Tag Archives: Feminism

The Women of ‘Mad Men’: An Essay

[So, admittedly, I had wanted to write about Dexter today, but I am simply not going to have time. In short, finale is good, but I have some serious issues with the season as a whole that keep my from joining the hype train. However, I can offer you the following: it’s my Lit. Theory essay about ‘Mad Men’, one of my favourite series of the year, and recently nominated for two Golden Globes. I wanted to throw in a couple of YouTube videos here and there to spice it up but there’s no time; so, it’s just 2800 words of me intellectually rambling! Enjoy!]

From a twenty-first century perspective, the 1960s present a strange and foreign environment in which social interaction was defined by an entirely different set of rules. Man Men, a television drama from Matthew Weiner, takes place in the world of advertising during an era where smoking is natural and where segregation defines African-Americans as ‘the help’. While these social issues are used to locate the show within this specific time, largely remaining unchallenged within the show’s narrative, the presentation of women within Mad Men is a more deconstructive element. The series presents two women, in particular, who find themselves intertwined with this fast-moving world dominated by male figures: Peggy, a young secretary turned copy writer who struggles with her weight, and Betty, the wife of the Head of Creative who is defined by her domestic role. The series may be focused on an industry and a time period where the role of women was marginalized, but it represents an opportunity for the show’s writers to emphasize how this marginalization impacts these two women in particular.

Specifically, the daily activities of the Sterling Cooper agency are particularly worrisome: the discourse of advertising speaks to all audiences but is written and created almost exclusively by male writers. This environment provides a fertile ground for an investigation of the role language plays in reaffirming or challenging the patriarchal order. Peggy’s attempts to break into this industry may provide the most extensive representation of feminist literary theory within the series, but Mad Men also emphasizes the level to which phallocentric discourses bleed into the life of a young wife struggling to come to terms with her own identity. Mad Men is not a feminist television series, as its dedication to realism keeps either of these characters from emerging in defiance of all their unfair treatment. However, that attention to realism allows the series to demonstrate the level to which patriarchal discourse was dominant in life and language during this period, historicizing this period of feminine experience.

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