Remember when Peggy Olson disappeared and it was revealed only later that the ambitious copywriter got pregnant and gave up her baby before returning to her quest of climbing the corporate ladder at a 1960s era ad agency?
Yep, me neither.
“Mad Men” is by, all accounts, a fantastic show but I have yet to make room for the period drama on my DVR. The little storyline synopsis above comes courtesy of Wikipedia. But my “Mad Men” ignorance aside, I still cracked a knowing smile during last night’s State of the Union address when President Obama declared the following: “It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.”
The President made his allusion after calling for “equal pay for equal work” for women, arguing that a woman “deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job” and stating that both mothers and fathers deserve days off to care for sick children or sick parents “without running into hardship.”
The issue of gender equality in the workplace should be of concern to everyone, but pregnant women and women with the youngest children live and breathe this issue every day as they grapple with workplaces that offer little to no paid maternity leave, no paternity leave for their spouses, pathetic accommodations for pumping, little flexibility with respect to sick days and work-from-home options (good luck figuring things out when your nanny is out or the baby’s too sick to go to daycare!) and so forth.
Did that last paragraph make your eyes go a little bleary? I don’t blame you. Scholars and advocates for more family-friendly workplaces and women’s advancement have already articulated the sorry plight of working moms in the modern workplace better than I ever will. Sometimes, I worry that we’re growing desensitized to these increasingly well-documented injustices.
Which is why equating antiquated workplace policies with a popular TV show set in a supposedly bygone era is a shrewd move by the President — and anyone else who does the same. Suddenly, when we think of gender inequality in the office, our minds might conjure the compelling image of chicly-dressed and attractive women suffering indignities at the hands of handsome, swaggering, chain-smoking men at a fancy Manhattan address. You don’t have to a rabid “Mad Men” follower to get that — picking up the occasional magazine or catching a commercial on TV is enough.
For better or for worse, these days pop culture is king and invoking it in a savvy way can multiply your influence. It’s why one currently popular Internet meme joked that a judge should sentence baby-faced pop phenom-turned-bad boy Justin Bieber to enlist in the Ukranian revolution — it would force the media to cover it.
The Biebs likely won’t be going to the devastated Ukraine anytime soon, but the creator of “Mad Men” told a New York Times reporter that he supports the President and that he’s “honored that our show is part of a much-needed national conversation.”
So where else can the conversation go? Will “Mad Men” become a powerful buzzword for activists campaigning for gender equality in the office? Will workplace watchdogs create and publicize lists of “Mad Men” companies — corporations that are woefully behind the times in providing support for working moms? Will Elisabeth Moss, the actress who portrays Peggy Olson, begin appearing in public service ads urging employers to reconsider skimpy maternity leave benefits and other policies detrimental to women and families?
Given her character’s background, “Mad Men” fans might be especially pleased to see her deliver a message such as, “No woman should have to choose between her career and her baby.” I think the rest of us working moms would like it, too.
Photo Credit: Jamie Trueblood/AMC
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