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.

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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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Mad Authenticity: Television Portrayals of Women in the 60s

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, a blogger from our sister organization’s blog Images Shaping History, to discuss the portrayal of women in the television show Mad Men.

Along with bringing film literacy into language arts classrooms, the Labragirl Film Project works to bring film analysis and media literacy into history and social studies classrooms. In addition to teaching students how to engage in traditional historical study, it is important that students be able to both understand the way popular culture shapes our understanding of history and also be able to navigate their relationship with history within this sphere.

Today’s conversation takes a look at:

  1. our relationship with media images;
  2. how our modern conceptions of the past shape our understanding of the past; and
  3. the ways moving images shape our view of history.

How do our modern ideals shape our portrayals of the past?

How do modern morals and beliefs shape the way we perceive the past, visually speaking?

Let’s see what Cecilia has to say. Discuss below!

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Academic texts and articles are the most common ways historians explain the past to the public. However, television programming based on historical topics gives people a look into the lives of people from a different era, providing a sense of closeness and a reality that words on a printed page can never do.  Television viewers are able to actually look into the past to witness the culture and attitude of a particular time period. 

Let’s explore these human and cultural connections by discussing an episode of AMC’s Mad Men, a television drama based in the 1960s that focuses on the home and work life of several advertising executives.  Although the story is a work of fiction, the look and feel of the show seems very authentic. The historical authenticity can be seen in the fashion, the cars, houses and most importantly in the everyday problems faced by the characters. These interactions highlight the concerns and mentalities of the era. Through character interactions, the viewer can learn of the daily workings of the people of the 1960s.

The cast of Mad Men {Click on image for source information.}

My favorite part of the show is the portrayal of the white working woman and homemaker. The shows’ main female characters are:

  • Betty Draper: the stay at home wife and mother
  • Peggy Olson: a copy writer and modern working woman
  • Joan Hollaway/Harris: a 1960s corporate secretary

These three characters have been crucial to the show since the first episode.

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

Let’s take a look at Betty Draper’s character – the stay at home wife and mother.

Betty Draper

Mad Men Season 3 Promo. January Jones as Betty Draper {Click on image for source information.}

Betty Draper,  the quintessential homemaker and wife of Ad Man Don Draper, is the series protagonist. Her character provides many visual lessons about understandings of what it was like to be an economically stable woman in the 60s.

She tends to her children and the home and tends to her husband when he arrives from work. Betty is resourceful, charming, and seemingly unhappy all the same. On the surface it appears that she is content with her life, however, Betty Draper is an example of the syndrome that many women underwent during this era. This  syndrome  would later pave way for an important piece of literature in the time  “The Feminine Mystique”  which describes the sense of void  that many suburban housewives felt throughout their supposed successful lives. Through her character such issues as infidelity, independence and reproductive rights are brought to light – all issues that were impactful in the sociocultural sphere of the era.

How do our modern gender ideals and beliefs shape the way we perceive the portrayal of Betty Draper?

In the following clip, we see how normal Betty’s life seems on the surface. We have a greater understanding of the domestic issues that she faces as a housewife and mother.

Her life is filled with troubles bigger than having to get dinner on table.

How does our modern knowledge of the past shape the way we perceive this portrayal? 

There is a wild misconception that all women of the era were happy suburban housewives completely fulfilled and living the “perfect” life. The character of Betty disrupts the notion that all women of this era were as identical as the Levittown homes where many housewives lived.

Do you watch the show?

What do you think about the portrayal of  suburban housewives? 

Next week Cecilia takes a look at the portrayal of another Mad Men character in Mad Authenticity II.

Until Next Time,

Cecilia

Check out our Downton Abbey discussions here & here.

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Downton Abbey in Your Class #2 – Today in the Past!

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.

Last week we turned to TV images with our discussion about Downton Abbey’s introductory score. 

This week we continue to explore the popular historical drama with a discussion about how the past is portrayed in Downton Abbey.

Do your students watch Downton Abbey?

What did they think about these discussions?

Please comment below or discuss with us on 

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Downton Abbey in Your Class #2

Today in the Past!

Classroom Discussion Synopsis: 

This week’s Moving Images-Moving Forward conversation explores how Downton Abbey illustrates the past. We also discuss how historical television shows shed light on the time period in which they were produced.

This particular exercise moves away from film and movies to examine TV images. Although much of what we do here at the Labragirl Film Project is about film and movies, our core belief is that all moving images are important and therefore TV and music videos also fall under our purview.

Grade Level: High School & College

Educational Goals:

  • Introduce students to film analysis & reading
  • Incorporate film analysis into popular culture discussions
  • Help students understand how televisions shows shape the way we understand the past
  • Enable students to participate in discussions about the fluidity of history
  • Encourage students to navigate critical thinking discussions about moving images & historical images
Exercise Philosophy:

The goal behind this exercise is to apply our discussion about viewing films (and TV shows) as primary sources to Downton Abbey.

What do these images teach us about the time period in which they were made?

How does Downton Abbey reflect our current time and culture?

