Category Archives: Feminism

Mad Women

by Devin Mainville

The road that women have taken though history has been a bumpy one, to say the least. No other show has amplified that more profoundly than Mad Men. Obviously, by the time Mad Men starts up (in 1960) many of the big battles in the women’s movement have been fought. Women have had the right to vote for forty years, are allowed to go to college and even hold jobs outside the home, yet as Mad Men shows us, these opportunities are greatly wasted.

The three main women on Mad Men, Betty, Joan and Peggy, represent the different phases the women’s movement experienced in those changing times. Betty is the housewife, a housewife literally created from the pages of Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. She has been raised in the middle-class with no expectations other than to marry and be a mother. She finds the handsome football star and does exactly that, yet her unhappiness is evident everywhere from her shaking hands to her ever-present glass of wine. She blames Don and resents her kids because she doesn’t know where else to direct her anger. Now, into her second marriage and still as unhappy, she is starting to realize the problem may lie in her situation, just as many real housewives in that decade discovered for themselves.

Joan lands on the fringe of the women’s movement. She is certainly far more comfortable with herself than Betty is, yet she isn’t that much better off. She is a working woman, but only as a secretary, a job far below her capability level. She also has been told all her life to desire marriage and children and so she has, but now that she finds herself in a marriage you can see her longing for a better life in the office. She knows that she runs that office and yet she still is not respected because she is a woman in a seemingly less important job.

Peggy is the women’s movement dream. She has worked her way up using her brains, not her body and she now holds a title with power and respect. She is a working woman in every sense of the word, including being single and alone. She sacrificed a family, literally, for her job and while the work satisfies her more than a relationship, she is conscious of the life she gave up.

The predicament Peggy is in echoes the situation women find themselves in today. The daughters of those unhappy 60’s housewives grew up knowing they wanted to put down more than “housewife” in the occupation blank, so they set out to take over the working world. There was a resurgence of women’s rights in the 70’s and women entered the workforce in droves. They fought hard to get equal pay and be respected for their merits, to be held to an equal level as men. And, in many ways, they were.

They left the kitchens, but they couldn’t leave them forever. People still had kids; there just wasn’t anyone around to take care of them. Enter the idea of “having it all”. Now suddenly women are expected to work, to have ambitions and goals for herself, as well as keeping a house and raising a family. We have left behind the dull, listless life of housework not in exchange for a life of high-powered business and fiscal responsibility, but for the idea that we should have both.

Women are still diagnosed steadily with depression, anxiety and emotional disorders. Children are being raised by everything from nannies to television sets and men still, on average, make more than their female counterparts. So, how far have we come? We have gone from one extreme to the other.  Now it’s time to meet in the middle.

Devin Mainville is a writer across many mediums and hopes to cover many more in her career. Her work as been featured in the Columbia Chronicle, PopMatters.com and many other outlets. She began pursuing a career in journalism, but was frustrated by the unbiased views required in that industry. She is now majoring in Television: Writing and Producing at Columbia College Chicago so that someday soon she can force her aesthetics and opinions on the world.

The Ladies Room

by Adam Gasperoni Riddle

For as dated and politically incorrect the time of Mad Men is set in, the show also takes place in the perfect time for change. The 1960s were the time of JFK, MLK, the Vietnam War, Stonewall riots, the formation of the Weathermen, etc. The 60s were a time when change scared many people to hold onto their roots even tighter, while others sought out change as a necessary tool for American survival. Many movements were at the forefront of this notion, and they are dissected in the characters and story lines of Mad Men.

The show is known for its serious and strong depiction of women, and the reasons and reactions of the women’s civil rights movement has always been apparent in the series. From the second episode, “Ladies Room,” Matthew Weiner lets the audience into the world of the women behind the men. Aptly titled, the episode features many instances where the women excuse themselves to the restroom for a break from the outside world. Betty and Mona excuse themselves to the bathroom where Betty completely loses control of her hands and must ask for help to apply lipstick; Joan and Peggy exit to the office restrooms where Peggy is concerned to see a female coworker crying, to which Joan brushes it off; Peggy later returns to the bathroom to possibly cry herself but sees another woman already doing so, and instead regains her composure. (The depressing confines of the ladies room can be seen yet again in “The Suitcase,” where Peggy is no longer able to remain stoic.)

The ladies room is a cage for women. Disguised as a discreet getaway for women from any stressful or convivial situation, it is really a designated place for them to put their emotions. Should they lose grip on any sense of composure, they excuse themselves to the ladies room, and “break down” there, until they are ready to go back out into the world with a smile on their faces. The naturalness and ridiculousness of this is seen in the way Mad Men’s women need so much more in life – so much more happiness, stability, comfort, help, friendship, respect. But they don’t get any of this so they have to find a secluded space to deal with it on their own.

The entire series is a hotbed of reasons why the women’s civil rights movement is so necessary and so important to talk about. One of the most painful but accurate lines of this season is in “The Good News” when Greg seems unfazed by the possibility of going to Vietnam, and while trying to calm Joan, she says to him, “Because it’s not your problem too?” Men were the active gender of their time, and the women were the bearers of burdens. Most recently seen in season four’s “The Beautiful Girls,” the show finally turned the tables and looked at what it means when a woman defines a man. With Peggy’s reaction to Abe when he patronizes her desire for attention on women’s civil rights, or Faye’s testimonial on how it wasn’t a failure to choose a career over children, or Sally’s uneasy growing up into an abrasive womanhood, (even this season’s unapologetic lesbian character, Joyce), the women’s civil rights movement can be seen in every nook and cranny of the show. These women, these beautiful girls, are seen as rebels to the mold of society and force the men around them to do a second take; when in actuality, they simply represent the unending spectrum of what it means to be a woman.

The women of Mad Men are not rebels. They are women.

Adam Gasperoni Riddle is a sophomore film student at Columbia College Chicago. He spends all his free time watching Mad Men and wondering how he can grow up to be Joan Harris.