I love the show Mad Men, and am amused that Sally Draper and I are about the same age. Nostalgia is not my reason for my being such a fan. Rather, the storytelling is great, the characters are complex, and the narrative is compelling.
We baby boomers thought we invented sex. Don and company prove us wrong. We thought women were treated primarily as sexual objects and had a hard time getting ahead professionally, even if they were smart and capable. Peggy and Joan prove us right. We thought that our mothers didn’t do very much at home (I still wonder about that) and Betty shows us what the consequences of that can be. And, in the Mad Men world, and my own world at that time, the only mother who was “working” did so because “she had to.” Many of the rest of us, like Betty’s family, had “Negro maids” to do the housework and child care.
Ladies, this is the world into which feminism was born.
The June 10th edition of the NY Times’ Style Section had a fascinating article about a “real Peggy,” Mary Wells Lawrence, a woman who started out as a copywriter and went on to found her own, very successful ad agency. She claims that the show is “great fun” but “not really about the ad world of the 60s.” She comes across as smart, creative, driven and ambitious–if any woman could start her own successful advertising firm, it was Mary.
Only incidentally is it mentioned that Mary soon married her most important, and very rich, client. Oy, Peggy!
Another major figure of the day mentioned in the article was Jane Maas who wrote a memoir Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue and Beyond. She became the creative director of Ogilvy and Mather and the article quotes her saying that, “her priorities were career first, husband second and children third and that she would feel the same way if she were starting again today.”
And Ms. Lawrence, who adopted two daughters who she “saw only on weekends” in one of her four houses (it seems the kids stayed put somewhere and flew each weekend to be with mom and dad) is quoted as saying, “I think women who spend the most productive years of their lives nurturing children are unhappy.”
Yikes! I am actually shocked!
I’m not sure what is most shocking–that she felt that way? That she was brave enough to say it? That maybe lots of women felt like that? That maybe only the relatively few rich, successful women felt like that? That maybe some people shouldn’t have children if they don’t want to spend at least some of their “most productive” (and, yeah, coincidentally, most fertile, years) nurturing children? That that sentence is one of the most horrifyingly judgmental, patronizing things I’ve ever read? And what came fourth after the children?
Did any of my friends feel like that? Do you or any of yours?
In this situation, what kind of life do the children live? How do they feel about their parents and themselves? Ms. Lawrence’s daughters were “split in their reactions,” according to the article. One, a stay-at-home mom, “had been more conflicted,” the other, “bore no resentments.” (Sorry, I just can’t help it: Yeah, right!)
Well, I do hope it worked out for all of them, truly. But I think kids need to feel like they “come first” most of the time. I think flying every week to a different home to see your parents for two days is really asking a lot from a child. Kids need their parents–they need them where and when they, the kids, need them. What kind of parent can you be if you see your kid two days a week? How can a child feel “parented,” especially if there is no other parent present a good part of the time?
Did Ms. Maas feel more fulfilled, doing things like what Peggy started to do in the season finale–figure out how to market the first cigarette developed for women? And how does she feel about her role in creating a consumerist, materialistic culture in which one’s job is to convince people to buy things they don’t need or are harmful?
(And to be honest: Am I so unsettled because she worked in advertising, or would I feel the same if her remarks came from the mouths of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Meryl Streep, or Hillary Clinton? )
Did those Peggies think about how their desire to make it in “a man’s world,” a professional world, affected their children?
Lord knows the young readers of Kveller are obsessed with that issue–to their credit.
To read more about the issues of feminism and working mothers today, hear from the accidental stay-at-home mom, the mom who just quit her job, and the feminist mother who stayed at home.