As the rumblings of the embryonic women’s movement began to be heard in 1970, some women in the workplace began quietly grumbling too.
Even as working women began taking baby steps in their Enna Jenkins pumps, their male colleagues still felt entitled to leer lasciviously under their Bobbie Brooks skirts as they slowly climbed the corporate ladder.
Sexism was still flourishing in 1970 as the recent scene in Mad Men demonstrated. In a cringe worthy scene where Peggy and Joan struggled to be taken seriously while pitching new ideas for a pantyhose account, they were subjected to lewd, lecherous comments at the all male business meeting.
As Joan simmered with a slow burn, Peggy tried to plow her way through the double entendres and frat boy humor with smiling professionalism. Later, fuming in the elevator feeling frustrated and humiliated, the girls wanted “to burn the place down.”
A few blocks away on Madison Avenue another group of fed up with business as usual business women took action; if they didn’t burn the place down, they went one step better they filed a landmark lawsuit.
In March, a mere month before the Mad Men’s girls humiliating business meeting, 46 females with the help of attorney Eleanor Holmes Norton sued Newsweek Magazine for sex discrimination.charging it was a segregated system of journalism that divided the work solely on the basis of gender .
At the offices of Newsweek magazine at the time there were 2 categories of employees who sat at their typewriters – men who were the writers and the women who were the researchers, sorting mail, collecting newspaper clippings. Despite their equal qualifications, the women’s jobs came with lesser status and lower pay scale
The magazine’s well educated highly qualified women were no longer satisfied answering phones and checking facts for its male staff of writers and editors.
Meeting secretly, a group of women that would eventually grow to 46 female employees, teamed up with a women’s rights lawyer challenging the sex segregation jobs, becoming the first group of media professionals to sue for employment discrimination based on gender under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Media savvy, they called a press conference, filing the suit on March 16, 1970 the same day their magazine Newsweek ran an issue whose cover story ironically enough was entitled “Women in Revolt.”
Take My Secretary, Please!
It’s hard to imagine that Peggy or Joan were unaware of this highly publicized incident, but at the time sexism and sexual harassment at the office was sometimes invisible because it was so darn normal the leering eyes suggestive remarks and creepiness of male workers sexual harassment was a near daily ordeal faced by women in Mad Men workplace.
In fact it was the stuff of great humor.
The world of sexist jobs, businessmen men objectifying and infantilizing women, lascivious philandering and wild office parties was fodder for comics and cartoonists alike.
Misogyny was easily laughed off as office antics.
Not a one of these cartoons would pass HR today
Vintage Sexist Office Cartoons
Many of these cartoons were never meant to be glimpsed by the girls, appearing in male magazines like Playboy and Esquire, to be read at men’s clubs or the Barber shop where an earlier generation ogled the Police Gazette.
Mad Men may have offered us a front row seat to the world of mid-century misogyny but it has hopefully opened the dialogue to recognizing that sexism still exists today despite its subtlety.
And it is no joke.
Copyright (©) 2015 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved
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