Mad Men (and Women)

My first semester in graduate school I took Foundations of Integrated Marketing, the class that would make me realize that this was the career path I wanted. The professor was a big Mad Men fan, and he went as far as recommending that we watch the series on the syllabus. I’d heard about the show and I decided to give it a shot, and within a month I was up to speed. It was an interesting show, but personally I didn’t think it should have been on the syllabus for an Integrated Marketing course in 2010. (Nothing against my professor, he didn’t intend to quiz us on it or make it required viewing).

To me, Mad Men and the era it reproduces is much more of a cautionary tale than it is a model to be admired. First, there’s the obvious issue that most of them were men. In my classes, the 1-Peggy-for-every-10-Dons ratio was pretty much reversed. Second, there was nothing integrated about Mad Men, either in racial diversity or in the services the agency offered. The entire company in the show is the creative team (and their secretaries). And third, work-life balance is non-existent, to the point that there seems to be no line between office and bar.

Recently, I read Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the ’60s and Beyond by Jane Maas. It’s essentially the story of the Mad Men era told from the perspective of a woman who worked through it. I really enjoyed the book because I thought that Maas did present her story like a cautionary tale, not like a glamorous lifestyle that young women should admire and imitate.

Maas is frank about the fact that women were not afforded the same amount of respect (or money) as the men, but at the time they had no way to fight against it. I felt that Maas was telling us young women of the 21st century that we cannot begin a career tolerating disrespect, because if we tolerated it once everyone will assume that we will continue to tolerate it. Maas was also very candid about how much of her life her career consumed, even saying that her priorities were job first, husband second, children third. She presented this choice as just the way things had to be for her to move forward in her career since it was probably the men structured their priorities as well, but I did not feel that she advocated this lifestyle to either the women or the men of the 21st century.

I enjoy watching Mad Men on Sunday nights, and if my budget allowed I’d probably splurge on Banana Republic’s Mad Men line, but the show is far from a role model to me. I prefer my current era, when research and account planning are valuable areas of marketing, women are represented and respected in the field, and work-life balance is at least a valid aspiration.

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