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Mad Men ​Inspiration to Feminists

In the 1960’s sexism can be described as an epidemic. Joan Crate states “The form of

misogyny that asserts itself after World War II when women are fired from running the Allied

world and sucked back to the home or steno pool is defined and illustrated by the ad execs, and it

portrays men taking control by (often literally) stepping on, spanking, and sermonizing women”

(Crate 64).​ ​Mad Men​ does not praise sexism but instead it captures the sexism of the 1960’s.

This makes ​Mad Men​ a feminist show because it accurately displays the hardships women of the

1960’s endured and neglecting to include these hardships would be an injustice to women who

fought and are still fighting to be equal with men especially in the workplace, for example Peggy

Olson.

Advertisements from the 1960’s are proof of the prevalence of sexism in the 60’s. In

episode six of season four, ​Maidenform​, the realistic Playtex campaign (19.45-21-22), is based

off the males’ misogynist misconception that all women desire to be Jackie Kennedy or Marilyn

Monroe. The scene begins with Freddy opening Don’s office door. Freddy, Salvatore, Ken, Paul

and Peggy walk in a single file line into Don’s office. Peggy follows behind the men and her

being last shows how the male coworkers she competes against always try to place her at the

bottom of the hierarchy. This emphasis of Peggy’s inferiority stems from her coworkers fearing

her potential rise to the top, especially since she is a woman who began at the bottom as a

secretary.

Freddy, Salvatore and Ken sit on Don’s couch while Peggy sits in a chair adjacent to

Don’s chair. Peggy sitting adjacent to Don makes her appear as Don’s partner and certainly

superior to her male coworkers. Paul does not have a place to sit and instead stands in between
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the couch and Peggy’s chair. Paul is purposely left chairless because he wasn’t supposed to have

a spot on the campaign, yet to Peggy’s dismay he forced his way onto it. Peggy is wearing a

white colored shirt with a grey dress over. Her white shirt mirrors the men’s white collared shirts

showing how she imitates the men, not women, in the workplace especially since her outfit is a

similar color scheme as the men’s suits.

Paul says “Women right now already have a fantasy, and it’s not going up the Nile, it’s

right here in America: Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. Every single woman is one of

them.” (Weiner) Moreover, Paul and the other men ignorantly believe women’s fantasies consist

only of pleasing men. To categorize women into two categories is absurd. By categorizing

women into these two categories basically says that all women are in competition with each

other as Jackie’s husband had an affair with Marilyn and one type can not completely satisfy a

man. Both of these women have phenomenal characteristics, but that does not mean women have

the desire to conform to the characteristics of one of the two. It is rather an unrealistic

expectation of what men desire women to be because if men are able to classify women into

these two categories it is easier to exploit them.

Paul shows the women of the office to Don as if they are animals in an exhibit. Paul

rudely points at the women declaring “Jackie” or “Marilyn.” Mary Ruth Marotte comments

“Though he never defines what it means to be a ‘Jackie’ or a ‘Marilyn’ exactly, he points to

various women in the office in order to illustrate the ‘Jackie’— the slim, dark-haired, demure

woman who will not be working in the office long because men idealize her as a wife/mother.

Then he points to Joan Holloway and offers that she is the obvious ‘Marilyn,’ serving as the
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vixen/whore idea of male fantasy” (Marotte 37). The women are being viewed by their physical

features, rather than their work ethics.

The camera shoots the “Marilyns” in a certain way to show off their curvier figures. The

blonde woman sitting at her desk is shot using a full shot where her whole body is seen. When

the camera flashes on Jane, a “Jackie” only her shoulders and face are shown. The “Jackies” are

slim in comparison to the “Marilyns” who are curvy. The camera shoots Joan walking at a

medium shot, showing off her curvy figure and is done purposely because that's how the men

view her. Joan is shot for a few extra seconds, as all of the men are checking her out.

