The third season of TV series Mad Men premiered this Sunday; in it, the staff at ad agency Sterling Cooper is jettisoned into 1963.
Oh, what a year it turns out to be: Housewives awaken from domestic stupor when The Feminine Mystique is published; Camelot tumbles; singer Sam Cooke writes his iconic song A Change is Gonna Come, about simmering racial tension in the South.
Mad Men, a show its creator Matthew Weiner has said is feminist, signals the third season’s tone in the opening minutes, when Sterling Cooper’s lone male secretary mutters, “This place is a gynocracy.”
Though Manhattan was a man’s world, the woman’s life is well-explored: they’re passed over for jobs; pre-marital sex makes them “strumpets”; men rape them; they consider abortions.
Consider Christina Hendricks’ account of how viewers reacted to her character Joan’s rape: “People say things like, ‘Well, you know that episode where Joan sort of got raped?’ Or they say rape and use quotation marks with their fingers ... It illustrates how similar people are today, because we’re still questioning whether it’s a rape.”
I chuckled when Joan shows the new-girl secretary Peggy to her typewriter. “It looks complicated, but the men who designed it made it simple enough for a woman to use,” she assures her.
Mad Men was set in a world on the cusp of change, edging its way to free love, desegregation and violent war — but they clung, and still we cling, to antiquated notions. Every generation has its revolution, and ours is now.
It’s Afghanistan, where a law was passed that allows men to starve their wives for denying them sex. It’s a Carleton student, who is suing her school after it allegedly implied she was “asking for” a sex assault by working late at night in a secluded lab. It’s women being interrogated before an abortion.
Mad Men is a mirror, and if we look into it, we will see that our turmoil is as it always has been.