Cynthia’s Thoughts on Mad Men – Nostalgia it is NOT!

For the past several months, everyone has been talking about Mad Men, now in its third season on AMC.  The show has won several awards and are up for more at this weekend’s Emmys.  This has even led to a comeback of some early 1960s styles and AMC has a guide to the era’s cocktails.  But the 1960s isn’t all fun.  In fact, for women, especially, it was horrible (I am not going to get into ethnicity here.  This kind of 1960s culture existed outside of the west as well, so I’m not going to get into the topic of one is limited to certain jobs because he/she is not WASP.  That is for another post.)

Unlike nostalgic shows like The Wonder Years, Mad Men doesn’t make the show out to be a “I wish things were like the way they were” sort of thing.  Instead, some scenes make you cringe.  Take for example, Betty’s birthing scene on the fifth episode.  If modern birthing scenes scare you, this is even more frightening.  Women in Betty’s period were pretty much sedated – put in what’s known as “twilight sleep” when they delivered.  Basically, you don’t remember what happens while you deliver the baby – you wake up realizing you’ve had the child. 

Let’s look at career.  Almost all of the women on the show have some sort of adminstrative position, with Peggy being the exception.  While many women today are still more likely to be in admin, there are far more options for them.  You aren’t limited to three career choices (nursing, teaching or secretary) in 2009.  In fact, there were even jobs which weren’t open to women at all.  Of course, it was also much easier to move ahead with less training and education – Peggy does not have a bachelor’s degree, yet is able to rise as a copywriter.  There are some at blogs and messageboards for the show who have said that today, someone like Peggy, would likely be in the admin pool for her entire career (some have gone as far as saying that she won’t get past mail clerk – that is not likely, since she went to secretarial school (administrative programs still exist at many community colleges)).

There still a lot of people out there who look back to the past fondly.  They say that we spend too much time on our jobs these days (which I have to admit is true – my Blackberry is ALWAYS with me) and that we don’t spend enough time with family.  However, I’m not sure I’d want to live in a time period where I go into labour one minute and find myself with a baby the next.  I’m also not interested in living in a time where my career is limited because of gender.  Things weren’t better then, and this show definitely illustrates that.