Thursday, February 2, 2017

What Were We Thinking?

It was perfect timing. Feminism had been the subject of my reading. Our dinner was ready and the remote control was in my hand. We surfed Netflix. We saw Mad Men. We'd never seen it before, but we'd heard of it. 

"Let's watch this one", I said. So, we sat back, enjoyed our nachos and introduced ourselves to the world of Mad Men: The early 1960s business world of Madison Ave.

"Oh! I love this time period, let's watch it!" Wow! Everything I had just read about feminism and American gender ideology was unfolding right before my eyes in this television show. It was perfect!

Portrayed on the screen before us, we saw how men used women for, on the surface, their secretarial skills. It's how the world worked. The behavior was accepted. Any secretary-school graduate would drool over the opportunity to make a buck in a New York City high rise like this. The scene was typical of the era with rows of women typing at their assigned desks outside of their bosses closed doors. Each woman had a boss and each boss had a woman, it seemed, in more ways than one. Peggy, the new girl, was introduced, had a mentor, and was given tips for success.

These tips were essential, not only to succeed in the office, but to survive in the office, and in the politics of daily chauvinism. The chauvinism was played by both men against women, and women against women. The girls enjoyed their positions, it's all they knew during this time in history when few women competed in this male dominated world above the city. They knew how to play the game and they played it well. Their state of the art technology was a peripheral element to the dominant theme of the series: disappointed promiscuity (and many of the characters didn't realize their disappointment).

The saga was riddled with infidelity and hegemony. The families of the men were introduced before the affairs were known, however the home lives of the secretaries were not disclosed. The viewer didn't know if the secretaries were married or not (it was fairly clear that Peggy was single) which made their personal lives insignificant. These scenes not only normalized infidelity, it made the secret exciting. The hegemony in this series was shameless. Hegemony of men over women, and hegemony of head secretary over subordinates. But of course, male dominant hegemony won over a woman's authority.

On the surface, Mad Men is a fun series to watch, and admittedly, it can be addictive. The wardrobe, make-up and set design are attention getters which makes it fun to watch, and each episode has enough themes to keep one's attention, but almost everyone of those themes depicts male chauvinism and hegemony. It is easy to see that the emotional drive in the women's march on January 21 of this year, was rooted in a lifestyle that is no longer accepted, but that still remains to a certain degree. 

"This show is really cute!", I said as I ate my last nacho. A few episodes later, after the characters were developed, both my husband and I decided we weren't interested in the after hour liaisons, nor were we interested in the blatant male dominance over women. However, after analyzing the purpose of this show, I could see how much we can learn from the over-emphasized gender issues that showed how drastic the inequality was during this time in history. We can see what was once the social norm, and we can learn what not to accept in the present era.  I'll end with another phrase describing this same era: "What were we thinking?"

1: Do you allow yourself to watch shows that are aesthetically pleasing, but normalize things of which you disapprove?

2: What behaviors do you still see in our society today that were depicted in this series?

1 comment:

  1. I haven't seen this series before, but from the way you described it, I still see some of the sexist or feminist problems that are presented in this movie today. It makes me feel that in some respect we haven't come as far as we'd like to think we have. One prominent behavior that is depicted in this series that I think is normalized today is the infidelity of men. I have mixed feelings on this regard because I think that because of movies like this women don't give men the benefit of the doubt in certain situations but it also makes it seem okay for men to go out and have affairs.

    I do see myself watching movies just because they are aesthetically pleasing. I realize that things I may have seen 10 years ago and not liked are now normal and seem okay in a sense. I used to have such a hard time with sexuality and swearing in movies, but the more I watch movies with that kind of stuff in it, it seems more and more normal. I think the media has made it hard for some people to separate reality from fiction. The more and more someone watches something it is like it conditions and trains them to think a certain way.