Maddening

Did you know that Mad Men is now on Netflix? We don’t have cable so this was a big deal. Mad Men! Oh my gosh! But … we’re about half way through the first season and I’m starting to have issues. Not with the story line or with the acting, all of that is phenomenal. The styling had me run out and buy hot rollers. The set design has me lusting after mod furniture. The whole show is beautiful.

But it’s making me self-conscious.

Wife. I am a wife, I have a husband. I like this. I got married because I wanted to, and I’m totally cool with the titles because in our house they don’t mean “superior and inferior.” Nor do they mean, “Look what I have! ha! ha! I’m going to say husband a hundred times during my day just to make it clear that I HAVE ONE.” Oh barf. Yesterday, while shopping, the sales lady made a joke about Kamel holding the douzens of dresses I was aiming to try on for a wedding this coming weekend (because he was holding all of my dresses and following me around the store), and she called him my boyfriend. I didn’t correct her. Because that would be ridiculous! Kamel turned to me and said, “Hey. You have a boyyyy friend.” Because we’re mature.

But Mad Men makes it so intensely clear how family dynamics functioned only 50 years ago. The kids in the show could be my parents today. Same time frame, same little suburban life. And wives? Wives are necessary accessories. Obviously, the show is an extreme. I’m sure that not every man slept with everything that walked in heels and still made it home for dinner. But ugh. It makes me feel bad. It makes me want to never use the word wife ever again, it makes me mad at Kamel for being a husband (totally irrationally), it makes me feel icky that I put myself in a roll that used to limit women.

I know, in a way, that this is silly. This is 2011, Kamel is not expecting his dinner ready when he walks in the door. But I do make dinner. We care about each other’s careers equally, we are modern and in some ways unconventional. But watching Mad Men and being reminded of how it was, makes me think that’s how it could be. And maybe that’s not giving Kamel enough credit, but sometimes I worry that we’re all victims to social expectations and traditions. Somehow they seep in when we’re not looking. Knowing that some of these family traditions and values are still alive and well makes me want NONE of them. I don’t want my family to resemble anything like the little house, with the little dog, and the even number of children, and the nice yard, and the neighbors you wave to, and the husband that only kind of knows you, and only kind of knows the kids (but more as an idea than as humans with thoughts and desires).

But then, sometimes I do want some of those things. Like the house. And the kids. The neighbors might be nice, but I could take em or leave em. And now I no longer know where this post is going. Mad Men. It’s making me crazy. And I have no solution to my anxiety on this. Being a wife is nothing like being the edgy lady living with my husband to be, thumbing my nose at the squares who say I shouldn’t. Now I’m living within societal constraints, playing right into their hands. And now I’m even dreaming of a house with the 3 bedrooms, choosing to use our travel money for a down payment, and a really great kitchen. What?! Part of me is stoked, and then another part of me is totally disgusted.

35 thoughts on “Maddening”

  1. I think the important distinction is we now have the choice- we can put money towards travel, or towards a down payment. The cool (and overwhelming) thing is, we can weigh the pros and cons of each and decide which is really most important to us as individuals. Of course, there is still a ton of societal pressure to make certain choices- which means it’s all the more important to keep fightin the feminist fight and make sure we’re making the decisions that are right for us and our families.

    And yeah, Mad Men. Love it to death, but that show doesn’t feel the least bit of remorse at making you feel uncomfortable.

  2. I think you can thumb your nose at the squares by being the type of wife, in the type of marriage, you choose. One of the worst parts of wife-hood fifty years ago, in my opinion, would have been the inability to break out of the mold of the expectations of others.

  3. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Being aware of what the traditions you are participating in have meant in the past is important, if only to remind you not to take for granted the changes you enjoy. And the way you CHOOSE to make your life different. It’s true, sometimes we are all “victims to social expectations and traditions”. But it can be only sometimes. Also, I think you’ll notice in the later seasons of Mad Men that there is a real theme about choices, especially for the women characters (what they can and can’t do, what they can and can’t choose for themselves, etc).

    On another note: So fun that you are watching! It’s a great show. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. are you telling me that it gets better? TELL ME IT GETS BETTER (for the wife, particularly… because thinking that she has the “emotions of a child” makes me want to kill people)

      1. UM. Well, sort of. How about that? It doesn’t stay the same.

        The interesting thing about Betty is that she is at once kind of terrible and also one of the characters who is getting screwed the most by societal and cultural expectations. WATCH MORE SO WE CAN DISCUSS, please!

        1. Yes, please watch more! I like this conversation.

          Betty is a difficult character for me. I feel for her and yet (especially later) I want to shout at her.

          Watch more!

