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.