In the past few days, I have watched the entire first season of Mad Men and most of the second. In my need for something to take my mind off the life I have been handed, I have become completely addicted.
As I have mentioned, the rampant sexism of the early 1960s is on display as an overarching theme and in every detail of this brilliant production. I've been thinking a lot about the women characters:
Betty (Bryn Mawr) ~ childlike wife of ad genius Don, with her intelligence and sexuality simmering rapidly toward explosion.
Helen (Mount Holyoke) ~ scorned by the neighborhood housewives due to her status as a "divorcee' " and her job in a jewelry shop.
Joan (Radcliffe? BU? I tend to think perhaps the latter on the basis of her roommate's reference to having seen her on the first day of college walking across the "Common" rather than the "Yard," but maybe the writers thought the former allusion would be more accessible to viewers) ~ the office manager with a figure that seems to grow more pronounced with every episode and a pragmatic desperation that enables her to keeps tabs on every type of temperature in the office.
Rachel (Brandeis? Barnard?) ~ exotic (to Don, because she is Jewish) and adult, a businesswoman whose mind gleams with ambition.
Peggy (no college, no husband) ~ whose quixotic combination of innocence, intelligence, and drive are pushing her out of the secretarial pool and into the no-woman's land of copywriting.
The fashions in this "Marilyn or Jackie?" world (one of the running metaphors of the series) highlight both the narrow path each woman walks and the barriers she seeks to circumnavigate:
Betty ~ form-fitting bodices and full skirts, breasts and waist accentuated and hips hidden under the petticoats of a little girl, the madonna of her era.
Helen ~ pencil skirts marking a return to the dating world and cardigan sweaters a nod to her status as mother of two.
Joan ~ full figure molded by armoured undergarments and poured into her clothing, exuding her own confusing and distracting blend of office professionalism and blatant invitation.
Rachel ~ elegant suits and elaborate hairstyles, the businesswoman who longs for genuine love.
Peggy ~ the wardrobe of a young adolescent trying to figure out who she is and where she belongs, hiding the reality of a pregnancy she could not believe in and an ambition equally mystifying to her.
Who would I have been?
Peggy, I suppose. When we were a year into Mount Holyoke, one of my friends and I decided we should drop out and go to Katie Gibbs, where we might learn to type and thus become actually employable. We harbored no dreams of finding husbands in the cool elegance of Boston office buildings, however; our plan was to make enough money to head for British Columbia and some kind of adventurous outdoor life. Like Peggy, we were somewhere in the middle ~ uncertain about who we were, dissatisfied with the role models of the past, unsure about how to create a different kind of future.
Three years later, I was in law school. I hope Mad Men remains a success so that we can watch how its women veer out of the roles the 1950s seemed to have preordained for them.