Mad Women on Top
By anna cuthrell
I have a love/hate relationship with the phrase “behind every great man stands a great woman.” I prefer to believe that this alpha female belongs in the spot light with the men. This dated expression, however, helps to remind me that there was a time when the best a woman could hope for was to stand in the shadow a great man. To get a glimpse of that era, you need only watch an episode of "Mad Men".
For those of you who have never seen Mad Men, it is a television show about the Manhattan Advertising business in the 1960s. Mad Men really embodies popular trends that ran through that era – the good the bad and the ugly. It highlights the smoking, drinking, counterculture, and racism that ran rampant in the 60s. But more importantly, it often revolves around the role of women in the workplace and in society.
Check out this YouTube video for a "Mad Men" view of what that role was in the 1960's.
When I first watched the show and this commercial in particular, I was pretty outraged. Women as sex symbols and trophy wives? Come on! [Insert eye roll here] Why do we need a television show to recapture this antiquated view of women? Aren’t we past all this?
But then one day it dawned on me – Mad Men is a show about a lot of really great women of the 60's who blazed the trails for us today. We should thank these Mad Women for the ability to stand beside men as equals and have some serious clout in the world. The 60s were full of ground-breaking women, and the show Mad Men points this out season after season, and episode after episode.
Each "Mad Woman" displays her own unique qualities and inspiration to viewers. Here are my own personal favorites from the show and the lessons I take from each of them:
Joan Harris – Be a Red Head – bold, fiery, and sassy
A lot of women pass in and out of the doors of Sterling Cooper, but one woman has remained a constant part of the business from day one – Joan Harris. As the office manager, she literally runs the show. She makes sure that everyone knows how to balance work and play. It is a huge job, but it is handled extraordinarily well by the bold, fiery red head. She has the ability to keep her larger-than-life coworkers on task, running a successful business from the inside out.
But more importantly, Joan understands the importance of speaking her mind. When things in her professional or personal life go awry, she never forgoes opportunity to speak her mind. She tells people what she thinks and makes a splash wherever she goes. It goes a long way in helping to keep her at the top of Sterling Cooper as an office manager and eventually a partner in the firm.
Peggy Olson – Dream big… and don’t be afraid to push the men aside
Peggy learned early on that if you keep your ideas to yourself and let the social norms of the 60s get in the way, you end up answering phones, and making coffee for the rest of your career.
While you may be a great coffee-making, message taking administrative assistant, it just might not be enough to quench your ambitious thirst – something Peggy knew all too well.
So she pulled a seat up at the conference table and showed her worth by bringing in new business, impressing clients, and writing copy that became famous in the advertising world. Over time she became a crucial part of the copy writing team and a role model for women co-workers who came after her – both on the show and in real life. If you are looking to be a cutting edge business woman, Peggy is your girl!
Betty (Draper) Francis – Don’t tie your happiness to anyone other than yourself
For season after season Betty Draper was a product of everyone around her. She was the perfect trophy wife, the perfect mother, the perfect neighbor and the perfect citizen. From the outside, she had everything you could ever want. But season after season, something was amiss – Betty was never happy. In fact, she was miserable.
One day Betty decided to take matters into her own hands. She took some drastic measures, rerouted her life, her marriage, and her family. The result? She suddenly became much happier. She lived her life for herself, became a person that she wanted to be, and found peace and happiness along the way.
Megan Draper – It’s never too late to chase your dreams
Megan Draper, the wife of Creative Director Donald Draper, went from being a front desk receptionist to Don’s secretary to a copywriter to an actress. Random? Not quite.
Prior to being a secretary, Megan was very involved in the acting scene, running from audition to audition. After marrying Don, Megan realized that despite her husband’s wishes, she was not passionate about her career as a copywriter. She longed for her days as an actress and decided to quite her job at Sterling Cooper and make her passion her profession.
Ultimately, this meant leaving her safety net behind and jumping head first into a dream that she had as a child – certainly not an easy decision. Megan serves as a reminder to women everywhere that you are never to old to go after your dreams and that the most important element of success in the workplace is passion.
While these are certainly the most famous of the women on Mad Men, the show is actually chock full of ladies who embody traits of classic Women on Top – entrepreneurship, honesty, optimism, and so much more!
Mad Men at least shows us how much has changed for women. So, if the phrase “behind every great man stands a great woman” seems a bit clichéd and outdated, it is! But perhaps we are looking at it from the wrong angle today. It may have been the only way to give credit to all the spectacular Women on Top who came before us.