An amazing piece in the Times of London reveals that the lives of actual women in 60's ad agencies were way more swingin' than on TV.
The women profiled in the piece, now in their 70s and 80s, are an impressive group, all of whom went on to have successful careers in a male-dominated industry that restricted their access to certain products. Says Charlotte Beer, somewhat ironically, "When I joined the advertising industry, women were never allowed near beer commercials."
However, Mary Wells Lawrence, who created iconic campaigns for Alka Seltzer and airline Braniff International ("When you got it flaunt it") and ended the 60s the highest paid advertising executive in America, says that for an enterprising woman, sexism was no barrier: "I know everyone goes on about it, but every single person who hired and promoted me was a woman." Beers adds that much competition was amongst women: "Women who were on accounts wore hats to differentiate them from secretaries. I remember one secretary I had. She was a wise woman in her forties - much older than me at the time - and we liked each other, but she quit, saying: ‘I have to leave because you are never going to go anywhere.' She went to work for a man who ended up reporting to me." Solidarity, she adds, was crucial: "I remember a colleague doing a devastating impression of me...I went to see her afterwards and said I'm not leaving your office until we work out how to present a united front to the men. She roared with laughter and took me to lunch. I didn't go back to the office that day."
These women don't seem to have slept their way to the top; they were far too busy working. Beers says that her glam liefstyle, which included hobnobbing with Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol, was of a piece with the jobs' prestige: "The ads were more important than the TV shows." In sum, these real-life Mad Women find Peggy too drab, the execs' lives too pedestrian, and, while they enjoy the show, it's hardly bringing back any nostalgia. Says Wells Lawrence, "Mad Men has nothing to do with the real advertising world of the Sixties. It's just a narrative about people, you could have set it in a hedge fund." It's so rare that real life was better for women, that we'll happily drink to that!
Mad Men: The real Mad women [Times of London]