From the Editor: They’ve Come A Long Way
Allow me to be among the last to acknowledge the conclusion of Mad Men, the AMC drama set during the male-dominated 1960s in the male-dominated world of Madison Avenue advertising. Among this show’s many pleasures were the spot-on props and costumes that, for those of us who lived through that time, were like family photographs come to life.
Even better, and more relevant for us today, was the show’s portrayal of its key female characters.
Haunted, hunted and whipsawed by the cross-currents of cultural change, these characters were ignored, insulted and abused — sometimes horrifically. But they also were allowed to grow and fail and grow some more until they emerged in the finale, set in 1970, as powerful, confident, forward-looking professional women.
Joan, the office manager and “other woman,” became a full partner in the advertising firm, and then started her own company. Peggy, a secretary, earned her place at the head of the table with the “creatives,” was more courageous than most of the male characters, and time and again gave that mighty fine man Don Draper everything he could handle, both personally and professionally.
Even Betty, easily (and unwisely) dismissed as a dumb blonde, faced her cancer diagnosis stoically and bravely while the men in her life — Harry, her hubby, and Don, her ex — bullied, blustered and then blubbered.
Fast forward to today — well, 2007 — when Mika Brzezinski joined MSNBC as co-host, with Joe Scarborough, of Morning Joe. As Cyndy Bittinger explains in this month’s Women and Business column, Brzezinski was 39 at the time and an accomplished journalist who nevertheless had no idea how to argue for what she believed she deserved.
Soon — surprise! — Brzezinski learned she was making less in a year than Scarborough was making in a month. (Don’t blame Joe, though. When Brzezinski was getting ready to leave, he gave her his bonus as an “investment” to keep her on the show.)
In her recent keynote address at the Tuck School’s Initiative for Women Symposium, Brzezinski described how this experience taught her how to advocate for herself during salary negotiations. It also led to a string of best-selling books encouraging women to understand their value in the workplace and to stop selling themselves short.
Mad Men is fiction, of course. But for Brzezinski, the women who make up 32 percent of Tuck’s Class of 2016, and the millions of other women in the American workforce, the challenges faced by Joan and Peggy and Betty continue to be all too real. — Ernie Kohlsaat