My husband once went to a party and Mad Men got brought up. One lady chimed in and said she didn’t watch Mad Men because she didn’t want to promote the anti-feminist messages being portrayed. While I do empathize that Mad Men can have many uncomfortable moments and maybe even some triggering scenes, I fundamentally disagree with the idea that Mad Men is anti-feminist. In fact, despite the very anti-female sentiments of the era, Mad Men champions and empowers women in very powerful ways.
Gives us a frame of reference
Mad Men is full of adultery and misogynistic ways of thinking. Don Draper has slept with over a dozen women and counting on the show, despite the fact that he was married for much of the time. While Draper is portrayed as mysterious and alluring, he is also obviously flawed and troubled, and his sexual addiction is one of his many faults. While some may see Mad Men as glorifying these misogynistic ways, it also profoundly illustrates how damaging those perceptions were. This drama shows how far we have come, as well as how far we still need to go.And that sort of comparison is imperative when identifying how we can move forward.
Women Get Along
One of my guilty pleasures is watching Celebrity Apprentice. I say guilty because much of what happens on that show is admittedly trashy. And something that seems to happen season after season (with the exception of this very last one) is that the men’s teams seem to have it fairly together, while the women’s teams always tear each other down and ultimately fall apart. While Celebrity Apprentice isn’t a great representation of women as a whole, I think it does do a disservice to people watching that show to see only destructive female groups.
Mad Men on the other hand shows female coworkers who can strongly work together. That’s not to say that they don’t have disagreements, but their disagreements seem to be tied directly to issues they are facing, rather than women feeling territorial and defensive when another women enters the room. Peggy mentors Megan and is genuinely disappointed when she decides to leave. Joan and Peggy often work side by side, giving each other feedback and working together for a common goal.
Peggy Has It Her Way
Let’s just get it out of the way. Peggy is going to be on this list a lot. She is one of the powerhouse female leads of this show, and not because she is a perfect person. Far from it actually. And it’s actually her flaws that make her so relatable.
Elizabeth Moss, the actress who plays Peggy, said in an interview “Peggy was incredibly flawed and naïve and sort of stubborn, and she was not some sort of martyr of feminism. She was incredibly flawed, vulnerable person, which made you identify with her.” She goes on to tell Sirius XM that “I think it’s what we can do now and embrace as women now: You can be strong and smart and a feminist. You can also be soft and feminine and vulnerable. You can be sexy and be a feminist. You can just be yourself and be a feminist. If you believe in equal rights for men and women, I don’t understand how you could not be a feminist. I think that any true feminist would say it has nothing to do with women being better than men... It’s about equality, that’s all.”
And Moss’ words actually go hand in hand with Peggy Olson’s character. She has one of the biggest transformations of the show. At first, she is a naïve ditz who has no idea what is happening in this giant New York world. Then she realizes she has some talent and brains, and just keeps fighting from there.
Though she is often under the shadow of the creative genius Don Draper, she eventually finds it in herself to come up with ideas that she can rightfully claim as her own and that she can sell just as well, or even better, than any other man in the agency.
The Peggy Vs Joan Dynamic
Joan is a huge fan favorite. She is extremely attractive, confident, and powerful. Yet her power comes at a price. She consistently uses her sexuality to get her way, whether it’s her position at the company through Roger Sterling, or the Jaguar account and eventually a partnership in the company by sleeping with one of their client’s executives.
Peggy on the other hand has to fight her own way to the top, in the same way (but with many more obstacles) that men do. She has to work hard and late, pushing her creativity to the limit, never settling for less.
Both of these women work hard and can do their jobs well. But when it comes to climbing the ladder, Joan ultimately uses sexual appeal to rise above, and it comes at a price. Harry Crane openly berates her accomplishment because it is tainted.
Peggy’s rise is slower and finds it hard to ever rise above the other men. She is often pushed aside, with men presenting her work to clients. Eventually, her work and talent become so undeniable that she is given the right to conduct presentations. Her achievement, while slower, is earned without compromise.
It Passes The Bechdel Test
There are many female leads in this show, with a dozen other female side characters. So when the women are around each other, they actually have conversations that don’t revolve around the men in their lives. Women have just as many rich and fulfilling goals that don’t involve men, so shouldn’t their conversations reflect that? In Mad Men, it does. The women on the show talk to each other about their children, their careers, their dreams, their hobbies, and dozens of other subjects that don’t make it seem like they are the love-crazed, men-obsessed gender.
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