Mad Men Sexism; It Still Exists

Mad Men is a television series that depicts advertising’s golden era in the 1960s, but also displays the disturbing workplace sexism of its time. A period when society strongly believed that women should not exist in the workforce, and especially not in a man’s role. Those who defied these gender roles were subject to intense discrimination and ongoing harassment. This should be all in the past, but as I watch the series it shocks me how many situations echo events today.

One of these situations that really shocked me involved Lyndsey Scott, a well known Victoria Secret model. Until now, not many people knew she was an accomplished software engineer with a degree from Amherst College, and was granted a spot on Apple’s iOS software team. These achievements all came to light after a popular software Instagram page celebrated her by posting: “This Victoria’s Secret model can program code in Python, C++, Java, MIPS, and Objective-C.”

 

However, instead of being met with praise, Scott was met by a torrent of internet trolls. These individuals smugly commented their degrading remarks below the post which mainly questioned her ability to code. Fortunately, Scott did not back down and took to Instagram to defend herself by showcasing proof of her coding skills. Thus, scores were settled, and Scott was met with some virtual support and a pat on the back from Buzzfeed. However, this situation highlighted a concerning issue, an ever-present problem in male-dominated professions and activities: what will it take for women to truly be accepted?

 

 

Now, this article is not saying that all men in these industries treat women poorly. It would be disingenuous to dismiss the major progress since the Mad Men era. What I would like to dissect is how expressions of sexism have changed so we can understand and approach it under more current circumstances.  

Sexism has changed in my opinion. Today, I believe it takes a more subtle form in person, but comes full force on the internet where there’s a degree of separation and people can hide behind anonymity. In person, a lot of sexist behaviours take the forms of micromanaging, exclusion, backhanded comments, and attributing women’s inclusion or success to quotas. These behaviours are then carefully cloaked with ambiguous excuses. Thus, these more subtle acts are harder to see and even harder to prove.

However, on the internet, people shed their cloaks of social acceptability. This is where many misogynistic individuals tend to be bolder and troll women with blatant and hostile Man Men style comments. In Scott’s case, these trolls wanted to fit her into a box to validate their stereotype of the “dumb model”. They fear that “attractive” women are taking their space in the software industry. These trolls have built their identity and pride around their coding skills and don’t want it to be a thing that just anyone can do—particularly stereotypically “dumb models." In Mad Men, Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) faces a similar attacks and stereotyping about her perceived competency as she moves up in the company. The office men consider her a simple secretary that is not capable doing their complex work. Thus, as she moves up to a man’s role of copywriter they feel both their ego and position are being threatened. Many of the office men harass and question Peggy’s competency in order to nurse hurt feelings of jealousy. Akin to the reactions of trolls, these misogynistic individuals lash out from intimation and a fragile self-identity; they’re territorial about a space they feel should be theirs alone.

So with sexism still apparent, why are we so quick to ignore it when women like Scott speak out? We still categorize and dismiss women’s mistreatment as frivolous complaints while advocating Man Men style mistreatment as authentic sexism. So why do we do this?

In the show, it is so easy to empathize with office female characters like Joan (Christina Hendricks) and Peggy who are tormented daily. We see them fight, we see them cry, but most importantly we see the inequality that makes us their greatest cheerleaders. But that’s just it—as the viewer we see the incident and the brutal toll it takes. We can’t witness real women in the same situations, and thus we don’t understand the particular issue or develop the same empathy. We don’t see them bullied in the lunchroom, or get rated on a scale of 1 to 10 by male colleagues. We can’t feel how upsetting and how increasingly stressful it is having to prove yourself to individuals who already want to see you fail. So when will we start viewing modern sexism as legitimate? Furthermore, what will it take for women to be free to participate in beloved activities or professions without never-ending criticism based on your gender?

Anyone can observe that there is still an ever-present mindset left over from the Mad Men era. As I have stated before, I don’t feel like this treatment has truly diminished; I feel as though it is present in different forms and also clusters in male-dominant fields. This is obviously frustrating. Mad Men was supposed to highlight the sexism of its time, but instead is a painful reminder of what still exists. However, the silver lining is that some of these sexist behaviours are just jealous and fearful reactions of the fact that women are moving forward, climbing higher, and taking up space in different fields. Just like Lyndsey Scott, many of us are moving into new territory in the workforce and breaking stereotypes as we go. I think the ending of Men Men is foretelling for women’s future: they’re better off at the end then when they started off.

 

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