  4. Umm, all that comes to my mind is that it’s not so easy. Sometimes I feel that feminism is a lie… We decided to live in this country, because the boy already had a permanent position, I was just about to start, so I “followed” him, it was only logical. On paper, it seemed possible for me to also pursue a career here. But as it turns out, it is going to be practically impossible for me to do that. It is not only the language barrier (on which I am working) , it is the fact that in this country I am under the impression that if I dont get a “local” diploma, they won’t even take my application seriously. We have sent the letters in perfect dutch, and still not even an interview. I studied in a european university and there are regulations that say that my diploma is valid, still when someone has the choice to pick me or not, they pick someone else, and I suspect, if it is not the language, it is the fact that my diploma was not obtained here. So yeah… sometimes I feel like wifes in the 50’s. Like my career is not going to be unless we move… I don’t know. And I find myself finding happiness in things like cooking and baking and is that so old fashioned ?

    About the wife-dom, I believe it is part of building the baby family, you do not have to follow patterns, you have to find your balance. Your post made me think of the girls in Mona Lisa smile.

    Sorry for such an incongruent comment…

  5. I really relate to this, Lauren. I felt it a lot when I first got married, which was only a year ago, but it faded with time. ‘Wife’ felt so loaded at first. But now… it’s just a word for one of my roles in life and I’ve since made it my own. Although, I will say this a little part of the reason I don’t wear a wedding ring. I feel like I need to thumb my nose too I guess… I just don’t want to be categorized by people off the bat. That might fade with time too, we’ll see.

    1. You know… I never noticed you don’t wear a ring. I felt very strange wearing the engagement ring. I felt like suddenly it was a badge that said I belonged to someone. At times I hoped no one noticed it. But when I would say that out loud people would respond to me like I was crazy “how could you say that?!” kind of stuff. It felt like I had been marked. I love my wedding ring, because it feels very much like something we both share, and I learned to appreciate my engagement ring as a symbol for a very important time, but I feel relief when you say you don’t wear one. What a load off. Good for you!!

      1. I once saw someone refer to their wedding ring as a sign that “someone belongs to me” which I love. We often think of it the other way around, but I know that our vows said that my ring is a symbol of everything Stephen promised me in his vows, so really it is more of a sign that I have possession of HIM (ha!).

      2. Lauren I’m really looking forward to hearing more about your rings, you know, when you feel ready. I’m interested to know what you chose and why… It’s definately a loaded subject for some people

        1. oh! I didn’t realize people would care. Thank you so much for asking! I can definitely talk about it, maybe even some time this week. I got some sneak peak photos from our photographer and one ring photo. I’m basically waiting to dish about the wedding until I get photographic evidence. ha.

  6. OH TELL ME ABOUT IT, lady. isaiah and i JUST started watching it too and there was ONE thing where i was all ripping on how much they cheated and he just said it was a different time…

    watch it, buddy.

    1. yeah, i don’t like that. There’s a lot about the show that’s very “different time” like all the boozin. Kamel and I talk about how maybe if people just drank more, the government would be more open and fixable. haha. But there are things that are just morally not ok, regardless of what year it is. And they know it, otherwise they wouldn’t have to lie about it.

  7. So when I first started dating C, i noticed right away his parents had their roles. His dad is a guys guy and spends most of his time in the garage, and his mom is susie homemaker . His mom would cook every meal for him and his dad everyday, she cleaned the house and tended to the garden and horses everyday. The second his mom announced that food was ready, you stopped what you were doing and went to the kitchen. It was definitely something to get used to. But I made it VERY clear to C that I am not like his mom and I dont plan on changing that. I think it took him a while to accept it, guys want to marry their “moms”, right?? But obviously it worked out just fine because we do everything together as a team, learned to cook together (since my italian mom always had dinner on the table). When we go to his parents house, his mom is inside and his dads in the garage. When you come to our house, if C’s in the garage, i am right there beside him with a book. Times are a changin! I agree with the ladies, its all about choices and if you choose to fall victim to social expectations or not.

  8. I know exactly what you mean. Lindi and I love vintage stuff that comes in all shapes and sizes (and mediums, haha) but Mad Men… I wanted to love it. I really, really did. And I KNOW it’s probably rather situationally true to the times. But it made me so uncomfortable. We watched five or six episodes, and then I said, “Lindi… I don’t think I like this show,” and she agreed, and we deleted it from our queue. Maybe that is just “how it was,” but it made me feel icky.

    (Also! I haven’t forgotten about your email/story. It’s just been a super busy last week and I want to give it my full attention. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

    1. oh! don’t even worry about it! haha I totally understand. ๐Ÿ™‚

      And yes, I’m having a hard time finding any of the characters likable. It’s really really hard!

