Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mad Men, Bad Men


I recently received the first two seasons of Mad Men from my in-laws. Mad Men chronicles the ups and downs of folks working at an early 1960's ad agency in Manhattan. With all the hype about the premier of the third season I was a little curious to see what all the fuss is about. I just finished watching season's one and two and while it definitely isn't The Wire, Mad Men was interesting enough to keep me watching. What I've found most thought provoking about the series is the way it portrays the dynamics of gender inequality at that time. While the men of Mad Men are certainly not members of the Taliban, the casual and not so casual misogyny that pervades every episode is breathtaking. Women are either sexual prey, a means of production (secretaries) or a means of reproduction (wives). It made me appreciate how long term exposure to such treatment would be a source of rage for women who came of age during this period. It also made me think about how far we've come as a society and how far we have to go. At the very least, many of the office antics of the men on this show would today expose them to charges of sexual harassment. On the other hand, the objectification of women, courtship as sexual conquest, paternalistic attitudes and infidelity remain the norm. Some adopt a "boys will be boys" attitude towards such things and suggest that it's just the way men are. This is the thesis of the male protagonist in the recent film The Ugly Truth whose message for women is that they would be happier if they just accepted that men are pigs. From a Baha'i perspective however, acting like jerks is not inherent in being male but is a reflection of spiritual immaturity, an immaturity which cannot be overcome until women are treated like full human beings, "As long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which might be theirs" (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 133).