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Saturday, August 25, 2007

How far we've come — How far to go


There's a new television drama out this summer. It's called MAD MEN. It's about the world of Madison Avenue in the 1960's. Being in advertising, the buzz about the show started early. I was reading about it in Ad Age and AdWeek months before its debut. And while I was very interested in the subject matter — Advertising — I didn't expect to be captivated by the show.

I am.

The story line follows the lives of a number of people in 1960 New York. The advertising stories are interesting, but the most fascinating aspect of the show is the attention to detail the director has show toward the period. The 1960 office environment was significantly different than today's workplace. I had heard stories of this type of behavior, but had never really experienced it.

In the show, women are treated as supplicants. They exist to serve their husbands and/or bosses (not managers, bosses). They are treated as sexual objects, existing to serve the men in their lives, to bear children and to take care of the household. Sexual comments abound at the office, as does smoking and drinking during business hours.

I entered the world of advertising in 1982, close to the end of the three-martini lunch and overt sexual comments. The world was rapidly moving toward political correctness, sexual harassment awareness was coming into vogue and drinking and driving was becoming taboo.

Having missed the 60's and 70's advertising world, I decided to ask some older friends what it was like to work during those years.

I first asked Jim, a former creative director I worked with at a previous agency. He laughed when I asked the question, "What was the sexual environment like in the agency business in the 1960's?"

Jim said, "Oh, it was wild. When clients came to town they expected us to have women join us for dinner. Sometimes it was our secretaries. Other times they were call girls. We just put it on our expense reports as entertainment."

I found myself at lunch a few days later with my friend, Landa. She began in the agency business in the 60's and had been watching MAD MEN for a couple of weeks. When I asked her if the office environment was really like what the show depicts, she said, "Oh honey, it was much worse than that. On my first day, one of the men in the office came up to me and asked, 'Do you know the difference between a hamburger and a blow job?' I said, 'No.' He responded, 'Want to go to lunch?'"

We have come a long way since 1960. But we still have a long way to go. The attitudes men have toward women have been around for centuries, and while many men have come to understand the importance of seeing women as equal in both personal and professional endeavors, many more men continue to perpetuate the myth that women are somehow less than men.

Man Up! is dedicated to helping men come to understand the long-term effects unintentional comments and actions have on women. It is our goal to help men understand that being silent when other men make inappropriate comments does nothing to stem the tide of sexual degradation that women feel every day.

MAD MEN gives us a glimpse of where we were 47 years ago. But it also makes me wonder how far we have really come.

Sam Meers
MOCSA Board Member
Member of the Man Up! committee

2 comments:

Matt said...

Great post Sam!

Anonymous said...

Wow! I hadn't heard of that show. I have been curious about what it would be like to be a woman in the corporate world during that time period when employment ads in the newspaper were divided by gender. I'll have to check it out.