  9. I was researching a post about name changes after marriage (http://accidentallyyours.com/2011/08/11/just-the-facts-a-rose-by-any-other-name/ if you’re interested) and was totally shocked, SHOCKED, to learn that women would lose their right to get driver’s licenses or even vote unless they took their husband’s name after marriage.

    In the U.S.

    Like only 40 years ago.

    I guess that’s only tangentially related but I choose to see it as a good thing that marital standards can change so quickly. And, I think you can do your part to further such change by creating a marriage that suits the two of you.

    So, speech over. Mad Men. It’s awesome. But frankly, my guess is that it’s just going to continue making you feel uncomfortable and, sometimes, pissing you off.

  10. I liked the show but you have to take it for what it is and really appreciate how far we have come and yet to go.
    Cause if you really think about -you and kamel probably couldnt even get married then

  11. I’m having the same problem – I just watched the first two episodes. And I love the interior decorating and makeup and clothes… but I kind of hate every single character. Not sure right now if I’m interested enough to keep watching, though people tell me you get more sucked into the drama as the season progresses.

    But the night I watched it, I kept wondering how “true” it is to the time period? I’m sure those people existed somewhere, and the sexism and racism is probably pretty accurate… but I am almost certain my grandfather never cheated on my grandmother. Granted, he was a car salesman living in a much smaller city, and he had 9 kids, not 2, and he was a staunch Catholic. But I’m also pretty sure my grandma didn’t feel so trapped or infantilized. I never got the chance to ask her, but she seem to deeply enjoy being a stay-at-home mom, and grandpa genuinely respected her.

    Made me wonder what conclusions people will draw about 2011, if they’re watching a show filmed and written 50 years from now, but set nowadays. I’m not sure it would necessarily look much like my life (Sex & the City sure doesn’t!).

    1. Yes, this is what’s been rolling around in my head since I read this post. Judging “wife” from one portrayal of a certain time period probably does a huge disservice to the people who lived quite differently, and whose example as “wife” or spouse some might actually want to emulate. My grandmother-in-law would probably have hugely different things to say about being a wife in the fifties than either of my grandmothers, and she probably wouldn’t say that she felt repressed or disrespected, though other women of the era might. As an aside, my hubs just started watching the show on Netfix too, and I’m not a fan yet myself. Too many slimy characters for my taste.

      1. I’m not saying anybody’s grandma hated her life – but! Every single one of our grandmother’s was oppressed because she was a woman during the time when she was in her 30s and before, etc etc. There are a lot of professions that we take for granted now, that women just couldn’t even attempt because they weren’t allowed. Even when my mom was in high school women couldn’t be cops or firefighters, etc etc. Women may have been able to vote, and weren’t virtually sold to their husband when they married, but whether our grandmother’s admit it or actively experienced it or not, women were so incredibly limited when our grandmother’s were starting their adult lives, so much more than we will ever truly understand. There was the obvious things like never being told “you can be whatever you want to be when you grow up” because it wasn’t true, and then there are the more subtle things that probably wouldn’t seem so subtle now.

        1. “Every single one of our grandmotherโ€™s was oppressed because she was a woman during the time when she was in her 30s and before, etc etc.”

          Oh, yes – definitely agree. It was built into the fabric of the culture, whether or not it was noticed by the individual women.

          I was speaking more about the portrayal of marriage and how casually they treat the idea of cheating on one’s spouse (well, at least it’s casual if it’s a man doing the cheating…). It seems like none of them men really *like* their wives, let alone love or respect them.

          1. Yeah, it’s strange. I can’t get a total handle on it. It’s like … they do love them, but they take them for granted as an institution of consistency. It keeps their lives whole in a way. Like a house. It’s somewhere to go. People love their home, and they would be devastated if they lost their homes, but doesn’t everyone have a home who works hard and wants one? So what’s the big deal? It feels like that to me.

  12. Okay a couple things:

    As both an advertising major and a person who has been obsessed with the 1960s forever, I LOVE Mad Men. It contains everything I could ever want in a show.

    For those who have watched it all or don’t mind being spoiled, there is a very interesting thread on the accuracy of the show here: http://ask.metafilter.com/193431/Is-the-sexism-displayed-on-the-TV-show-Mad-Men-even-close-to-accurate-Played-up-Toned-down-even You have to remember that it shows a very specific set of people and circumstances and is not meant to represent the average person in the 1960s any more than Friends represents the average person in the 1990s, for example.

    I think you should (all – you people in the comments too) keep watching it because the story develops in a lot of interesting ways away from the very beginning of the show. Of course there are the inevitable “oh shit, she’s pregnant and drinking AND smoking!” moments, but once you watch it a bit more you follow the story more than that stuff.

