Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mad Men & Women

   Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, a novella about two women who died and became legends in the historic seacoast town of Marblehead, MA, available now on Amazon. She is also the author of Atlantis, political poems about the United States being another Atlantis.       

           Someone recently asked me, in a snide way, what my generation had contributed to society.
           Ok, in the course of conversation, I had just made fun of “The Hunger Games” fans’ enthusiasm for their heroes, as though their generation was going to solve everything by running a fictitious race.
            “I’m glad your generation never thought they’d solved everything.”
            Wait, I think my generation contributed a few positive things to society.
            Just to make it interesting, let’s eliminate Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Wozniak, all of them hippies, children of the revolution.
            Another gripe from the above conversation – “Mad Men” Premiere Parties - why would any woman want to dress up in the style of the 1950’s-60’s in 2012 and go to a cocktail party to drink sugared alcohol drinks and eat fake food?
            Let’s take the clothing first.
            I was there. If anything denoted the oppression of women it was the clothing and other apparatus women had to wear. This is not just a fashion statement. Any woman or girl who has spent a day (at work or school) and an evening in a girdle, stockings, high heels, bra, tight dress, (and if she had her period, belt and pad) can tell you it was no party. Girdles weren’t about holding up your stockings. Girdles were about keeping your flesh from jiggling. Now add the white gloves and foolish hat. White gloves get dirty almost instantly, even if you’re a debutante who doesn’t have to open her own doors. And, why, please tell me why would any self-respecting woman walk around with one of those stupid hats on her head? Ok, I know why. Because society made them. If a woman didn't wear a hat, or couldn't afford a hat, she was - you guessed it - a slut. If her hat was cheap, the church women were lined up and ready to call her cheap.
I thought we’d left all that behind and good riddance! But, no, women who never had to wear a girdle – I mean HAD to wear a girdle – are playing dress up and getting all nostalgic about the days when women had to wear dresses, hats and gloves.
            Again, I was there. I was a twelve year-old girl in a girdle. I know you’re getting that feeling in your gut right now, that “What? How absurd!” feeling. Oh, yeah. Twelve. My white gloves got dirty on my way to church. Sometimes, my slip showed. And, of course, since I was twelve, my stockings got runs when I climbed on the bridge and balanced on the pipes like a tightrope walker.
           You don’t have to be a kid to get runs, though. Once, when I was sixteen, on our way out for a date, my boyfriend’s cigarette ash burned a hole in my brand new stockings as he reached for the ashtray. “Oops, sorry.” He said. Oh, no problem! Instead of the elegant outfit I put together at great trouble and expense, I’ll just look like a slut all night.
           None of this nonsense matters you might say – and you’d be correct. None of this nonsense matters now. However, at the time, the church ladies were all lined up ready to announce what a slut I was to the congregation, the neighborhood and to my mother after they got home – not for public lewdness – no, for having a run in my stocking, for somehow “allowing” my slip to show, and for dipping my virginal white gloved fingertips obviously into some sort of filth.
            Any woman in the past who was reprimanded by her boss for coming to work with a run in her stocking can tell you it felt pretty bad. From that moment on, she either accepted her sluttery and the fact that she would never be promoted, or she carried an extra pair of stockings in her purse. (By the way, I absolutely loved the punks with their purposeful runs! Finally, someone got it!)
            You will never see Peggy Olson, copywriter extraordinaire of the TV show “Mad Men” going to work wearing moccasins, bare legs and no bra. (I did - needless to say, I never made it in the insurance business where I had a summer job before college.) I challenge Matthew Weiner to let her. Peggy will always dress as close to Don Draper’s attire as possible. She is after his job.
            My generation got rid of the dress code. Why would any woman want to go back to it – even for one party - unless she is indeed mad? When I saw the thick make-up and retro clothes of artists like the B-52s, Katie Perry and Adele, I really did not understand why any woman would go back to it. It is fun to play dress up. But, I’m with Meryl Streep when she cried, “I can’t wait to get out of these Jimmy Choos!” Wait no more, my sister. 
(UPDATE: By the way, Jon Hamm agrees with me - no girdle!)
            Now, the food. My generation brought back natural and organic foods.
You may not realize it, but cancer used to be rare. Before World War II, very few people died of cancer. It was still possible to get off balance and create a cancer before fake foods, but now, with most of our food being artificial, most people expect to get cancer and, in fact, with no real food in the mainstream diet, cancer and other degenerative diseases are almost impossible to avoid.
            On that note, why would anyone think it’s fun to create and admire artificial foods at a Mad Men premiere party such as a display of Cheez Whiz on celery with olive slices, and plastic dip on trans fat chips – let alone actually eat these au d'oeuvres of death? And wash them down with a sugary highball?
            So, my generation eliminated the dress code and brought back real food. What else?
            How about the small matter of contraception? I was lucky enough to go to a clinic where I was allowed to pretend I was married in order to get the pill. My daughter does not have to pretend. She can get a good exam from a reputable doctor of her choice and again, choose her method of contraception. No, we haven’t completely solved the problem of contraception. Every couple must work that out for themselves, but at least we made it possible to choose. That fight is not over, as Republicans are trying even now to take these hard won rights away from us (does the word “slut” come to mind?). And, too many women right here in the United States are still faced with Peggy Olson’s agonizing decision to give up her baby.
            Before I wind this up, let’s take a moment to remember our friend, Sal from “Mad Men”, the gay fellow who was fired for not sleeping with the client who came on to him. I recall a few gay pride parades where men and women practically danced naked in the streets to gain their freedom. My great aunt was butch/fem in the 40’s-70’s. She walked down the street with her short hair slicked back and her girl friend in high heels and a dress (for once, a political statement). Our family was the only one that would receive them, and I loved them. They were a blast! They had balls.  Let's not forget who fought so hard for gays  – the wild ones, the hippies, the trannies, the self-professed freaks - at a time when many gays couldn't even get hired, let alone adopt children or live openly as a couple. True, we are still struggling with issues like gay marriage and battling back the conservatives who want to take all our gains away. The fight continues, but much was won during the 60's revolution.
          I also have to take a moment to comment on the “real Peggy Olson” Jane Maas, who wrote the book about Madison Avenue, “Mad Women.” I browsed her book and caught the phrase about what fun it was to have first class clients like Monsanto. Monsanto has been poisoning us for decades, first with saccharin, aspartame, Agent Orange, then Round-Up, BST, PCBs, DDT, and now GMOs. Somebody drank the Kool Aid.
            My generation gave us – to name a few - women’s rights, gay rights, natural food. Until 9/11, we had almost stopped war. I’m sure there’s more.
            This blog post isn’t about a TV show or a movie or a book. It’s about a revolution we fought, a few battles we won, and some mad men and women who want to play pretend we didn’t. 

©Patricia Goodwin, 2012