Mad Men’s greatest subject was women in the workplace.


Matthew Weiner’s great subject wasn’t masculine self-invention or the advertising business or the 1960s—it was women in the workplace.

here are many ways to choose the best-ever line from seven hugely quotable seasons of Mad Men. You could pick a salient passage from the Draper Doctrine of market-driven nihilism. You could open a pot of Sterling’s Gold. You could tap a maple on a cold Vermont morning or tap a bowl with Peggy Olson. But if you ask this viewer, the honor belongs to Sterling Cooper veteran Freddy Rumsen, who, in the Season 5 episode “The Other Woman,” gave copywriter Peggy a rousing directive to show Don that she’s “not some secretary from Brooklyn who’s dyin’ to help out.”

This brief scene crystallizes so much of what Mad Men gets right about the dynamics of being a woman in the working world, whether in 1966 or in 2015. Peggy, who has stuck with one company through the formative years of her professional life, risks being typecast in her original role as the upstart secretary unless she strikes out and finds outside offers. Freddy’s comment manages to be supportive while nodding at the sexism and classism that pervades the WASP-y boys’ club of the midcentury advertising world. It’s a virus that could give even the most determined young woman a raging case of imposter syndrome: the feeling that no matter how many brilliant campaigns Peggy conceives, she’s always really be a secretary; that no matter how many people answer to her, she’ll never really make it out of Bay Ridge; that no matter how much she contributes to her company, it’s always really the company doing her a favor, just by keeping her around. Because SCDP loves to do favors. In the same episode, it grants office manager Joan Harris a partnership on the condition that she prostitute herself to a prospective client, thereby guaranteeing lifelong financial security for herself and her son. Joan’s decision to go through with the lucrative assignation is both correct and wrenching, and it has continued to look like the better of two bad choices even as its reverberations have continued to shock and humiliate Joan right down to the final episodes of Mad Men, which concludes Sunday.

More at Slate

Jessica Winter

Jessica Winter author photo by Adrian Kinloch
Jessica Winter @ Adrian Kinloch

Jessica Winter is an editor at The New Yorker. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, The Guardian, Bookforum, The Believer, and many other publications. She lives in Flatbush, Brooklyn, with her family.

Selected Writing

New York Times Essay: Our Autofiction Fixation


In February 2020, at a book party in a Brooklyn brownstone, a smiling stranger walked up to me. “We have something in common, you know,” she said. “We conceived our children without having sex.” My memory of the exchange then goes blank for a moment — I must have spluttered some confused pleasantry in response — but it quickly emerged that she had read my first novel, which explores its protagonist’s struggles with infertility, and drawn the conclusion that I myself had undergone I.V.F., as she had.

Read More

Stealth Kids’ Movies for the Era of Quarantine

, ,

In order to minimize the odds that sheltering in place will drive us to renew our subscriptions to “PAW Patrol,” “PJ Masks,” and any number of other infernal children’s entertainments, I’ve been pulling together a list of movies that are kid-friendly by happenstance rather than by design. The criteria are loose and can stretch or contract depending on your kid’s age and preferences. But the basics are that the movies be live-action, fun and somewhat intellectually engaging for grownups to watch, and lack as much as possible what Tipper Gore might call “explicit content.”

Read More