A Man’s World

My latest television obsession:

“Set in 1960s New York, the sexy, stylized and provocative AMC drama Mad Men follows the lives of the ruthlessly competitive men and women of Madison Avenue advertising…and depicts authentically the roles of men and women in this era while exploring the true human nature beneath the guise of 1960s traditional family values.”

We began watching this series last year after seeing it mentioned at the Golden Globes and I was instantly hooked – it didn’t take very long for us to watch the entire first season and now were caught up with the second season and it’s one of the few shows that I still look forward to watching each week. (Other shows worth mentioning are Weeds and Project Runway and we’ve just started watching the new HBO show True Blood which hasn’t quite sucked me in yet, no pun intended. And I think a new Top Chef is about to start – New York = awesome).

I’m fascinated with Mad Men from a sociological perspective, and am intrigued by the vastly different world that existed 40+ years ago – a world where it was socially acceptable to drink at work and smoke cigarettes in doctor’s offices, where it was the norm for working men to have an endless string of mistresses while their wives spent their days in the suburbs drinking in the middle of the day, smoking their own share of cigarettes while lounging around in a swim suit with a flimsy coverup. Or riding horses in full riding gear, because of course wearing a bikini on a horse would just be ridiculous.

I love books or movies that deal with the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and am impressed with a show that does it as flawlessly as Mad Men does it – you see the scenes unravel and you don’t question their authenticity because you have no reason to. In many ways, Mad Men gives it’s viewers the chances to step out of the present and into the past and you gaze around yourself with wide-eyed wonder. I often find myself wishing that I could have been a young woman in the late 50s early 60s, to have lived in a time where JFK was president and man walked on the moon, when the Beatles invaded and Jimi played guitar and Marilyn Monroe was the epitomy of beauty and sex appeal. I wonder what it would be like to be a housewife, living in the suburbs, talking on the phone all afternoon with a glass of wine in one hand, a cigarette in the other, a roast in the oven and a hired woman at the back of the house doing the laundry and keeping an eye on the two kids plus dog.

I still wonder what it would have been like, and Mad Men paints a picture that makes it much easier to imagine and yet, despite my fanatical obsession with Don Draper and his confidence and smoldering good looks, I wonder if it’s a world that I would want to step back into.

A few weeks ago Tay and I were watching an episode where the advertising agency is working on a campaign and all the execs and all the secretaries get called in on a Sunday to do some last minute work. Towards the end of the day, food gets ordered in and as the execs are helping themselves to the food that has arrived, the secretaries are lined up, chatting and smoking and Tay wondered out loud why it was that the women were standing around waiting and why they weren’t eating. Without even hesitating I pointed out that the women had to wait until the men had finished before they could have their turn. There was the briefest pause from Tay and then he said, “Oh, right.”

For certain; a man’s world.

The idea behind that scene stuck with me long after that particular episode finished, as do other instances in the series where women that work in the office are called sweetheart and asked to mix drinks and are leered at on a daily basis – even the single female character that gets promoted from secretary to copy editor and has her own seat in the board room. In Mad Men, any new secretary is considered up for grabs and spends more time trying to get eager execs off their desk instead of the growing pile of paperwork that they can’t seem to ever get to.

It makes me wonder if I would really want to live in the 60s, if it’s a world I could blend into. It made me think that surely, the age in which I live is a much better place to be. It’s a place where I can have my own office, with my own staff, a place where I can be respected in a board room when I present my own ideas and visions. It’s a world where I can talk and can have people listen.

Except maybe it’s not what it seems.

Two weeks ago I found myself sitting in my boss’s office, and off the record making a complaint about a male colleague of mine who I felt had made inappropriate remarks about me in front of other male staff based on my gender. I was staying off the record because the comments that were being made fell into a grey area for me, and while I didn’t find myself feeling insulted or humiliated, I did find myself feeling slightly awkward but more than that, I saw that the male staff that were witness to the comments were obviously uncomfortable.

Their discomfort made me uncomfortable and led me to take a step back, to reevaluate what was said and to question if there was an underlying current that I had perhaps not allowed myself to see previously.

I sat in my boss’s office and admitted that I didn’t know if I was being over sensitive, that I didn’t know if I should even be saying anything to her – but then the more we talked the more I realized that the comments that were made about me were not okay.

It’s not 1960.

I told my boss that I didn’t want to have to feel uncomfortable coming to work in a skirt and stockings and high heels. I didn’t want to be leered at and second guess whether what I was wearing was tasteless or not (especially when I know it’s not – my skirts are never above the knee, my shoes are stylish, I don’t flaunt any more cleavage then any one else, and trust me, that would be easy enough to do). I don’t want to have to deal with male staff thinking that they could treat me the way my colleague did, to say things about me because of my gender.

I look at shows like Mad Men and think how far we have come as a society, and how evolved we are, both in the home and in the office. The role women play both in the house and at work has changed drastically. Or so I like to think.

And then I think maybe I would rather live in the 60s after all, have leering execs draping themselves on my desk and offering to buy me a drink after work. To spend my days in the suburbs riding horses while I wait for my husband to come home and I would make him a drink and ask, “How was your day dear?”

Because at least in the 60s, you didn’t have to think how far you’ve come, only to realize you haven’t come that far at all.

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