By: Julie Spoehr
Mad Men, AMC’s award-winning drama entering its seventh and final season, impeccably brings to life 1960s America. While the show primarily focuses on the men working at an advertising firm, perhaps one of the show’s greatest strengths is its realistic portrayals of the women living in this sexist world. This was the world before, with The Equal Pay Act not existing until 1963 and Title IX not until 1972. Mad Men’s three lead female characters Betty Francis (formerly Draper), Joan Harris (née Holloway), and Peggy Olson each embody an everywoman of that time.
Betty at first appeared to us as the typical upper-middle class housewife. We quickly learn that homemaking is not her forte as she struggles with the confines her situation provides. However, in an era where being a mother meant not truly having a career, Betty plays the cards she’s been dealt as best she can. This means when she divorces Don for his cheating ways, she soon remarries because that is the best solution for her and her children. To be a single, divorced mother trying to enter the workplace would have been near impossible for her. Betty provides viewers with an unconventional look at the traditional role of women during the ‘60s, like the women described in The Feminine Mystique (1963).
Joan is the head secretary at the advertising firm and not so secretly rules her domain. In a style reminiscent of a ‘femme-fatale’, she mastered the art of using her femininity to get what she wants. While her looks are often at the forefront of how Joan gets her way, viewers see that it is not all there is to her. She understands what it’s like to be a woman in the corporate world in the 60s, knowing that a detached attitude will help a woman not be undermined by the men. Though progress in the business world has been made for women, the attitude that Joan puts out still holds some ground today.
Peggy exemplifies the women of the time who worked their way into the corporate world and became “career women”. Viewers watch her rise from secretary to copywriter to department head at the advertising agency, revealing the often true-to-form way of climbing the corporate ladder. Peggy is the character least concerned with her looks, instead focusing on using her mind to better her position. Of course, she can use her femininity when she needs to but mostly learns how to take down the men in the best way she knows how, alongside them.
From the unsatisfied housewife to the all-knowing secretary and the rising career woman, Betty, Joan, and Peggy show the struggles of women living and working in an extremely unequal world. All of these women offer a look at the American women’s past and lets us see how far we’ve come and where we can still improve. With the show ending this year, it will be interesting to see how these women’s stories end.
Are there any other ‘Mad’ women you think deserve mention?
Image courtesy of adamr/freedigitalphotos.net
Julie is studying Spanish and English at Butler University. When she isn’t working on her classes she loves reading, watching Netflix with her roommates, and doing Zumba and Pilates.