May 25th, 2015
Here's the thing: I never really watched Mad Men. I kept up with it by reading many and various recaps: Tom and Lorenzo, of course, but also recaps that came from advertising that reality checked the ad references, and others that reality checked the cultural touch stones. The reason I didn't really watch (aside from not having pay tv) was that they lost me in the first season, when there was a casual reference to Jews in Boca Raton. It was 1960, and trust this native Floridian Jew, there wouldn't have been any. They were in West Palm Beach and in Miami. The rich WASPS depicted as vacationing there would have been on Miami Beach or in Palm Beach, or even gambling in Havana. They were not visiting Boca. So I observed Mad Men from a distance. Now that it has ended, and the ur-feminist story arc has been picked apart, I find that this has made me uncomfortable in many ways. The loudest voice in my head is that the sexist behavior depicted on the show still exists, that the fights about equal wages, access to health care, self-government of the female body.... those are all on the news every night. Every day in Washington, and in state capitols around the United States, women are getting the rights that were won in my lifetime taken away again. Some of these recaps I read talk about Sally Draper, and what she might have become. Personally, I thought that she would become this girl. Or maybe this one. Then I realized that I am the same age as the fictional Sally, so why not look at what happened to me? In 1971, even though I was (arguably) the smartest kid in the Marine Science class in my high school (this was long before magnet schools, before AP classes, before multiple tries at the SAT), my science teacher told me that I could never do research, only teach because I was a girl. I quit science on the spot and became an art student, because nobody there told me I couldn't be an artist. No, that happened in college. At the University of Miami, where it was de rigeur for the (male) chairpersons to sleep with the female graduate students (sometimes they even married them), it was a given that females artists would always be conflicted between creating and procreating. Even my choice of graphic design rather than painting as a major was derided: I'd make money, but not art. Yeah, fuck them. I did make money. Once I was out of school, I moved to New York City. I arrived on the Chinese New Year, 1976. I got a job at a post-production company that had three partners, one of whom was a woman. I had to join the Animators Union, and this prompted a conversation about how many women were in the union. Would I be the first? No, but you could count them on one hand. My boss's name was Jean (not Joan) and she had a chatelaine, not a pen on a chain around her neck. The other two partners were men. One of them hit on me constantly. He'd ask me out. He would ask how old the oldest man I'd ever dated was. He would leer at me and tell me he had a son my age and wouldn't it be something if I started dating him (not the son, you understand). He would not leave me alone. One morning, I was nursing a hangover and running late. He and I were the only two in the elevator. He hit on me again. I said "Steve, if you are so hot for some young ass, go fuck your son and leave me alone." Yeah, I know. That was pretty rough. The only reason I wasn't fired was Jean. She told me that Steve was not going to be allowed to harass me, but that if I ever said another word to him, I was gone. Eventually, I left New York and went back to Miami. In 1988, I went back to the University of Miami for a master's degree. I got thrown out for telling one professor that he was full of shit for saying that as a woman, I could never be a real artist, since I would always be conflicted between creating and procreating and for telling another that my private life was none of his fucking business, that my husband was not paying for my tuition and it wasn't up to my parents to do so either. During the subsequent divorce, in 1991, that same husband was allowed to cancel my credit cards because he was my husband. Without my knowledge or permission, and they were in my name. He wasn't even associated with the accounts. By the same token, I couldn't get insurance for my car without putting him on my policy because the state did not recognize separation as a legal state. I was married, and he had to be on my insurance. In 1992, in Clovis, New Mexico, I was told variously that people didn't "like your type" (depending on who said it, my type was either an aggressive —read intelligent— woman or a Yankee) and that women didn't belong in the work place. I also had someone ask me to my face if mine was "a Jew name"? In 2008, I was threatened with firing because I was knitting in a meeting, keeping my hands busy and my mind focused. What I learned from that is that doodling, texting, surfing Facebook on one's phone are all acceptable ways of attending a meeting, but that "women's work" is not. And here it is 2015. The color-blind golden future that enabled Barrack Obama to be elected president is the same one that greeted his entry onto social media with "Hello Nigger". Oh, yeah. America is a color blind country all right. This is what Sally Draper would have faced, people. More of the same stupid shit she grew up with, and I suspect that like me, Sally Draper would be looking at an America where we are still fighting anti-semitism, anti-feminism, gender discrimination, women's rights to self-determination, equal pay and oh,fuck, just the basic right to exist as a woman who can wear what ever the fuck she wants in public with a reasonable expectation of being able to walk down the street safe from rape and verbal harassment and she would be saying "What the ever loving fuck? Didn't we take care of that shit in the 70s?" Which begs this next question: How is it even possible for that mindset to still exist? Who are the people perpetuating the same old thing? The average age of a Tea Party Republican congressman, is 50-60 years old. That means Sally's brothers and friends: Gene, Bobby and Glen. Except clearly not Glen, because he served (and presumably died) in Viet Nam. Worse, people like Paul Ryan are almost young enough to be our children, so where did my generation go so very, very wrong?