Friday, November 18, 2011

riffing on the feminine mystique and mad men

Fueled by a review of  the book The Feminine Mystique on the blog I Will Dare, and my own thoughts on who I am and what I'm doing with my life these days, I grabbed Betty Friedan's seminal feminist call-to-arms, The Feminine Mystique from the library.

In 1938 they were asking what women think

It's a tad dated, but no matter whether you completely buy into Friedan's theory, which is supported by some narrow, yet damning, research of content in American women's magazines, it is undeniable that her finger was on the pulse with what was happening with American women in the late '50s, early '60s. She described how magazines' depiction of women was the opposite of progressive. Women seemed to have far more choices and independence in the '30s and '40s — unabashedly career-oriented, full of ideas and adventure (think classic screwball comedy heroines like Katherine Hepburn or Rosalind Russell) vs. the '50s domestic goddess, who lives only for her man and home (scores of TV moms like Mrs. Cleaver, Brady, etc.) The "new" image of woman as housewife-mother had been largely created by male writers and editors ...
"As young men returned from the war [WW2] ... The new writers were all men, back from the war, who had been dreaming about home, and a cozy domestic life. ... There was a new kind of woman's editor or publisher, less interested in ideas to reach women's minds and hearts, than in selling them the things that interest advertisers—appliances, detergents, lipstick. ... The formulas themselves, which have dictated the new housewife image, are the product of men's minds."
Here in a nutshell is why I could never get into Mad Men and don't get the love. It, and The Feminine Mystique, describe my mom's generation. Mad Men glorifies exactly what is pissing off Friedan. And no matter the characters of main character Don Draper's ex-wife Betty, who may be an illustration of the '60s American woman in Friedan's book, or the contrasting, forward-thinking Peggy, Mad Men continually glamorizes Don Draper. Even if it tries to touch on some of the issues of sexism, at its heart it's a man's story, perpetuating those same post-war misogynist attitudes, under a haze of "so bad they're cool again" clothes and styling and politically incorrect omnipresent cigarette smoke.

After reading Friedan it seems to me that we haven't come a long way, baby. Not nearly far enough. Mad Men is telling the wrong story. But do today's career-women, who don't even have the choice their mothers did of whether to work outside the home - in the present economy everyone works, maybe even multiple jobs - even get beyond the sleekly styled cool, the fact that Don Draper is hot? Do they even want to? Are today's women even as liberated as flappers?
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