All of the men are laughing at this nonchalant objectification of women. Peggy stares at

the men in disgust as they walk back to their seats. Peggy has a stern look on her face and does

not laugh. Peggy’s seriousness is significant as many of the other women would have probably

laughed along with the men, due to the expectation of women to comply. At Sterling Cooper

most of the women comply with the men rather than taking a stand against sexism in the

workplace. Peggy is the one of the few women who does not comply and that shows why she

rises above the secretary role and is considered a threat to her coworkers who she asserts as her

equals.

Peggy attempts to point out the absurdity of this categorization of women by boldly

stating “I don’t know if all women are a Jackie or a Marilyn. Maybe men see them that way”

(Weiner). To Peggy’s statement Paul disturbingly answers “Bras are for men” (Weiner). Paul

says this offensive statement in complete confidence. He flawlessly represents the misogynist

attitudes of men during the 1960’s. Peggy’s opinion is completely disregarded for this campaign,

which is concerning because the product is for females. Moreover this shows how men of the
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time felt entitled to control women in every aspect of their lives because this is a product made

for women and Peggy has no input whatsoever.

Peggy is on her own during the meeting, as no man agrees with her. Sal goes on to say

“You’re a Jackie or a Marilyn, a line and a curve. Nothing goes better together” (Weiner). The

irony of Sal making Peggy feel bad about not falling into one of the categories, since he is a

homosexual who hides his identity. Peggy being a working class woman has many similarities

with the way society outed homosexuals in the 1960’s. Rather than understanding the stigmas

Peggy battles everyday, Sal takes this opportunity to shun her and present her as being society’s

outcast.

Don shows the most respect to Peggy in this scene as he does not cackle as much as the

men when they make distasteful jokes about Peggy’s sexuality. Writing their pitch on a napkin

shows their immaturity and how they do not have to take matters as seriously as Peggy does due

to their white male entitlement as Peggy always presents her ideas on professional poster boards.

Don looks at Peggy because Peggy is Don’s right hand and he she usually has the best ideas. No

man asks Peggy how she feels about this even when she declares the campaign is built off of

misinterpretations assumed by males. If this campaign were to actually get published, women

would see this and assume they have to define themselves as a “Jackie” or a “Marilyn.” Since

this product is made for women, women would assume that the message of the ad is true because

advertisements have the power to mislead the consumer.

Peggy is a working class woman so the men see her as sexless because the majority of

women in the 1960’s were confined to being secretaries or housewives. Peggy is aware she is

neither a Jackie or a Marilyn so she questions the men which women she is characterized by and
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the men respond with “Gertrude Stein” (Weiner). When Peggy first began working at Sterling

Cooper the men lusted over her but as soon as Peggy began working her way up from the bottom

position of secretary, her intelligence and work ethic frightened the men as she became their

competition. Peggy is beautiful but she does not let her gender define her work ethic. Joan

encourages her to dress sexier but that never works for Peggy.

In this episode Peggy does take Joan’s advice and dresses sexier when she attends the

strip club (43.32-45.09). Peggy looks gorgeous in an aqua blue dress tied together with a bow

that has diamonds on it. Peggy is showing off her shoulders and cleavage, which is not typical

for her. She wears her hair down as opposed to her ponytail. She is wearing red lipstick and large

earrings. In comparison to the stripper, Peggy’s outfit looks childish. Paul smiles when he sees

her but that reaction lasts briefly as the men quickly are back to being mesmerized by the

stripper.

Pete gives Peggy a dirty look for multiple reasons. He has previously confessed his love

for Peggy and now she is sitting on another man’s lap so he is envious because men on the

1960’s felt as if they owned the women they slept with. Pete is wearing a tie color similar to

Peggy’s dress which shows that these two former lovers still have a connection. The more

significant reason is that he fears Peggy taking his job. Seeing her play up her appearance

worries him because she is unstoppable. She has the looks to add to her work ethic and Pete is

worried she is going to use her looks to her advantage. Since she is a woman in a male

dominated workplace, her success is often attributed not to her hard work but rather for example

sleeping with Don Draper, although this is not the case whatsoever.
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However Peggy’s facial expression shows that she is extremely uncomfortable. When she

stares at Pete she looks out of place. She looks at Pete, who is giving her a vicious look, for a

moment and then looks down. By looking down she looks weak but this is due to her being out

of place. Also she is forced to sit on a pervert’s lap so that is adding to the painful

uncomfortableness. She awkwardly fixes her hair. This situation represents her at Sterling

Cooper as she endures these awkward scenarios daily since she is a woman in a male dominated

misogynist environment.

