Monday, October 11, 2010

Mad Men feminist?

In 10-10-10 Washington Post yesterday, Stephanie Coontz of Evergreen College argues persuasively "Why Mad Men is TV's most feminist show" To make her point she walks us through the realism of the stark sexism, sexual harassment and reduced options for women that the show portrays.

Although I think she's right that the show is historically accurate, I disagree that the show itself is "feminist." I think the show is wickedly insidious because it is entirely from a male gaze (witness the constant close-ups on women's breasts and hips in tight period adorable outfits) which renders nostalgic the entrenched unquestioning sexism of the times.

Don't get me wrong. Mad Men is a brilliant show and I watch it faithfully. Yet, I fully understand the scores of women Coontz interviewed who can't bring themselves to watch it. Often at the end of a show I feel sick to my stomach. Upon inspection, what makes me feel sick is not that women lived through these times but that it is considered acceptable in 2010 for us to stuff this time period into a hot tight dress and lust for it.

It is difficult to imagine that the equivalent white nostalgic gaze applied to the racism of the early 60's would be hailed as black power. Indeed, I don't think it's coincidence that the shows pay as little attention as possible to the racial fault lines of the time as they do. Do we honestly think that it would be considered okay to glamorize the days when white power was completely unquestioned? No chance. A show like that would stand in constant critical scrutiny if not boycotts.

The reason: sexism is more socially acceptable than racism today (not that racism doesn't persist, but it hides from the public sphere as much as possible). Mad Men counts on it.

1 comment:

Susan Lerner said...

Sara, you are definitely right. Sexism is socially acceptable. Racism and homophobia is not. Yesterday, the rightwing NY gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino met with a bunch of hasidic rabbis to assue them that he was against pornography (why that was necessary is another story) and "the gay lifestyle". One reporter put out in his tweets that woemn reporters and photographers were told that they could not enter the room; they had to cover the meeting through the windows. Now, Paladino's truly offensive homophobic speech delivered after this meeting has raised a sh*tstorm, but no mainstream media has picked u the exclsuion of women from covering the meeting directly.