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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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7 “Where the Truth Lies”: Gender, Labor, and “Other” Relationships



“Where the Truth Lies”

Gender, Labor, and “Other” Relationships

Jane Marcellus

In an episode titled “The Marriage of Figaro” during the first season of Mad Men, Don Draper is standing on the back porch of his house in Ossining, a wealthy New York suburb, talking to new neighbor Helen Bishop, who has received an icy reception from the suburban housewives, including Don’s wife, Betty. Not only is Helen divorced, but she is campaigning for John Kennedy, drives a Volkswagen, and, most oddly, takes walks because she likes to.

It is a summer Saturday, and Don and Betty have invited neighbor children and their parents to celebrate daughter Sally’s birthday. In the yard, Sally and the other children busy themselves in the prefab playhouse that Don put together that morning, their make-believe dialogue mimicking what they hear at home:

“You sleep on the couch.”

“I like sleeping on the couch.”

“I don’t like your tone.”

“Take your shoes off.”

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