Mad Men and Waking Woman

August 2, 2010

Mad Men, the television series, just started its fourth season. I am still finishing up season 3 and keep being struck by how incredibly well these TV writers managed to capture the subtle and also radical changes in the way, people, and especially women at that time, saw the world and themselves.

It was almost a shock to recognize the lack of any sense of self in women 50 years ago- the doll-like quality in which most of them moved through life, utterly captivated with the superficial appearances of things, including themselves, and not having the faintest sense of responsibility for any of it.

(As an aside – this movie explained both my mother’s passivity and my fathers relentless infidelity more clearly than any of my psychological musings about their past. They were, just like all of us, more than anything products of their time, a time in which men had no sense of restraint or doubt about following their sexual instincts from one bed into the next. Remorse wasn’t even part of the picture, as the person they were betraying was barely a person at all.)

The most impressive aspect of the show for me is the way, the series portrays the emergence of women as people, as self-determined creatures with an opinion, a sense of dignity and self-respect. Betty for example, one of the main characters, moves from being sent to psychoanalysis by her womanizing husband, who then checks in with her therapist about her neurosis, to a women who kicks her husband out of the house. It is almost inconceivable to imagine, what it would be like to live without this sense of being a self-determined person – it seems so very natural today. And at the same time, it is just as striking  how much us women today still ARE like those in Mad Men. How much of Betty and Joan and Peggy lives on in me.

Some women friends and I had an amazing conversation about this last night. We recognized that we, in spite of several decades of women’s liberation  for example still leave the lead to the man sexually and how compulsively we identify with our bodies. How we use our attractiveness and seductiveness, our sexual power, in order to not just get affirmation, but also avoid conflict and manipulate those around us to get what we want.

We recognized that for thousands of years, our bodies and our sexuality  have been the prime currency to survive, as wives, concubines, prostitutes etc. and that unless we find something else, better, higher, that gives us strength and support, we won’t let go of this quite primitive way of being. Speaking about this it became clear to us that our very discussion, with all its objectivity and vulnerability was born out of the movement to become conscious of these things, the desire to go beyond them, and  was the expression of a kind of relationship, that can be a new safe place for women. It was thrilling beyond words, and a far cry from the competitiveness and distrust we experience as long as we identify ourselves with our sexual power.

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