Guest Author: Jane Maas
I wrote Mad Women to tell the real story of what it was like to be a woman in advertising in the 1960s – – the era of television’s Mad Men. That show gets a lot of the details right, but it gets a lot wrong, too.
My book has been getting enormous attention in the media, chiefly because Mad Men has stirred up such curiosity. Over and over again, I get three questions. Were women all treated like second-class citizens? Did we actually have three-martini lunches every day? And then the questioner leans forward and asks, in hushed tones: was there really all that much sex in the office?
The answer to all three questions is unequivocally YES.
Most of the women working in advertising in the 1960s were secretaries. There were a few women copywriters, but we were limited to categories considered “appropriate” for us, like detergents and baby foods and toilet bowl cleaners. The men who ran the advertising agencies and the men who ran the client companies never let us write automobile advertising, because they thought we didn’t know how to drive. They didn’t allow us anywhere near financial advertising; we didn’t know how to balance a checkbook. Write about liquor? Oh, no! Liquor was what they used to seduce us, so clearly we didn’t understand that, either.
Strangely enough, we were pathetically grateful to be allowed into this man’s world. So grateful, in fact, that we accepted making about half the salary of the man in the next office- – and working longer and harder, too.
How about the three-martini lunch? Yes, lots of men went out to lunch every single day, and lots of them drank two or three martinis. Then they came back to the office and napped for a while on their office couches. Women didn’t go out for lunch: we couldn’t afford it. And somebody had to be in the office and alert in case a client called with a crisis.
There’s one thing Mad Men gets all wrong, and that’s drinking in the office in the morning. There are constantly scenes in that show of men coming in at ten a.m. and pouring themselves a shot from the handy bottle out on the table. I never saw that happen even once in all my years in advertising.
Finally, sex in the office. It wasn’t just the advertising business, for sure; sex was in the air, sex was everywhere. First of all, the birth control pill had just come on the market, freeing women to have sex without the threat of pregnancy. (Remember, in that era abortions were illegal, expensive, and terribly dangerous.) It was also an era of revolution: Viet Nam, flag burning, “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” hippies and Flower Power, protest marches and protest songs. Women wanted to have as much right to sexual activity as men did.
The Mad Men era of the sixties. Sexist. Sexy. WONDERFUL!
Jane Maas has been a Creative Director at two New York advertising agencies, and served as president of another. She is also the author of her best-selling biography, “Adventures of an Advertising Woman” and co-author of the classic “How To Advertise,” which has been translated into 17 languages. Her newest book and first work of fiction, “The Christmas Angel,” was published in November.