Mad Women: From the 1950s to Now

Last night I had the luxury of hearing from two incredible women after the production of The Best of Everything, playing at the Here Arts Center in Soho: Jane Maas and Stephanie Newman.  Maas wrote MAD WOMEN: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the Sixties and Beyond. The book tells the true story of what it was like for women in advertising in that era of rampant sex, three-martini lunches and overt sexism.  Newman wrote MAD MEN ON THE COUCH about the psychology of  the characters behind the show Mad Men. I have yet to read Jane’s book but I ate up every word in MAD MEN ON THE COUCH.

The Best of Everything (I actually have Associate Producer title on this show) is a new adaptation of Rona Jaffe’s 1958 bestseller about ambitious secretaries in the big city. These girls want thrilling careers and gay adventures—and husbands and children too, in due time. Today we call that “having it all”; these girls call it “The Best of Everything”. They’re not sure it’s possible either.  We’ve arranged a great line up of talk backs and this was the kick-off discussion, given the Mad Men-esque nature of this discussion. (book your tickets now!)

Jane Maas has the most amazing history.   One of the most respected names in advertising, she’s best known for her direction of the “I Love New York” program, which changed the image of New York City and revitalized its tourism economy. She worked on advertising for General Foods, Lever Brothers, S.C. Johnson, American Express and Cunard Lines. At Wells Rich Greene, in addition to the New York campaign, she headed the creative group on Procter & Gamble. In 1989, she became president of the New York office of Earle Palmer Brown.

And she did all of this while working.  She talked about how much the world has changed since then.  She remembers reading The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe and thinking times were exactly the way the way Jaffe described them then. Now reading it, it all seems unreal, like the dark ages. Back then, if you got pregnant, you left work at month five.  It was a time where a woman working fulltime was a terrible mother.  She was thrilled to be a copywriter in a man’s world at the time.  She worked on the Shake & Bake account instead of automotives.  She read The Feminine Mystique in 1963 and breathed in Betty Friedan’s words and knew change was on the horizon.  She’s seen a lot happen in the last 60 years.

When asked who her mentors were, Jane said they were all men and today she is still not seeing or hearing about female mentors: “Successful women don’t help women. Women aren’t good as being mentors for women.  We’ve worked so hard but we’re still climbing.”   That statement resonated with me.  Back in the 1990s, I got fired from a job I loved by a woman.  It was my dream job and she broke my heart.  The truth was that she had a gutter mouth and it was hard for me to be in the same room with her but it was too late by the time I was sent to HR.  Maybe she was trying hard to be like a man and treated me unfairly?  Who knows.  As Jane said, “Women are tough on other women.”  Jane mentioned the 3% Conference that launched this year to honor the fact that only 3% of leaders in advertising senior roles are women.  Why is that?  Are opting ourselves out?  One thing hasn’t changed since the 1950s: women still think they’re not good enough.  Not good enough at home.  Not good enough at work.

Jane had a sitter named Mabel for 35 years.  Even now she admits that “none of this could have happened without her – she was my daughter’s mother more than I was.” A powerful statement from a powerful woman.

Another thing that has changed since the 1950s, according to Jane: Getting married is no longer the holy grail.  Success and career are more important to young woman than ever before, and the “can a woman have it all?” discussion continues.

Stephanie Newman, Ph.D. is the author of MAD MEN ON THE COUCH  and a regular contributor to the on-line edition of Psychology Today. She has been a clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst for over 15 years, providing insight-oriented talk therapy for those with anxiety, depression, relationship, health, and workplace difficulties. Dr. Newman is a faculty member at the Institute for Psychoanalytic Education, affiliated with the School of Medicine, NYU, and teaches candidates in the Institute’s analytic training program. She has presented her work at national conferences and is a frequent speaker at schools, camps, and parent associations.

Her analysis of the characters of Mad Men fit neatly into this conversation.  She stated that the women on the TV show didn’t have choices.  Betty Draper was a pretty ornament and her job was to take care of her kids.  The girls in the show didn’t have choices either. Barbara Lamont, a figure more prominent in the book, left her baby with her mother because her husband left her to return to work, where she was actually quite successful.    She agreed that it is harder than ever to balance both career and work, but back then it was not an option and women just opted out.  It’s okay to be ambitious today, back then it wasn’t and Caroline, the main character of the story, was but didn’t seem truly happy.

Jane ended the evening by saying, “Women are wired differently.  Men throw men at the solution.  Women say, ‘it’s my kids.  I’m going to raise them…and work.”

With that, Stephanie left us with a familiar term.  “The fancy word for all that is GUILT.” Direct from a psychologist’s mouth. It all comes back to one thing.

Check out our upcoming FREE discussions after performances of TBOE and stay tuned for summaries on my blog – get details on tickets here;

Thursday, October 11:
Janet Groth, The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker

Thursday, October 18:
Merle Hoffman, Intimate Wars: The Life and Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion from the Back Alley to the Board Room 

Saturday, October 20:
Letty Cottin Pogrebin – Feminist, activist, and co-founder, Ms. Magazine

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