I found similar questions about a game (closed as off topic), a play (7 upvotes) and a movie (9 upvotes) so I am unsure if this is an acceptable question for this SE.

In the Mad Men series, which takes place in the '60 in the USA, woman are generally portrayed as uneducated people only capable of doing simple jobs, cooking and taking care of their husbands. Is this in accordance to the situation in that time and place?

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    I misread "Mad Max" and I thought LOL.
    – o0'.
    May 27, 2015 at 12:39

5 Answers 5


I'm going to answer in terms of the paid labour dimensions of gender. There are other elements of the gendered presentation in Mad Men such as gender and sexual identity, reproduction or unpaid labour.

Feminisation is the change from a male dominated or mixed gender workforce to a female dominated workforce. Proletarianisation is the degradation of: "old" professions; "old" trades; "traditional" labour; or, new work with a high degree of worker control: to management controlled execution of duties as standardised labour (its a bit more complex, but...).

Proletarianisation and feminisation go hand in hand. The women we see working for pay on Mad Men are primarily secretaries. As Margery Davies shows in A Woman's Place is at the typewriter, secretarial duties were once performed by autonomous men with generalised duties. Davies finds in the late 19th century, the combination of employer's views of women as "docile" and "cheap" combined with scientific management, "deskilled" (Harry Braverman) the duties performed, resulting in a rapid feminisation of the workplace.

Likewise, Engels shows that "women as homemaker" is historically contingent, and can change rapidly within a generation as pay changes gendered status, so too does Davies show that secretarial duties' gender position is contingent on the organisation of the workplace.

As far as secretarial duties requiring uneducated labour, IIRC secretarial schools were widespread, and most secretaries were expert business machine operators from tabulators, collators, type writers, telephones, etc.; and the social construction of required duties ranged from trivial to broad ranging. In comparison to equivalent male occupations, skilled machine operation was considered from unskilled through to trade. I would suggest that judged against a male hierarchy of skill, the women portrayed in Mad Men working secretarial work are between unskilled and trade skilled, with one exception of a generalised autonomous worker who occupies a managerial role. Whether we ought to criticise the presence of a unique skill scale for female office work which degraded highly skilled or trade machine operators to "unskilled" work in financial and social respect terms is a political or moral question; but, the presence of different skill hierarchies in farm, industrial or office work, all of which were gendered, ought to raise the question of whether skill hierarchies actually existed or whether they were cover for a gender or industry-based division of labour.

The film depiction has an accuracy as to the broad mentality and sentiment of a white New York set of private capital owners, executives and professionals interacting with a pool of office labour. However, this needs to be read in the context of the Olson and Holloway characters who show this system of work arrangements' flexibility and adaptability in the face of extreme merit and tenacious power; and, so, reading these characters in this way problematises the general gendered order of the office space.

It's no substitute for labour history or gender history, but it is a good starting point for the vibe.

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    Is that a Yes or a No to the question then? I understand every single word, phrase, and grammatical construction in your essay, yet have no idea what you have really attempted to say in regards to OP's actual question. Jan 12, 2014 at 22:10
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    Depends on the quality of the viewer's reading. It isn't a straight forward or unproblematic text. Jan 12, 2014 at 22:16
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    @SamuelRussell you provide no evidence for your claims, not even a "in my experience". Oct 18, 2018 at 19:53
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    The 90 to 120 words per minute (error free!) required at the time of a top secretary is far from unskilled. Oct 18, 2018 at 20:19
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    @SamuelRussell my apologies that is a rather useful citation. Oct 19, 2018 at 13:57

Growing up in the '60's, in towns of 20,000 to 40,000 people, I can attest that Baby Boomers had a freedom that kids today would never dream could exist. We walked to school every day, returned home for lunch, and wandered off for hours at a time on weekends and warm summer days. However, that freedom was closely guarded and protected by the ever-present eyes of someone's mother from every second house on every suburban street.

Yes, women were generally less educated than men and consequently restricted to professions and jobs requiring less education. Once married, unless she had a college education and the support of her husband to do otherwise, a women's primary job became the care and nurture of her husband and children.

