Why New York Women Wish They Lived in the ‘Mad Men’ Era

by Heather Robinson


From The New York Post

The final episode of AMC’s “Mad Men” this Sunday heralds the end of a TV era. The show’s seven seasons covered the turbulent decade from 1960 until 1970, dramatizing changing styles and social mores in the lives of “Mad Men” and women, or professionals in the Madison Avenue advertising industry.

For those who aren’t regular watchers: A lot of the show’s male characters spent their time chasing young women around the office and a lot of the female characters spent their time trying to land or keep a husband.

Critics have consistently lauded the series, not just for its entertainment value but also for exposing the dark underbelly of a prosperous, conservative era. Yet I can’t help but wonder if in some ways life wasn’t easier back then — especially for single, marriage-minded women.

New York City career women in their 30s and 40s told me this week that in some ways life seemed easier back then for single women, and love was easier to find during our mothers’ day than it is now.

Melanie Notkin, cultural anthropologist and author of “Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness,” said the women she interviewed, “no matter their race, ethnicity or cultural background, had similar concerns with dating — men didn’t plan dates, dressed down for dates, were no longer chivalrous.”

Although she faced other problems, surely Joan, Mad Men’s voluptuous office manager, didn’t date anyone who failed to put on a suit, plan an evening and pay the check.

The proliferation of online dating sites and “hookup culture” — or decreased stigma toward no-strings-attached sex between strangers — means that immature men’s playground is no longer just the halls of their office buildings. It’s the entire city.

“It’s like we’ve become this commodity where men can pick out what they want whenever they want,” said Alicia, 37, who works in advertising and lives downtown.

Says Ellie, 42, a student on Manhattan’s East Side who used to work in publishing, “Technology is supposed to bring people closer, but especially in the context of dating it pushes people further apart. It used to be a guy had to call and leave a message and you called him back and you made a date.”

Now, says Ellie, it’s just “texting that leads nowhere.”

“I think there was more respect for marriage and family life during” the 1950s and early 1960s, Ellie added. “I wish I could travel backward to a simpler time.”

Indeed, for better or for worse more Americans are putting off marriage or deciding to forego it entirely: According to a September 2014 report by the Pew Research Center, the share of American adults who have never been married is at an all-time high.

In 1960, only one in 10 adults age 25 or older had never been married. Now it’s up to one in five.

Pew also found that people are marrying for the first time later in life now than in the early 1960s: In 2011, the median age for first marriage was almost 29 for men and 26.5 for women as compared to the early 20s for both sexes in 1960.

Is it possible that some of the wild enthusiasm for “Mad Men” among viewers stems from a yearning for the satisfaction and sexiness of traditional sex roles, including chivalry?

“When I watch ‘Mad Men,’ I think, ‘Wouldn’t it have been great to date a man who knows what he likes to drink, who pulls out the chair, who dresses up and is clean shaven and at least wears a sport jacket? It’s sexy,” said Notkin.

“Although in many ways he’s despicable, in certain ways many of us find Don Draper attractive,” Notkin said, adding that the character Joan — the office bombshell — resonates with some female viewers because “we are craving the power of our femininity.”

Ultimately most women want equality with men, and value the increased legal protection from sexual harassment in the workplace of the type dramatized in “Mad Men.”

After hours, though, some of us long for men who can treat us not only as equals to be respected, but as women to be desired — and cherished.

Have we become madwomen to consider anything less?

This entry was written by and posted on May 15, 2015 at 12:23 pm and filed under Features.