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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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6 In Defense of Betty: The Role of Gender, Motherhood, and Social Class for Homemakers



In Defense of Betty

The Role of Gender, Motherhood, and Social Class for Homemakers

Kimberly Wilmot Voss

In 2010, the women’s organization the Junior League posed a question on its website about a Mad Men character: “Is Betty Draper a Role Model for Today’s Women?” The women’s organization, of which the fictional Betty was a member, then goes on to recognize its more esteemed real-life members. Those women included mayors, congresswomen, and chief executive officers—all known for their accomplishments in the paid workforce. The group never answers its own question. Of course the better question is, “Was Betty Draper a role model during her time?” The answer to that question is a complex one. She certainly was no June Cleaver, and her treatment of her housekeeper can be cringe-worthy. In fact, the Huffington Post named Betty one of the worst characters on television in 2012. (Although it is worth noting four years earlier, the Huffington Post ran a story titled “Everything I need to know I learned from Betty Draper,” which included her better qualities.) Yet, if Betty’s work within the club world (and later in the female-dominated Weight Watchers group) is considered, then yes, she may well have been a role model for women of the 1960s. Further, the gendered limitations of her time mean that her role as a middle-class homemaker should be reconsidered.

Hating Betty Draper is too easy. For the most part, she can...

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