Can 'Mad' Women Crash Through the Glass Ceiling?
Sunday’s brilliant “Mad Men” episode, “The Other Woman,” touched on the contemptuous treatment of women in the workplace. The year was early 1967, when women were far from breaking the “glass ceiling” of America’s corporate world. (Spoiler Alert!) By the end of the episode, Elisabeth Moss’ Peggy has left SCDP for greener pastures as a copy chief, and Christina Hendricks’ Joan has slept her way to a 5% share of the agency.
Many viewers were aghast at these new developments,and the flurry of recaps deconstructing the moral compexities of Joan’s choice are still going strong. In one of my favorite interviews in our Archive of American Television collection, series creator Matthew Weiner (in 2010) enlightens us on the character of Joan:
“Joan was just supposed to be in the pilot -- some woman who worked there who was going to introduce Peggy to the office and in turn introduce us to the office -- but she’s kind of become the flipside. I mean, there’s obviously more than two dimensions to a woman’s possible experience, and certainly Betty is the third part of it.
Joan is great…she’s the most rigid, judgmental and self-confident, yet at the same time she’s wrong about everything. But she’s still sticking to it and she lives by her decisions. And there’s a wisdom there, but there’s also a kind of cruel reality that keeps smacking her in the face which she chooses to ignore. It’s kind of like if you believe in something and you do everything you’re told… if you do X, Y, Z, you will get ‘this.’
And it didn’t happen. Joan is still supporting that methodology to other people, even though it hasn’t happened for her.
I love her sexual confidence. Part of me wanted to say that people were having sex back then. Because everyone was shocked by it. ‘Oh, it wasn’t like that! People didn’t do it. People didn’t have premarital sex.’ It’s not changed, and I wanted her to be that person who was kind of unapologetically a vixen. Because that actually wasn’t a fairly recent archetype. You could be a sexually aggressive woman if you just reeked of knowledge and confidence. Of course, it hasn’t been great for her, but….”
Glad I could sneak that in.
So, what’s in store for women in the 1970s and beyond? What do Joan and Peggy have to look forward to as the years progress? We combed through the Archive to hear what some of the women who paved the way to the executive suites in the advertising-adjacent industry of television had to say about their own experiences:
Joan Ganz Cooney (named Executive Director, later President & CEO of Children’s Television Workshop in 1968)
“I was born at the right time, because when I was doing what I was doing here, the women's movement was just starting, so I was turned into a star by the media, which was extremely helpful, in terms of keeping money government flowing.
I gained real power because of this immense focus on me, as a woman running the Children's Television Workshop. I was asked to be on corporate boards because I was a woman and the boards were just integrating in the '70s -- and that was immensely helpful to me, since I learned how corporations ran.
The only thing I remember, is at the start, when it was being discussed who would head Children's Television Workshop, a woman at the Ford Foundation said ‘We ought to get a man to run it because it would have more respect if there was a man there.’ I was asked to draw up a list of those I thought might head up the Children's Television Workshop. I thought through who might do it, from public television and universities, but I said, ‘Be aware if you choose somebody else to run it, I'm not going to be number two.’ That put them in a huge dilemma because [the concept of the Workshop] was in my head; it wasn't on a piece of paper. So the idea died pretty quickly that they would bring in a man to run it.”
Ethel Winant (named Vice President of Talent and Casting at CBS in 1973)
“[CBS Chairman] William Paley never quite got, I mean, never quite got used to the fact that there was a woman in the room. When he would go through his mail, I was always the one he would turn to and say, ‘Here, would you make sure this gets to my secretary.’ I’d take a deep breath and think, 'No, I’m not going to do that.' I might have to say, ‘Albert, a butler, is right behind you, Mr. Paley, I’m sure Albert would be happy to take your mail.’ And he’d sort of shrug, saying, ‘All right.’
It was just automatic. If there was a woman in the room, you were the one who took the mail or made the phone call.”
Marcy Carsey (named Vice President Comedy Series Programming at ABC in 1974)
“In the mid-‘70s, there was a progressive feeling in the air. Women were all career women. Maybe the ERA was buzzing around, I don't know. But ABC was actively trying to hire women because ABC said ‘ Most people watching television are women. So why don't we have a lot of programmers who are women. Who know whereof they’re programming to.
At one point at ABC in the mid to late '70s, I was in charge of comedy programming. And later, I was in charge of series programming. Esther Shapiro was in charge of mini-series. Pam Dixon was in charge of casting. Jackie Smith was in charge of daytime. There were women all over the place, in almost every department; they were either in charge or almost in charge. So it was a wonderful time at ABC. I progressed fast. I went from being a program executive when I went there in 1974 to being head of series television in 1979.”
Barbara Corday (named Vice President for Comedy Series Development at ABC in 1979)
“The status of women executives has changed tremendously. …It is definitely much more comfortable for women than it ever was before. The downside is that when they started having women presidents, in my observation, they started having men chairmen of these companies.
Chairman was never really a job. At the entertainment divisions of networks when I worked at networks, there were no chairmen. There was the president of entertainment. Now, ever since there have been women presidents, there are suddenly chairmen. I find that interesting.”
Geraldine Laybourne (named Program Manager at Nickelodeon in 1980)
“At MTV Networks, I was the first woman who got into the executive team, and I couldn't wait to bring in other women. Sara Levinson was the second one in. We were very good at MTV Networks supporting other women, which is not true of most of broadcast television. But I can remember a kind of secret pact, that if Sara didn't feel I got heard, she would repeat what I said. If I didn't feel she got heard, I would repeat what she said. If a guy, 10 minutes later would say what Sara had said, I would say, "Good for you, supporting Sara's idea." We trained a group of people to listen to each other.
Eventually, I realized that most of what happens in corporate America is that the alpha male speaks and everybody listens, and they're usually the people who know the least about what needs to be done. So my job was not just getting women heard, but other men around the table who weren't the alpha dog but who were close to the problem. A lot of the tricks about trying to make sure that women got heard actually applied to, how about we have a company where everybody can get heard.”
You can see more from these interviewees at http://emmytvlegends.org.