Friday, April 2, 2010

Mad Men (and Women)

Now that Mad Men Season 3 is available on DVD and has arrived at my door, I’ve gone back to re-watch seasons 1 and 2 before I jump into the most recent season.

Every time I watch the show I find something new that I can relate to. For example, I can really empathize with Sally Draper (Don and Betty Draper’s young daughter) who is shuffled off to dance lessons, rushes to the door of her suburban home to welcome Daddy home from work, and is tucked into bed at an early hour. Yes, I can remember my parents having fancy dinner parties where my siblings and I were allowed to stay up just long enough to say hello, then shuffled off to our rooms.

But it’s Peggy Olsen that most intrigues me. Starting as a secretary she impresses her boss with her creative skills, and lands a job as a copywriter on the creative team. She is that woman who was a first, paving the way for so many of us to be accepted in the corporate world into positions that were previously reserved for men.

Peggy’s boss is Don Draper – the creative genius who woos clients with his clever tongue, and always manages to have a stroke of brilliance at just the right time (oh, don’t we wish it really worked that way). But he’s truly her mentor, guiding, collaborating, and providing her with opportunities. And, at least so far, Peggy’s career hasn’t disappointed me as I watch her get promoted, and then asked to join the new firm that is being formed at the end of season 3.

I recently came across this article in the Boston Globe, written by Myril Axelrod, a real life Peggy Olsen who worked in a professional capacity at an ad agency in the 60’s. By her account, the way women are depicted in the Mad Men series is largely correct. There were few women professionals, women were primarily perceived in stereotypical roles, and they struggled to break through to executive levels.

In reading Axelrod’s account, it reminded me that, no matter how difficult it still appears for women in the workplace today, we have indeed come a very long way, and we have role models like Myril Axelrod to thank. (Imagine ceremonious glass raising here.) Here’s to you Myril, and all the other Peggy Olsen’s who were courageous enough to be the first!

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