Mad Men : : Angry Women

Mad Men is over and I, for one, am relieved. It was painful for me to watch. In fact, I never could fully engage, but rather had to watch facing away from the screen and doing something else (like Solitaire). You see, I experienced much of the crap that the women of Mad Men dealt with. I am an engineer. I was the only woman in my graduating class and, for nearly the first decade of my career, the only technical woman amongst all my male colleagues. The challenges the women of Mad Men faced may seem exaggerated to today’s viewers, but they are not. Women who entered the male worlds of business or technology were either treated as girls or sexualized, or sadly both, all to diminish their significance and deny them of their personal power. But this essay is not about women’s liberation, and ultimately neither was Mad Men. It is rather about the equally important, and largely neglected, subject of men’s liberation.

There is a plethora of analysis and commentary on the meaning of Mad Men, and particularly of its ending. Most of the commentary swirls around the ambiguity in playing the Coke commercial at the end as Don chants om on the hilltop by the sea. They ask if that alludes to Don returning to advertising and creating a seminal anthem of the era, “It’s the Real Thing”. But I find the scene and the conclusion of the series completely unambiguous.

Throughout my career I had to face the constant labeling as a “women’s libber” (though I don’t know why that should be considered pejorative). From the start I met those remarks with the response, “No, in fact, I am a person’s libber.” In the midst of the challenges I was facing as a woman in a man’s world, I saw that the men needed liberating as much as the women did. The 60s and 70s were not just about liberating women and about civil rights. They were about challenging all the hard-wired social expectations and social beliefs. And among the most deeply held beliefs were that a man must marry and have a family and that he then was solely responsible for the health and success of that family. In treating women as children, men became the only adult in the marriage relationship and in fact in society in general. It was entirely up to them to meet the demands of ever-increasing expectations. (In Mad Men this traditional approach is depicted in the relationship between Peter Campbell and his wife.)

One of the fallacies in all discussions of equal rights is the underlying assumption (fear perhaps) that we are in a zero-sum game. And perhaps that is one reason I did not buy on fully to the rhetoric of women’s lib. Much of it was fueled by angry women who were as intent on retribution as they were on opening the doors of opportunity for women. But it’s not a zero-sum game. Increasing women’s power doesn’t necessitate decreasing men’s power. When we diminish others, we diminish ourselves.

We stand only to deepen the richness of the human experience by allowing all to participate fully. With each alternate perspective that we include, we enrich our mutual understanding of life and its mysteries.
Coming Soon:

The Social Upheaval of the 60s and 70s

The Disillusionment of the Late 70s


Add yours →

  1. Nadia, I have not seen Mad Men, but your post is so well wrought I don’t need to. All your points are spot on, and I truly believe this piece deserves international attention.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Let’s see… I’ve learned that an impressive education is not the cure for ignorant behaviour. I also find that a lot of women are not aware of their rights and how to assert them without putting men on the defensive. As for me, I want to be comfortable saying, “these types of men are horrible” and have an honest conversation about what I want without acquiring a label and certainly without disparaging every other man. x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your incisive comment! I’ve already been cautioned by a couple friends, who are commenting off line, that I am oversimplifying a deeply complex and charged subject. And I fully agree with that. But sometimes small pieces help people put together larger pictures.
      I agree with you completely. I do not excuse horrible behavior and do not believe it should, in any circumstance, be accepted. The one thing I am always on high alert for is exactly what you allude to, and that is the label that stops the discussion. I really appreciate your blog because you strike a great balance. You assert your own power without depriving others of their power.
      There is a huge amount to discuss here. And maybe I’ll find a way to tease out small pieces of the conversation at a time.
      Thank you again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Let’s keep the discussion going. I am also wary of people trying to censor me, so I’m going to support you in this endeavour. Arriving at a deeper understanding takes time and several approaches. I’m in the pond.

        Liked by 1 person

      • This is such a difficult subject, with so much sincere emotion behind it. I am not at all certain where this will go, but if we could create a quiet place where all views could be aired without censorship of anyone, maybe we can add to our larger understanding of what’s truly behind this all. Maybe.
        Thanks for wading in.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree that the censorship is an issue. There is always a feeling of vigilant others hovering. I started a blog so I could avoid that. I hope that this new space will work for you, too.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Odysseus navigating between Scylla and Charybdis.


  4. I also have not watched “Mad Men” but I certainly experienced the sixties (mostly in the UK) and seventies (in the USA). While I spent my entire career in a male dominated technical industry I did not, generally, experience overt discrimination or sexualization. I have thought often about this and wonder if I ” escaped” because I was in research. I was an enigma, particularly in this country but during my undergraduate work in physics in Britain I don’t think that sex was noticed. So, I believe this complex issue is not just about men and women but is very much influenced by culture and the social values to which children are exposed. That said, equal rights remains an aspiration not yet realized. There are many women in this country who do not wish to be “liberated” because the commensurate responsibilities are perceived to be undesirable. Similarly, I suspect that many men are content with their lot and liberation is not an identified goal. Furthermore there is not a universal recognition of the value of allowing all people to realize their full potential. This is sad not only for each individual but for the loss of their contributions to society. I look forward to your next post!


    • You have raised at least five issues that I did not even touch in my post, Susan. More evidence of my over-simplification. 🙂
      Thank you for sharing your experience.
      I can only hope we can arrive at a place where there is a broader understanding of the larger benefit to society of allowing all people to realize their potential.


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