First, let me make this clear: I’m a big fan of the Emmy-winning AMC series Mad Men.
That said, I go through a veritable buffet of reactions during each episode – fear, loathing, fear AND loathing, and occasionally PTSD. The PTSD and the fear/loathing are inextricably intertwined, due to the fact that I started my sojourn in the workforce in the mid-70s, when the captains of industry exemplified by Sterling, Cooper, Draper, and the rest of the boyz were running the show.
On Madison Ave., Main St., and everywhere else.
Being an XX in an XY world – the ’70s – meant dealing with behavior exactly like what was on display in last Sunday’s episode of Mad Men. All my bosses back in the day presumed that I was in the workforce to land a husband. And they assumed that my presence in their world meant that I was a perfect candidate for Bedroom Romper Room as pre-marital training.
I was still in college, working a part-time job, when a boss cornered me in the supply shelves and told me to put out, or get fired. Had he been less Aldo Ray and more Henry Fonda, I might have gone for it. He wasn’t. I was fired, and overjoyed about it.
The early days of the sexual revolution essentially amounted to guys assuming they had a right to hear “yes”, but grrlz had no right to say “no”. Starting in the late ’60s, and going up to – and through – the Age of AIDS, it was a never ending grope-fest. Seriously.
I was working in an ad sales division of a major broadcasting network by the late ’70s, serving a sentence as a secretary in exchange for NYU Film School tuition. (A rockingly fair deal.) The sentence-serving piece came from most of the guys in the office, who clearly believed that we office grrlz were there for their amusement, delectation…and occasional dictation.
I thought about that as Don groped Allison, his secretary, on Sunday night. I found myself wondering when Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex & The Single Girl came out – 1962, so I was right to hear an echo.
This past Sunday’s dark Christmas party Mad Men took me back to the Christmas party the network sales division threw in ’79, where I was forcefully propositioned by no fewer than 7 execs, all married, all drunk, all entitled. I managed to evade their desired result, but still felt like Allison did when Don handed her two crisp $50 bills – a whore.
I was putting up with bad behavior in exchange for a paycheck. Not a lot of alternatives at the time, more now but still not utopia.
I watch Mad Men with a strong sense of history, and that PTSD I mentioned before. Joan, Peggy, and Sally are the most interesting characters in the show, as far as I’m concerned. I worry about all of them, because I know what marriage for the sake of marriage does, what it feels like to sacrifice a personal life to a career, and how childhood hurts can morph into very bizarre behavior.
I’ll keep watching. And I’ll keep worrying. And I’ll hope that Joan becomes an account exec, that Peggy starts her own agency, and that Sally grows past her dark side…
That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it…