Mad Men, Mad Women
Is the Past Really Past?
by Kaori Suzuki Fischer
The name of the AMC hit show is Mad Men, but the root of its infectious appeal is clearly its portrayal of women in the workplace. On this Emmy-winning drama set in the sixties, sexism is rampant and most of its main characters stray from their marriages, often in the most cynical ways. Watching it, viewers can’t stop wondering, “Is this the way things really were?”
Jane Maas’ Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the ’60s and Beyond (St. Martin’s Press, $24.99) answers that question. Maas began her illustrious advertising career as a copywriter who succeeded in a male-dominated environment strikingly similar to that of the firm featured in the show. The vivid stories in her memoir, augmented by interviews with many female peers, offer vivid proof that the knee-jerk sexism displayed in Mad Men was often actually outflanked by the bizarre realities of the time.
Of course, the dilemma looming above both this stimulating book and the show is whether workplaces have really changed. As one Washington Post columnist noted, “This behavior is not as far back in our past as we would like to think. Our daughters continually get the messages that power still comes through powerful men. And unfortunately being pretty is still a quality that can get you on the ladder, though it still won’t take you to the top.”
Mercifully, Maas, who is still a very active executive, didn’t write Mad Women just as a cautionary stroll down bygone workdays of three-martini lunches and office escapades. In the midst of some very funny, even outrageous stories, she’s planted food for thought for any working woman or book club group.
Kaori Suzuki Fischer is the community relations manager for Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Melbourne.