I started watching "Mad Men" recently.
I know what you're thinking: It's been six years! What took you so long?
The sets? The costumes? The actors delivering strings of lines that include zingers like: “What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons.”
Of course, the fact that I remember (albeit briefly) what it was like to be able to smoke in an office makes the sexist, alcohol-fueled workplace of the fictional Sterling Cooper seem as if it were part of my own nostalgia despite the fact that I was an infant at the tail end of the 1960s.
One would think -- given its subject matter and my fascination with publishing and advertising, not to mention my affinity for mid-century Danish modern furniture – that Mad Men would have amounted to must-see television in our household.
Well, in my defense, I did give birth to a baby exactly one month before the show premiered in 2007. Not to mention being so thoroughly engrossed in a competitor's (commercial-free) offerings that I couldn't possibly give AMC another hour of my time.
But truth be told, I would still be watching reruns of The Sopranos if it weren't for my husband, who, on impulse, borrowed the first season of Mad Men from the library a couple of weeks ago.
He brought it home with a sideways glance and the bravado of a man who just filled the freezer with meat he murdered himself. I imagined him asking “Who's the man?” as I briefly considered preemptively high-five-ing him and hollering “You're the man!”
Although … that might have been a bit of an exaggeration on my part.
We start watching the episodes together. He drifted in and out of sleep while I stayed up late into the night watching back-to-back episodes. By the next evening as I change disks and begin the new nightly ritual, I have to fill him in on the plot points he slept through.
As expected, the contrasts are, at times, breathtaking:
When Betty Draper calls for her children to account for their being too quiet at play, she finds her daughter Sally wearing a dry cleaner's bag over her head. Before I can even transfer an image of my own children's labored breathing against a plastic film, Betty is telling Sally that if she finds the clothes that had been in that bag on the floor there will be consequences. The girl skips out of the scene with the bag still over her head.
As the scene ends, I think about the warning imprinted on virtually every plastic bag and how it feels like a revelation.
Yet, the more I delve into the story lines for my slumbering husband, the more I realize I'm having a revelation of an unexpected variety:
It's not how much has changed since the 60s, but how much really hasn't.
Sure, most executives don't slap their secretaries bottoms or drink their lunches, but the fact remains that, in so many fields, the gender of key movers and shakers is overwhelmingly male.
Recently, Toys R Us unveiled its holiday advertising campaigns with a prank-style video wherein a bus load of kids who were expecting to attend an educational, woodsy field trip instead wound up at a toy store, indulging in a pre-holiday spending spree.
The ad strategy tanked with women, according to Forbes magazine, because its comparison – placing education and the outdoors in direct opposition to the consumerism of the holiday – was in direct conflict with their values. Moms, in other words, didn't buy it.
The more I read about the situation, the more I came to realize the reason the ad came off so tone deaf to women – who are the target of such ads – was because a woman probably had nothing to do with creating the campaign.
The ad agency responsible for the piece doesn't have a single woman on its web page titled “leadership.”
Moreover, according to the Forbes article, it seems only three percent of ad agency creative directors are women, a figure that made me wince.
How is it possible that in this day and age women are represented so feebly in an area where their money has so much clout?
Why are women still under-represented in decision-making roles?
Why is there still a wage disparity?
The only answer that comes to mind is that it's not part of our constitution.
This country never made women's equality implicit. The Equal Rights Amendment, while passing both houses in the early 1970s, failed to be ratified by the states and never became a part of our framework.
Until it is, I can't imagine gender discrimination will ever be as rare as a smoke-filled office.