‘Mad Men’ is charged with being inherently misogynistic under the disguise of retelling stories of sexist sixties. How true is this accusation, let’s unravel.
Don Draper led ‘Mad Men’ was chillingly sexist, misogynistic, and suffocating on every episode count. Here’s looking back at the show, which claimed that all the misogyny viewers were seeing was the reality of the time they were depicting. So, let’s find out whether their claims are true or not.
- Writers of ‘Mad Men’ blame the era
- 5 misogynistic ads from the 1960s that vindicate ‘Mad Men’
- Is ‘Mad Men’ propagating secretly held unacceptable views about women?
Writers blame the era!
‘Mad Men’ from its very pilot episode was sexist, anti-Semitic, overly masculine, and debauched.
Women on the show were depicted as beautiful and sexy and were only there to please the men. One very important fact that can’t be ignored about ‘Mad Men’, when analyzing their intention, is that the show was female-dominated when it comes to the writers on the board. Interestingly, Seven out of nine writers were women. According to the writers board, they were concerned about showing real American men and women during the Kennedy/Eisenhower era.
On being questioned if ‘Mad Men’ might be rekindling sexist attitudes, one of the show’s writers Erin Levy steadfastly defended the show stating, “The times were sexist. The show is not”. She claimed that the writing room debates were mainly focused on character development and storyline. And, their focus was not on incorporating gender equality or sexism in every episode.
The writers blatantly presented the thoughts and attitudes of people towards its women, just as it was, during those times. The working women of those times were different from today’s women. We should not expect the contemporary sense of equality from them. Though the second wave of feminism started during the late sixties, its effect didn’t penetrate into the thoughts of common Americans that early.
5 misogynistic ads from the 1960s that vindicate ‘Mad Men’
According to the writers, rampant sexism depicted in ‘Mad Men’ was actually typical of 1960s America. Many connoisseurs of history contradict their argument, saying it was the same time the second wave of feminism started in America.
To settle this debate forever, we went through some of the ads during the fifties and the sixties. Advertisements often play with the sentiments and preferences of the people. These ads helped us take a sneak peek into the attitudes towards women during the sixties. These ads prove that feminism has been just a coating on the surface.
Mainstream America was undoubtedly very sexist, which makes ‘Mad Men’ look innocent. Have a look at these ads.
- Alcoa Aluminum’s ad from 1953 reads, its bottle caps open “without a knife blade, a bottle opener, or even a husband”. How bluntly the ad challenged the mechanical aptitude of women!
- Van Heusen ad from 1951 said, “Show her it’s a man’s world”. It clearly celebrates women’s place in the mind of men and in the society in those times.
- This ad from 1963 claimed, “The most important quality in coffee is how much it will please your man”. The ad clearly wants to put forth the fact that pleasing a husband is all women are supposed to do in her life.
- This cigarette ad from 1967 says, “Cigarettes are like women. The best ones are thin and rich”. This Silva Thins cigarette ad objectifies women by comparing them to cigarettes. No amount of justifications can hide the fact that women were regularly belittled for not fitting into certain beauty standards.
- This ad from 1970 says, “It’s nice to have a girl around the house”. The ad is simply deplorable. It tries to show women, their place. Yes, they want to say, women are like a carpet! She belongs at men’s feet.
Is ‘Mad Men’ propagating secretly-held-unacceptable views about women?
Through the course of the show, we are served with sexist jokes, chronic philandering, and office parties, where executives are eager to know what colour panties their secretaries are wearing.
But when Don Draper says in the very premiere episode, “I won’t let a woman talk to me this way”, it’s not funny. It is more revealing of the truth of the times. The show helped the viewers see the real picture of the time.
The show was never meant to be a feminist interpretation of the era. Because it was more focused on reality. The writers of ‘Mad Men’ claimed that it was a period fiction. The above-mentioned mainstream advertisements of famous brands of the era cement the fact that the American society, in those times, was overtly sexist. ‘Mad Men’ was just a sad depiction of the era.
Austen’s or Dickens’s adaptations openly smell of misogyny and racism. We forgive these writers because the writers were living in the times they were writing about. On the other hand, ‘Mad Men’ is written in modern times. Does that make a difference? Yes, it does. Because many times modern writers use dark histories as a means to propagate secretly held views that are unacceptable in current times. Similarly, ‘Mad Men’ can be charged for being a vehicle for the expression of attitudes unacceptable today, but still secretly held. But as made evident through these ads, it seems unlikely.
We can form innumerable views, but would never get an accurate answer to this question. Do you blame ‘Mad Men’ for being sexist? Drop your thoughts in the comments box below.