Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Behind every 'Mad' man is a complicated woman
BY RICK BENTLEY, The Fresno Bee
LOS ANGELES -- Since the award-winning "Mad Men" went on the air in 2007, the central focus of the series has been the lives, loves and lunacy of the men who work in the maddening world of advertising during the 1960s. Although they aren't mentioned in the title of the series, there have been just as many stories about the "mad women."
In many ways, the stories of the female characters have offered an even broader look at the time period, a perspective that continues when the sixth season of "Mad Men" begins Sunday.
"I think one of the big surprises of the first season of the show was that there were some very cool women on the show. Betty, Joan and Peggy are really complex and layered and not stereotypes," says Elisabeth Moss, who plays Peggy Olsen.
Her character's an example of that complexity. Peggy is a talented woman who has had to work twice as hard as her male counterparts in advertising to gain success. Her rise through the ranks of the agency has been treated by some as an accomplishment and by others as a threat.
Moss considers herself lucky for getting to play Peggy. The character has gone through huge professional and personal arcs, from Don Draper's secretary to being his second-in-command in the creative department.
"And, it's happening in the '60s, in the workplace. There's been so much material to play with because this was when so much was changing," she says.
Even the way the character dresses reflects the thinking of the times. Moss says the conservative clothes and hairstyle are Peggy's way of not looking like a woman -- an effort to be seen as just a great copywriter.
January Jones has found that her character, Betty Draper, has been a continuous work in progress because she's striving to be the beauty queen and perfect mom.
"I think that she sort of generically represented the implosive housewife that was unsatisfied with her circumstances and felt sort of blocked from doing things that she wanted to do …," Jones says. "I think over the seasons, especially when she left Don and married Henry, I think she's trying to find more independence."
There's also been an emotional growth to Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks), the voluptuous secretary of the advertising agency who has used her sexuality, and been abused because of her sexuality, in a workplace that's years away from harassment laws.
Hendricks suggests that while the women reflect what was going on in the '60s, series creator Matthew Weiner has avoided enough stereotypes so the characters still resonate with women today.
On the other end is Megan Draper (Jessica Par'), who finds herself torn between the traditional thinking of her husband and the forward moving push by women. She has allowed her creativity to be stifled in an effort to be a good wife, but the passion she feels for the creative world is causing her to doubt some of her decisions.
"I think Megan is probably part of the first generation of women that thought that she could have a career and a family life without so many social barriers. I think she's one of the first who thought it's just there for the taking," says Par'.
Par' expects that having to deal with a working wife will make Don face the possibility that he has to adapt to this new social norm. How that plays out is what makes for the madness of both the men and women of "Mad Men."