People, “Mad Men” is NOT feminist.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been seeing all kinds of articles on what a feminist show this is.  Much as I lovelovelove the show (“Mad Men” and “Project Runway” are pretty much the only times I turn on the TV each week), every time I read one of these articles, I want to scream, “Stop projecting!

The arguments made for “Mad Men” being a feminist show:

And so forth.

The fact that it’s written by women, that it’s historically accurate, that the women are nuanced characters, and that the writers aren’t afraid to show the men being unabashed jerks still doesn’t justify categorizing the show under “feminist.” None of this means the show is in and of itself feminist.  It just means that the show is fertile ground for feminist/gender analysis.

“Mad Men” is feminist/gender analysis gold, that much is certain. However, when I read shit like Nussbaum’s rape article, I feel like banging my head against the desk a few times:

At once a real person and an iconographic cartoon, she was a retro Samantha Jones, a third-wave feminist before her time, eternally articulating one form of female power: the potent combination of an arched eyebrow and a tight green skirt.


  1. Was it really necessary to Sex-and-the-Citify Joan?
  2. Is it really necessary to keep perpetuating the impression that third-wavers are empowered solely through their sexuality?
  3. The second wave hasn’t even happened yet, much less the third.  Again, totally projecting/jumping the gun with these labels.

The second wave exploded on the scene largely with the publication of The Feminine Mystique, which was first published in early 1963–the year in which this current season is set.  These women are who The Feminine Mystique is about; they experience The Problem That Has No Name on a daily basis.  We may very well start to see some the women setting the framework for a true feminist awakening on the show.  (Even then, I’d be hard pressed to consider the show itself feminist.)

Until then? Stop projecting.


About Melissa

I love donuts. Chocolate iced, hold the sprinkles.
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2 Responses to People, “Mad Men” is NOT feminist.

  1. prof susurro says:

    I just wanted to say thanks for writing this. I’ve been noticing the outcropping of mad men avatars and was put off when I used the program myself. Not only does it largely fail to provide options for avatars of color (the basic shades of white-tanned-skin & corresponding hair colors problem that most programs have) but from the man getting dressed as the program loads to the jaw lines available, the avatars assume male gender as standard. There is also very little inviting about having a welcome to the program that includes no people of color. I actually plotted out a whole post with illustrations from the program when I realized I was swimming against the tide, and having not seen the show, maybe I was missing something.

    I’ve asked several folks online to explain the fascination with the show from the perspective of woc and gotten no response, tho many promises. So your post is very helpful both in laying things out and linking to others.

    It seems to me that nostalgia for this era is predicated on a certain kind of rigidity about race, class, and gender that does not benefit women.

  2. Pingback: People, ‘Mad Men’ Is Not Feminist. « PostBourgie

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