Perhaps her uncomfortableness is due to her wearing revealing clothes and a lot of

makeup that she does not usually wear or the atmosphere as a whole. By going to the strip club

she is forcing herself into the man’s world. Peggy is the one of the only women in the crowd,

except for the waitresses. Peggy is frustrated the men exclude her from their after work plans

because they often discuss work matters and leave her out, for example her having no say on the

Playtex pitch. Her male coworkers were shocked to see her there, probably because she showed

up uninvited and it is a bold move for her to join them.

Peggy showing up uninvited to this male dominated environment shows her

determination. The men made fun of her by calling her “Gertrude Stein” but rather than letting

her be discouraged she does not let that get to her. Peggy is resilient which is necessary when all

odds are against her in the workplace. Emphasizing her resilience is her birthing a child and then

snapping right back into work, despite all the ridicule she faced for being overweight. Peggy

faces extreme adversities in the workplace but she conquers them all and single handedly

desegregates Sterling Cooper because she is the only women to work alongside the men rather

than under them as a secretary.


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Like the men received pleasure from categorizing the women into “Jackies” and

“Marilyns” they find it entertaining to watch the stripper show off her body. However the

stripper is willingly choosing to show off her body to make a living but for the many secretaries

at Sterling Cooper they are forced against their will to be objectified to keep their jobs. For

example, when Kenny tackles Allison to the ground in season one episode two “Nixon vs.

Kennedy” to reveal the color of her underwear. This puts into context the hardships and barriers

Peggy battles daily in the workplace. Peggy is trying to gain control in a world where women do

not even have consent over their own bodies, never mind her leading the company.

Watching Peggy fight for her success in the workplaces encourages women viewers. In

Peggy’s workplace and even some work environments today sexual harassment is common and

typically accepted. Mary Beth Haralovich quotes Jennifer Allyn a manager director of

PriceWaterhouseCoopers, “Peggy’s struggle to find her voice and be treated as a professional is

inspirational.’ Allyn sees in ​Mad​ ​Men​ the reminder that ‘profound cultural change is possible’

(Allyn) Through ​Mad Men​, women’s past connect with women’s present” (Haralovich 159).

Rather than being intimidated by the constant sexual harassment, Peggy fights against it setting

an example for all women.

With a feminist character like Peggy it is not possible for ​Mad Men​ to be deemed as a

series that idealizes sexism. Rather ​Mad Men​ critiques the sexism of not only of the 1960’s but

present day sexism in the workplace by including a character who inspires women to take a stand

against male superiority. ​History can not be changed but it can be taken as a lesson and the show

teaches both men and women viewers to take a stance against sexism. Peggy starts off at the

bottom but throughout the series she admirably works her way to the top and she never takes the
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easy way out. Peggy’s character empowers women because she faced discrimination and sexual

harassment but she does not let that stop her from climbing her way to the top.

Works Cited

Crate, Joan. “The Portrayal of Mad Women in the Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World of Mad Men’s

First Season.” ​Mad Men, Women, and Children: Essays on Gender and Generation​,

edited by Heather Marcovitch and Nancy Ellen Batty, Lexington Books, 2014.
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Edgerton, Gary R., editor. “Women on the Verge of the Second Wave.” ​Mad Men​, by Mary Beth

Haralovich, pp. 159–176.

Marotte, Mary Ruth. “Not a ‘Jackie,’ Not a Marilyn.’” ​Mad Men, Women, and Children: Essays

on Gender and Generation,​ edited by Heather Marcovitch and Nancy Ellen Batty,

Lexington Books, 2014.

Weiner, Matthew. “Maidenform.” ​Mad Men​, Season Two, Episode Six, Netflix.

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