See: Moving Past Historical Accuracy.

Exercise Activity & Process:

Today in the Past

In a L.A. Times interview with Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens, a journalist asks Stevens:

One of the things people critique about “Downton” is also one of the things people like about it, which is that it shows more emotional vulnerability than you probably would have seen in that moment historically, right?”  Citation

Stevens responds:

There is a modern emotional sensibility to some of the characters, but if you watch historical drama of any period — if you watch a historical drama made in the 1970s, people are behaving a little bit 1970s! But yes it’s struck a chord. I think it’s nice when history is dressed up not so stuffily — and actually these people, they did behave differently to how we behave now but they were still human. It’s fun to imagine that a character like Lady Violet was not always this thunderous dragon, that often her heart did melt and in such a long-running series you get to see that. Over nine or 10 hours we go all over this estate.”  Citation

This excerpt is a good starting point to discuss how moving images reflect the time periods in which they were made. It also shows students that this concept is not theoretical or abstract, but something that journalists and actors are very familiar.

How does Downton Abbey shape the way we look at the past?

Certainly, a number of clips from the show will work well to discuss how modern ideas help to create our portrayal of the past.

Here is a suggested clip.

Lavinia at Dinner

Additional Questions:

Can you apply these concepts to other TV shows that you watch?

Did you use any of these discussions or activities in your classroom? How did it go?

We’d love to hear from you.

Please comment below or discuss with us on .

*Disclaimer: All movie & television clips are suggestions for class use, only. All instructors should screen clips to determine if they are appropriate to use in their classrooms. 

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UP NEXT 4/1: Talking Film

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Previous Blog Entries

Downton Abbey in Your Class #1 – Roll Sound!

Reading Film

Fictional Projections of History

Think Globally Using Film

Our Relationship with Movies

Moving Past Historical Accuracy

Images Telling Stories

Film Shaping History

Think Film Images

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©2013 Labragirl Film Project. All rights reserved.

Downton Abbey in Your Class #1 – Roll Sound!

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.

Last week we suggested a book to help learn how to read films and other forms of media.

This week we turn to the first of two classroom activities focused on the popular television show, Downton Abbey.

Do your students watch Downton Abbey?

What did they think about this activity? 

Please comment below or discuss with us on 

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Downton Abbey in Your Class #1 – Roll Sound!

Classroom Discussion Synopsis:

This week’s Moving Images-Moving Forward discussion examines the score and images of the popular television drama, Downton Abbey.

This particular exercise moves away from film and movies to examine TV images. Although much of what we do here at the Labragirl Film Project is about film and movies, our core belief is that all moving images are important and therefore TV and music videos also fall under our purview.

Grade Level:

High School & College

Educational Goals:

  • Introduce students to film analysis & reading
  • Incorporate film analysis into popular culture discussions
  • Help students understand how our relationship with images is shaped by music
  • Encourage students to navigate critical thinking discussions about moving images

Exercise Philosophy:

The goal behind this exercise is to explore how images – in this particular case the introductory score of Downton Abbey – influence our emotions and relationship to visual images.

Exercise Activity & Process:

Roll Sound!

The article “Why the Downton Abbey Theme Song Makes Us Drool” article discusses why the soundtrack to the opening sequence of Downton Abbey is so compelling.

Discussing the ideas in this article is an opportunity to move past the visual image and listen to the aural component of moving images.

I. Read the article “Why the Downton Abbey Theme Song Makes Us Drool”.

II. Discuss the article.

What do your students think about the ideas in the article?

Do they have any experiences with any theme song/soundtrack/music that relates to this article?

III. As a group, listen to the opening music.  (Note: We discuss a related exercise in our Images Telling Stories post.)

Downton Abbey Introductory Music

What do your students notice about the music?

What do they think about this introduction and their relationship to the music?

IV. Now, watch the intro with both the sound and the images. Pay close attention to how the visual images and the sound work together to shape story, emotion, and the viewer’s relationship to the images.

Introduction to Downton Abbey*

*Sidenote: How cute is the yellow Labragirl butt in the intro?!

Additional Questions:

Can you apply these concepts to other TV shows that you watch?

Did you use any of these discussions or activities in your classroom?

How did it go?

We’d love to hear from you.

Please comment below or discuss with us on .

*Disclaimer: All movie & television clips are suggestions for class use, only. All instructors should screen clips to determine if they are appropriate to use in their classrooms. 

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UP NEXT 3/25: Downton Abbey in Your Class #2 – Today in the Past

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Sign up for our e-newsletter for more lesson plans and classroom conversations. Click here. 

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Bring Labragirl into your classroom. Contact us at info@labragirlfilmproject.org or fill out our Interest & Inquiry Form.

———————————————————————————————————————–

Previous Blog Entries

Reading Film

Fictional Projections of History

Think Globally Using Film

Our Relationship with Movies

Moving Past Historical Accuracy

Images Telling Stories

Film Shaping History

Think Film Images

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©2013 Labragirl Film Project. All rights reserved.