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    It sounds like liberation of women enslaved their children...
    – Michael
    Jan 13, 2014 at 4:16
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    @Michael: Succinct; but roughly correct I think. Jan 13, 2014 at 23:23
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    Even in Northridge, CA (in the San Fernando valley) 1966-70, we'd walk around anywhere for a couple of miles, go thru housing developments being built... and there weren't any neighbors looking out for us. Today's parents are too scared (I have a 14-yo and an 18-yo) of vanishingly small threats, and even at my son's Middle School (6th-8th grades) there's assigned seating at lunch, no metal knives, and no salt packets because some kids would dump some salt on some other kid's meal when the latter left to get something. Oct 18, 2018 at 17:43
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    @PieterGeerkens you may be interested in the coverage of a report published by Natural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds which firmly supports your personal account for the UK: dailymail.co.uk/news/article-462091/…
    – AllInOne
    Jun 14, 2021 at 17:10
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    @AllInOne: I lived it, I know. Jun 14, 2021 at 17:52

I worked as a clerk and secretary in downtown Toronto 1972 - 1980, in insurance, advertising, banking, and sales organizations. Women were treated like servants compared to men. It wasn't 'personal', it was just the social order. Men recognized that some women were smarter or had more skills than they did, but they were inferior to the male sex in the workplace. Women's value was in their docility, their sex appeal, and their willingness to accept lower wages. Why did we accept that? Generally women didn't protest because they were happy to have the jobs they had, and because it seemed impossible to change men's views. It seemed, even after I moved into executive management roles in the 1980s and 1990s, to stay the same.


In the Mad Men series, which takes place in the '60 in the USA, woman are generally portrayed as uneducated people only capable of doing simple jobs, cooking and taking care of their husbands. Is this in accordance to the situation in that time and place?

I think mad men is incredible and surprisingly accurate and not just in gender roles.

I have a step father who was an exective on wall street in the 1960's and I asked him about all the drinking during business hours, even having a bar in your office. He was not in advertising but a VP of a company and said that was accurate. It was common to drink during office hours and during office business meetings. He said they even planned meetings in the morning sometimes because in the afternoon folks were too drunk from all the martini's and cocktails.

I also had to laugh when madmen family went to the park for a picnic and didn't pick up any trash leaving all their garbage just strewn about. I remember those days, and have to say as a kid in the sixties that was common too. Hard to believe but it was necessary to have a major add campaign to inform folks they needed to pick up after themselves at state and national parks. I remember people being shocked about receiving tickets for littering. I was just a kid but that was my impression. Parks were pretty messy too.

As for women being less educated and homemakers primarily I think that was both true, but also changing as represented in madmen. Peggy Olson( Elizabeth Moss's character) who began as a secretary and ended up as an important member of the creative advertising team with her own accounts and senior to some of the men was both an exception to the rule for women, but and important example of the changing times. Her story would become more and more common in the 60's and 70's as women became more and more common in the workforce in jobs typically relegated to men.

These women like Peggy Olson faced many challenges in the workplace. While they advanced and were accomplished they were also held back in many ways. Challenges included receiving the same credit as the men for their successes, receiving monetary advancements and just general respect in the workplace. I think the series also shows accurately Peggy struggling with these factors. This dichotomy between accomplishment responsibility but not being giving the same respect and worth was one of motivations of the women's liberation movement which came to the forefront of the nations perception in the late 1960's.


Even until the late 1960s to mid 1970s in many industries it was generally expected that when a woman married she would leave her job for full time "family life". One of the so called justifications for paying women less, during that era, was that men were regarded as the "bread winners" and they would support a family, hence a woman could/should rely on her husband to support her and consequently would be paid less than a man.

Regarding your question, an example from a different English speaking country, a different industry (field of endeavor) and slightly different time frame.

Ruby Payne-Scott was an Australia pioneer of radiophysics and radio astronomy. She was the first female radio astronomer. Her career as a radio astronomer only lasted six year, from 1945 to 1951.

Payne-Scott’s most significant contribution to radio astronomy was to demonstrate, with Pawsey and Lindsay McCready, that the distribution of radio brightness across the sky could be treated mathematically as a two-dimensional sum of an infinite series of simple waveforms of varying frequency known as the 'Fourier components' of the distribution, and that therefore the components could be computed by performing a 'Fourier transform'. This work published in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, series A, vol. 190, 12 August 1947, was recognised as the mathematical foundation of future research in radio astronomy.

She secretly married in 1944 because the Australian Commonwealth government,

had legislated for a marriage bar specifying that married women could not hold a permanent position within public service.

When her marriage was discovered in 1950,

Ruby was stripped of her superannuation, her pension rights and was reduced to a temporary employee status.

Prior to the birth of her son in 1951, she had to resign her post,

due to there being no maternity leave available at the time.

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