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Mad Men and Working Women

Feminist Perspectives on Historical Power, Resistance, and Otherness

Erika Engstrom, Tracy Lucht, Jane Marcellus and Kimberly Wilmot Voss

This book was featured as one of thirty-four Epic Feminist Books in Teen Vogue magazine.

This book offers interpretive and contextual tools to read the AMC television series Mad Men, providing a much-needed historical explanation and exposition regarding the status of women in an era that has been painted as pre- or non-feminist. In chapters aimed at helping readers understand women’s lives in the 1960s, Mad Men is used as a springboard to explore and discover alternative ways of seeing women. Offering more than a discussion of the show itself, the book offers historical insight for thinking about serious issues that «modern» working women continue to face today: balancing their work and personal lives, competing with other women, and controlling their own bodies and reproductive choices. Rather than critiquing the show for portraying women as victims, the book shows subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) ways that feminism functioned in an era when women were supposedly caught between the «waves» of the women’s movement but when, the authors argue, they functioned nonetheless as empowered individuals.
By doing so, it provides historical context and analysis that complicates traditional interpretations by (1) exploring historical constructions of women’s work; (2) unpacking feminist and non-feminist discourses surrounding that work; (3) identifying modes of resistance; and (4) revisiting forgotten work coded as feminine.
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3 Mad Men and Reasonable Women: Selling Lipstick, Exploring Workplace Power, and Raising Babies



Mad Men and Reasonable Women

Selling Lipstick, Exploring Workplace Power, and Raising Babies

Kimberly Wilmot Voss

In 1970, a group of women filed a landmark sex discrimination lawsuit against Newsweek magazine. One of the plaintiffs, Lynn Povich, recently wrote a book about the lawsuit, The Good Girls Revolt. In it she related the story of a group of young women employed at Newsweek who in 2006 first learned of the lawsuit that Povich and her colleagues had initiated decades before. They wanted to write about it, and in 2010, after considerable negotiation, the women’s four-page story ran almost 40 years to the date of the lawsuit. The story, titled “Are We There Yet?” cited some Newsweek statistics, noting that in 1970, women were 25% of the editorial masthead. While some improvement had occurred during the past four decades, these women told Povich that much of the sexism still existed today. Povich (2012) began to realize that the 20-something female viewers of Mad Men related to the sexism Joan faces and Peggy’s ambition:

This recognition of sexism in the workplace perhaps explains why this young generation loves Mad Men. I always thought that younger women viewed the TV series simply as a historic costume drama. But they understand that the most compelling part of the show takes place in the office and they relate to that. (p. 200)

Povich is correct in her observation. What makes Mad Men...

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