The Mad Men premiere set off fireworks in our house.
Beautiful Megan, with her never-ending legs and perfect pout, was gazing sadly off the balcony, crushed by Don’s unenthusiastic response to her surprise party and sex kitten serenade (so Jane Birkin circa Soixante neuf). He didn’t just refrain from gushing; he went so far as to berate her for humiliating him.
“Oh God,” I said to Harlan, dread for the fate of the women of Mad Men bubbling up in me. “I hope he isn’t going to wring the life out of Megan, like he did to Betty. Betty (Don’s first wife) was a model when they met. She probably had a pretty glamorous life before she married him, too.”
I should have left it at that, but I didn’t.
I added, “It’s kind of what happened to me, too.”
Harlan hit the roof. And he made me keep talking about what exactly I meant by that through every commercial, and then keep talking about it when the show was over, with me bleary eyed and flustered and clutching the banister, wanting nothing more than to race up the stairs and under the covers, getting increasingly ruffled and defensive as 11:00 turned to 12, then tossing and turning until 1am, while Harlan snored soundly.
First order of business was apologizing and assuring him that I don’t think he wrung the life out of me. It was more marriage, motherhood, circumstances and, frankly, my own laziness that wrung the life out of me, I told him. (Or rather marriage, motherhood and circumstance took a whack at my confidence, energy level and professional commitment and my own laziness finished the job.)
In any case, it was really my fault for letting it happen, not his.
Take a moment here to picture me frantically backpedaling. (Why didn’t I just say how cute she looked zou bisou bisouing?)
I didn’t mean to hurt his feelings or blame him for anything, but this issue has been on my mind lately. It’s what I’m writing a book about, for God’s sake.
We all know that in the days of Mad Men, women sacrificed their own needs for those of their husbands and children. Once they got married, their personal lives came to a shrieking halt as they gave themselves over to the drudgery of cooking, cleaning and raising children. This is nothing new: We’ve all read The Feminine Mystique.
More surprising is that the social expectations responsible for this phenomenon hold true even today. While there are, of course, women who pop out a puppy and bond for three weeks before going back to a day job, plenty of women I know gave up thriving careers to raise kids—and no one was surprised.
Even if they don’t intend to give up their work, a lot of women (like me) fall into the role of stay-at-home mom, because someone needs to take care of the child and the woman is often the more likely candidate because she is a) nursing the child and b) making less money than her husband so her work is more expendable.
Plus, deep down I think everyone still believes it’s the man’s job to bring home the bacon.
When this happens, we stand there kind of baffled. Like, uh, yesterday I was jetting off to film festivals and interviewing movie stars and puffing up as my byline appeared in major publications and today I’ve got sore nipples and a fat tummy and I gaze into the eyes of an infant all day long.
How exactly did this happen?
It happens to a lot of women who have the kind of job that doesn’t involve going to an office everyday, but rather having to drum up writing assignments or production jobs or some such thing.
I had left New York and my life as a journalist behind two years before I had a baby to move to LA, where I threw myself into rewriting and publicizing my book and then writing a screenplay for a studio.
So by the time I got around to having a baby, I didn’t really know what a job would look like. Having to create one boggled the mind. Plus, my baby was totally consuming and I was too exhausted to even think about the overwhelming task of calling up editors to ask for assignments. And if they did assign me something, that would mean I’d have to write it, which also seemed daunting after so much time doing nothing but nursing and napping and yoga.
So I found myself home with a baby, yearning for a more satisfying life, but not knowing how to go about finding one. I had become one of those Feminine Mystique babes. I had become Betty Draper.
One of the many great things about Mad Men is that it offers the whole spectrum on any given issue, and this week was all about the women. Just as Megan is getting her individuality squashed and trying to make a place for herself in the workforce, Joan, who’s just had a baby, is determined to buck the odds and societal expectations and get right back to work. When she brings said baby into the office, the other working girls—Megan, Peggy—regard the little creature as if he were an alien and quickly pass him off like a football to the next empty pair of hands. If they don’t exactly know where their own squishy bundle of cuteness would land them, they have a pretty good idea.
These women are making their way, trying to figure out how to manage the balance between womanhood, marriage, motherhood and work, the same balance my friends and I struggle with today, the same balance that is the raison d’être of this blog.
But sometimes we want to tell the real world to shut the fuck up and put on something slinky and do a sexy dance for our main squeeze. Maybe next time I feel like complaining about my lot, that’s what I should do instead. It would make my husband a whole lot happier, and who knows? A happy husband might just a happy wife make.