sad” because her house was sometimes in disarray when she came home from work and because she made a lot of frozen food for her children, one of whom was thought by the at-home moms to be hurt by his mother’s continued employment. “She’s so selfish,” a neighbor trilled, while attacking Bishop for having the nerve to take walks around the neighborhood (*shudder*) alone.