Posted by: littlegirlyone | October 28, 2008

mad men

i watched the first episode of mad men last night. i had heard good things from more than one person whose opinion i trust. i heard from my dearest girlfriend that the show might even turn me on.

i probably should have been wary of such lofty expectations. i wasn't at all turned on. i felt sick. the sexism. the antisemitism. the episode turned my stomach. i mean, it's obviously incredibly well-made, and the look and feel of the screen, the world they've created, that is a thing to be praised. and, i will say that i found the prominent feature of more than one sexy, voluptuous woman was refreshing. but when we turned off the tv, both mark and i felt like we'd been watching somthing extremely distasteful. in fact, i think mark's exact words were "well, i feel violated."

i not only felt violated and a bit sickened. i was outraged! watching that show, seeing the way that the women were treated, i just couldn't believe it. i wanted to believe that this was all just over-dramatization for the sake of tv. sure, i expected to find stay-at-home wives and secretaries. i did not expect every woman to be constantly derided for her physical appearance. i did not expect the totally uncomfortable scene where the "new girl" goes to the ob-gyn to get a birth control prescription, and is warned that she ought not become the "town pump" to raise the $11/month it would cost her.

the show is well-written and well-made. i'm sure i will continue to watch it. i'm not sure i will enjoy it, but perhaps it will be a jumping off point for me to further consider my feminist ancestry. when my mom talks about how she wasn't allowed to wear pants to school, i sort of laugh it off as quaint and old fashioned. i never considered how humiliating it would be to have the men around you treat you like an idiot!

* * *

i wrote the above last week, having only watched the first episode. having watched a few more, i see now that the first episode is somewhat unique in its overt, offensively sexist tone. i know realize that different episodes are told from different characters' points of view, and the first episode is largely told from the point of view of a young secretary on her first day at the ad agency. i can see now that the entire show is not about deriding women (although they do patronize them an awful lot). the show is about the psychosis of the early sixties. the show is about a specific time and place, and the way characters learned to thrive in that time and place.

i suppose we are all products of our generation. it is blindness to imagine that there aren't some current-day practices that will shock and appall my descendants. and, i like that the show is focused on recreating the time and place with all its imperfections. nearly everyone smokes, constantly. the women are treated like dumb, pretty, armcandy. the men are stressed out, and usually seem completely overwhelmed by being the "man of the house." fratty egomaniacal behavior is pretty much the norm. this isn't the "vintage" world i imagined. there is no romance in this stifling, smoky realm. in a way, mad men made me seriously question a long-held opinion of mine: that i would have been happier had i been born at another (earlier) time.

i so appreciate my modern life. i appreciate that i can choose to work (or not). that i have a partner who treats me as his intellectual equal (in fact, mark thinks i'm one of the smartest people he knows, and often wonders if he is smart enough for me, bless him!) i appreciate that i don't have to battle comments about my figure and my clothes, my hair or makeup (or lack thereof), or choice to eat lunch alone at my desk. i am happy that the term "hostile work environment" is generally understood, and completely socially unacceptable. i do not wish i lived in a world where an overweight, ugly, boorish toad could lord such power over my economic survival that i would have to put up with, or give into, his advances.

but it is strange that this tv show that so aptly captured the patronizing, over-protective tone that i often imagine, did not similarly capture my fantasies. meaning, one would think that a girl whose sexual response is quite often triggered by patronizing would sexually respond to scenes with girls being patronized. but i haven't felt so much as a twinge of heat throughout scene after scene of such behavior. i haven't once been turned on. quite the opposite, i've been enraged.

this leads me to wonder whether i only feel excited by being on the receiving end of such treatment. but, i suppose that when i think about someone talking to me like that in real life, that didn't know about my submissiveness, it also turns my stomach. if my boss, or someone else in my workplace said something unprofessional about my appearance, i feel quite confident that i would report it. i can't imagine that i would like it. i think it would enrage, embarrass and humiliate me (and not in a good way). so that leads me to believe that i can only enjoy this sort of treatment if its consensual, at least impliedly.

i suppose at the end of the day, it does come back to consent. those women in mad men, my feminist forebears and their mothers and the mothers before them did not consent. the world thrust its social constructs upon them, and they accepted it with as much grace and dignity as possible. i can imagine that some women liked that world, and that some women saw its problems and accepted them. but i am ever so eternally grateful for the ones who looked at that world, saw it for the horror it was, and decided to change it. because without those women, how would i ever have the luxury of "choosing" to indulge in my own fantasies.


  1. hi chicky.i’ve been watching it too, and i didn’t start until after i heard your impressions of that first episode. but my response was more forgiving than yours. i *have* been turned on by the patronizing treatment. the first episode was a little much, but i still liked it. i wonder what that means? i think if i am on the receiving end of that kind of treatment, i do feel a little bit aroused, even if i know there are no pleasure-inducing motivations. i mean, i get mad too, but i also like it.that said, i too am quite glad for the feminists that paved the way for better things for us. because as much as i fantasize about it, i don’t know for sure that i would enjoy falling victim to that kind of society. if there was *really* no way out, would i like it as much? maybe, but i’m not completely sure.

  2. Great post! I’ve watched Mad Men from the start, and I almost stopped watching after the first few episodes because it depressed me so much. I love it now, especially because the women are so strong and have the best story lines!I think what happened in the 20 years after Mad Men really impacted the development of my submission. After the oppression of the early 60s, women in the 70s and 80s were told that they could do everything and be everything – perfect mothers, desirable wives, serious businesswomen – without giving up anything. I grew up with that optimism that anything you can do I can do better. But I also felt the crushing pressure of being the perfect every woman. By exploring my submission, I have been able to put down some of that burden at times and explore my vulnerability. It doesn’t make me weaker though, like those poor women in Mad Men who have no choices. It has made me stronger and more empowered by making those choices.(By the way, I don’t blame feminism for this pressure to be superwoman, but society’s inability to adapt to change as a result. How can a woman be a full-time mom and a full-time employee if her husband doesn’t do housework? Or if she can’t get family leave time?) Anyway, sorry for the rant! I was just so provoked by your thoughtful post that I had to share. Best,Kitten

  3. The set designs and costumes are great, and they really seem to capture the era they represent very well, but the acting and story lines leave much to be desired.catch all episodes from here Watch Mad Men Free

  4. The set designs and costumes are great, and they really seem to capture the era they represent very well, but the acting and story lines leave much to be desired.catch all episodes from here Download Mad Men episodes

  5. Hello! I’ve been loving your writing; such a treat!I also like your views on equality and power exchange.Im about to get some writing done about the gulf area / arabia… a lot of what you were saying about treatment of women still rings true over here… I’d love to suggest a trilogy of books for you to check out (if you havn’t already) about life for women in Saudi Arabia – the first book is called “princess” by Jean Sasson… great insight into the plights of Arab women.I’m living in the United Arab Emirates at the moment, and one of the thing that shocks me is how some of the women here ASSUME their ‘subservience’.Sure its a cultural thing for Arab nations to have this view, but there is much progression in terms of women’s rights.I only bring it up because of your take on Madison Avenue hay days of the 60’s. . . ummm.. I think I digressed a little there…. haha, anyway, Kudos for the writing.. great stuff!

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