Mad (wo)Men.

Dear friends,

I mentioned yesterday I have a new obsession.

Her name, like mine, is Joan. And she and her friends and lovers are a cohort that I can’t get enough of.  You see, I’m mad for Mad Men.

Now I realize Season Five is about to begin and everyone’s abuzz about it. Thing is, I just started watching Season One and I’m only 10 episodes in.

I’m always, always late for the smash-series game. I didn’t starting watching the West Wing until five years after it went into heavy syndication. I caught on to 30 Rock less than a year ago. So I know the whole world had been crazy about Mad Men for a long time, but, hey, I’ve been busy remaking my life.

Anyhoo, I’m absolutely fascinated by the whole thing. I was born in 1962 (two years after when Season One begins). The furniture, the cars, the fashion — especially the hats and gloves and stockings — all seems so familiar and comforting to me,  a welcome dose of my grandmother’s house in many ways. But since I became a young woman after women were liberated, I am stunned, floored, by the portrayal of a woman’s place in that world — that world that has disappeared in my lifetime.

I have a graduate degree. I have executive status. I have responsibility for leading a large team and managing a substantial budget. Thus, I am more like Don Draper than Joan Harris. I’m even lucky enough to come home most nights to a home-cooked meal prepared by a stay-at-home spouse, who’s more than willing to poor me a drink and always asks me how my day was. So I can’t help but thank my lucky stars (and consider it a bit freaky, frankly) that your everyday office evolved from being run by a guy like Don to a gal like me in 50 years. Don’t call me baby, but I guess I have come a long way.

Especially when I watch Joan at work. Man, has she got it going on. She figured out to how wield power long before the world and Affirmative Action gave it to her. I can’t imagine navigating her environment as deftly as she does, while keeping my big mouth shut.  Had I been of age in that era, I can’t help but think I am more likely to have been Midge Daniels, Don’s bohemian mistress, than his wife, Betty.  Though it’s not lost on me that the photos of my supper tables and baked goods, which I plaster all over my blogs and my Facebook page, put Betty’s to shame. I’m just dabbling on weekends, while the Bettys of the world were expected to do it most nights. How in the world did they keep their sanity, the housewives of that era?

And don’t get me started on how anybody else managed, like people of color or anybody else outside the white male heterosexual mainstream. I’m captivated by the portrayal of Salvatore Romano, a gay man locked in the closet. Even the poor divorcee Helen Bishop can’t catch a break toward respectability in Mad Men’s world.

I could go on and on about everything that fascinates me on this show, about the age-old vices — the smoking, the heavy drinking, the infidelity — or the long-lost cultural/technological artifacts — the elevator operators, the sandwich carts, the switchboards, the IBM Selectrics (which, sadly, I’m old enough to have used in my first job). But if you’ve watched the show, you probably know more about it than me.

There’s one thing, though, that hasn’t changed.

“Oh my god” I said last night to Mr. Mom, who hasn’t watched the show with me, “I can’t believe the way the men in the office talk about the women in the office!”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“They’re constantly commenting on the way the women dress and the way they look,” I said.

“Like what?” he said. “Like ‘that woman’s hot and I want to do her?'”

“Yes!” I exclaimed.

Mr. Mom laughed and said “Well, I don’t know what world you’re living in, but that hasn’t changed. That’s pretty much what all men are still talking about.”

Um. Good to know.

With gratitude {for a brave new world that allows women like me to get ahead while being wildly entertained by dramatized cultural dinosaurs, some of whom have apparently survived},

Joan, not-Harris



  1. texasdeb says:

    Geezelle alert: I actually entered the work force towards the end of the time period represented in the show. I remember it all very clearly, and let’s just say many of those memories are not particularly warm or fuzzy.

    Those memories keep me from being able to unconditionally enjoy watching Mad Men, but…
    If that show is actively illustrating for you and other youngers how far women have come (and how well deserved every step of that progress has been!) then I hope the show runs forever.

    That said, it is dangerous to overly glamorize those times – let’s enjoy the great clothes and the wonderful furniture, sure – but please can we leave all the second class citizenry stuff far far behind us? I want better for you, for my daughter, for your daughter, for our sons, for all of us!

  2. My boss said she was a working woman by 1960, so she went through a lot of the same things that the girls in Mad Men go through. It really was another world!! Mad Men, and her stories, are incredible.

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