Mad Authenticity: Television Portrayals of Women from the 60s II

Welcome to the Labragirl Film Project’s weekly film literacy discussion. Every Monday morning Labragirl provides a resource, activity, or methodological discussion to help incorporate film analysis into your classroom.

This week we invite Cecilia Portillo back to continue her discussion about the portrayal of women in AMC’s Mad Men. Last week, Cecilia explored Mad Men’s portrayal of the homemaker. This week, Cecilia continues her conversation as she explores the portrayal of the 1960s modern woman.


Cecilia Portillo, Guest Blogger

As we discussed in Mad Authenticity I, each of the female characters in the TV show Mad Men plays an important role in showcasing the problems and experiences common to women in the 1960s. Today we’ll explore our ideas of the modern woman and how these ideas shape the characters of Joan Harris and Peggy Olson.


Modern Women: Joan & Peggy

Joan and Peggy are two strong female characters in AMC’s Mad Men. Their story lines shape our understanding of office gender relations during the 1960s. {Click on image for source information.}

The characters Joan Harris and Peggy Olson are crucial to our understanding of women’s role in the workplace during the 60s. Both women are quietly ambitious, clever, and intelligent. In addition, both experience the negative side of being women in a male-defined space. Through these visual representations, viewers can see the struggle that women faced when entering the workforce—a place where sexual harassment and discrimination were both common and standard practice.

“Why is it that every time a man takes you out to lunch around here, you’re the dessert?” —Peggy Olson

Joan & Peggy, fan favorites, literally show the audience how women have fought—in many ways— to reach important and respectful positions in the professional sphere. In the clip below, we see these two women discussing the sexism and disrespect they encounter. Although Joan’s response to Peggy’s unease would not typically be considered enlightening or helpful, it is prudent to recognize that her mentality was one shared by many women entering the workforce at this time.

What do you think about the portrayal of women from the the 1906s in “Mad Men?”

Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), Betty Draper (January Jones) and Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) {Click on image for source information.}

 Let’s keep the conversation going. . .  

How can the depiction of a historical era on TV challenge what we thought we knew about a time period?

How do our modern conceptions shape our look at the past?

 – Cecilia 


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