You may have noticed that we have a little obsession with AMC's Mad Men. Although the show is lots of fun, sometimes we have to wonder if its depiction of women is accurate. Sure, ladies were limited, career-wise, to secretarial or low-level jobs and wives of upwardly mobile men were growing increasingly bored of their housewife roles (Hello, approaching feminist movement!). But the way that the show depicts females might lead one to believe that unless you are a fast-talking Bobbie Barrett or a seductive mother hen like Joan, successful women in the workplace were hard to come by. While it would not be shocking if a TV show portrayed stereotypes, it's still interesting to dig deeper and find out more about the working woman from yesteryear. So, where do you go when you want information about women? Women's magazines! We checked out some issues from the '50s and '60s. After the jump, take a trip back to the now-folded pages of Mademoiselle and Charm, "the magazine for women who work" (so niche!).First, let's look through Mademoiselle from May of 1961.
One cover line boasts a full 38 pages of clothes for, amongst other things, "job-goers," "plaid-faddists," and "...other summer people." Did they run out of other ways to label people based on things they wear/do that are somewhat related to the summer months? How can their creativity be so limited when they can boast so many pages of editorial fashion? Oh, but look what we found a few pages in:
A dreamy Maidenform ad! We found one editorial about Southern college girls' dances (or whatever), in which a young Southern Belle had super-realistic aspirations!
Ah, so your choices are getting married or becoming a model? Wow, what a charmed life you lead. And this was before models were expected to maintain a BMI of 14 or lower. This girl is pretty much on an express train to Betty Draper town. Speaking of Betty:
Here she is in a fashion spread! Oh, and look who else we found:
Our favorite little former-secretary, current junior copywriter on Madison Avenue! Right next to the ads for the illustrious Barbizon modeling school. Well, the rest of the magazine is pretty much just ads for lipstick and spoons (Seriously, WTF is up with the ads for spoons in old magazines?) but we were able to find this little gem of an ad:
It is nice to see an ad for women traveling alone (even if they are mostly surrounded by square-jawed men) and it is also nice to remember that at one point in time women with low-paying jobs could afford to take trips to the Caribbean. Those days are pretty much gone thanks to rising fuel prices and a horrible economy. Moving on, we found an old issue of Charm from July of 1951. It may be a decade before Mad Men takes place, but the magazine can give us some insight to the working women of that era.
This handy little editorial talked about the most important part of a working woman's day—getting dressed—and also ran some numbers about women in the workforce. The biggest group was, naturally, the "office workers:"
The "office worker" category should not be limited to secretaries, however, as one woman proves that they also include the magazine's editorial assistants in the realm of "office work."
Aw, how cute, she isn't going to be the boss of anyone! And, again, the goal is marriage, marriage, marriage! You know, lest you think she is a spinster or, even worse, a lesbian! The magazine does discuss high-powered women too (after teachers and nurses):
That's kind of a large number of women, isn't it? Maybe the mid-century workplace wasn't as packed-full of hostile males as our beloved Mad Men wants us to believe. But then again, these are un-citied, un-verified stats that were probably pulled out of some writer's ass when pressed to make catchy headlines for her story. Here are some things that you don't see that often in Mad Men, or even in contemporary women's magazines:
Wow, "Married or single, her life is full and satisfying"? Even in 2008 women are taught by magazines that we are never going to Have It All and lead a satisfying life no matter what decisions we make. Well, we guess that "already satisfying life" doesn't really sell perfume and shoes (and spoons!) that well. By the way, here is the woman who was featured as the real-life "lady executive" (and fashionably behatted vagina-owning boss-woman) Eleanor W. Howard:
We tried to dig up some more info on her but all we could find out is that she used to work in advertising and is in charge of "advertising, publicity, and fashion coordination" at Miron Mills, Inc. when this picture was taken. Perhaps advertising wasn't as male-dominated as Mad Men would like us to believe, huh? Oh well, it is just a television show.