    AND if you keep watching, you’ll see that Mad Men is all about people breaking out of their boxes, or at least struggling to stay in them. I recently rewatched all the seasons (after watching them all when they originally aired) and it’s INSANE to me how far almost every character comes from where they started. The show usually jumps a few months to a couple years between seasons so it moves fast.

    Alright I am done now. Unless you want to talk about Mad Men more…ha!

    1. oooo that is very intriguing about the leaps in time. I’m def going to keep watching. It was mostly a right place right time conversation topic where I was literally sobbing and telling kamel “BUT I DON’T WANT TO BE A STAY AT HOME MOM!!!” the other day. hahaha. It does frighten me, but in an extreme and at times irrational way. Food for thought outside of the fiction context.

  13. This conversation happened today:

    Husband: You’re a good wife.

    Me: Thank you. I’m just as good of one as I know how. Well, that’s a lie. I know HOW to be a better one, but I’m not gonna.

    Husband: What?

    Me: I mean, I could be all Mad Men and shit and sit at home and make you dinner and bring you drinks, but I’m not gonna. You can trade me in, if you want to.

    Husband: Honey, did you take your medicine today?

    The point I’m trying to get at is that I highly doubt that the Mad Men kind of woman is what Kamel was looking for, and I bet he’s super happy to have a Lauren kind of wife.

  14. Hey Lauren!

    Haha I JUST started watching it too cause it’s on Netflix now.

    I think the writers are taking a lot of liberties, pushing some intense themes like the role of women, family relationships, even racism. Notice the African-American elevator operators? I think they are trying to show us a picture of the world that *was*, giving us an opportunity to relate on only a few small things, but giving us an even bigger opportunity to say “well I’m sure glad it’s not like THAT anymore!”

    I’ve been particularly sensitive to all of the Jewish references “why didnt they just go to an ad firm run by their own people” was a quote I think. Pretty nuts. But it’s kinda a neat opportunity to see an impression of that time frame through our modern lens: thanking our lucky stars that many issues have progressed, but how some have merely been pushed under the carpet or under a guise of political correctness.

    I don’t think it should give you ill feelings about the gloriousness of marriage- since you picked such a high quality partner ๐Ÿ™‚ The cheating on the show disgusts me too, and they are glamorizing it a bit which is kinda annoying. Real marriages aren’t so badly connected, and especially not between such awesome people like you two. One thing I really feel is different is women Man Men seem very reserved, not able or socially allowed to speak their minds. These days, a good man realizes his wife is a partner, decisions need to be mutual and agreed upon. Mad
    Men is demonstrating a very antiquated idea that women are not equal deciders in the household. I think that’s definitely something that’s changed in our generation now, and certaintly for the best.

  15. I can’t address the Mad Men aspect because I’ve never seen it. BUT. I saw a car commercial the other day (100% serious – car commercial) that made me want to have a child. Husband, perhaps, but most definitely a child. This wasn’t even a show with a storyline! Of course I’m nowhere close to having a kid, nor do I really want to, but I think that just shows that people’s wants can change and it’s not a big deal. I never wanted to get married, then I met a boy and I was going to marry him, and now I’m back to not wanting it. But if I do get married – I definitely want to make up a new last name like you and Kamel. That still makes me so happy.

  16. ok!! this is so perfect to be on your blog, bc like the masses, I also recently decided to jump in this mad men pool, bc it was suggested on netflix. Oh the media! But anyways, Ive only watched 2 episodes so I know I cant quite comment on the show as a whole yet, but I think some of the themes they line up in the pilot are purposefully done for people to have this exact conversation ๐Ÿ™‚

    the guys are very clear that they are “ad men” and its basically this idea, that we create this world around us, whether its right or wrong or somewhere in between, they are pretending to know what people want, pushing it onto us, telling us we should want it or that we should fit into it, and that basically, this fake world they create, is making them crazy ๐Ÿ™‚ hence the title! I think thats the point I’m sensing so far. That if we try to fit into something we think others want, or if we even pretend to think we KNOW what others want or what we SHOULD WANT or all the myriad of stereotypes or roles or what-have-you, we basically cant please anyone and in the end, drive people away. And of course, stripping away all the stuff we’ve soaked in since childhood is pretty much impossible, we just have to figure out what we want and do our thing, and eff the rest!

    ps: I agree with the “pushing the extremes” mention that several people have posted. Not just because it makes me itchy to hear it and thats its wrong, but the homophobic and racist and other awful things they say….I feel like its a little bit of an awful characatuer of americans back then. Or maybes its real and I just dont want to believe it…..

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