Amy Roberts: The ten-dollar question
September 22, 2015
I recently decided to put the $7 a month I spend on a Netflix subscription to good use and began binge-watching Mad Men a few weeks ago. Few people have seen or heard from me since.
As I understand it, I’m the last person in the country to have not watched this series, but just in case there are others who haven’t tuned in, here’s the gist: The show is set in an advertising agency in the 1960s on New York’s Madison Avenue. Everyone is a chain-smoking alcoholic and everyone is sleeping with everyone else. Usually at the office.
It’s great TV, mostly because the lead character, Jon Hamm, is exceptionally talented and, well, not hard to look at. But one of the reasons I’ve been hooked beyond his looks is the way the show portrays a historically accurate version of fiction. From the ad campaigns of the era, to fearing the Soviets, to the way women in the work place were treated, it’s pretty spot on.
In the show, as well as in the real world at the time, women were objectified. They held lower-ranking jobs. Sexual harassment was part of the paycheck; no one complained. And the paychecks for women were appallingly smaller. Even the few women who managed to claw their way into the boardroom made considerably less than their male counterparts doing the same job.
While it’s an imaginary show, the plotlines aren’t entirely make believe. When I was younger, my mom would often tell me the story of her mom, my grandma, trying to get a raise in the ’60s. My mom’s dad passed away when she was only 12, and my grandma had three young children to provide for on her own. She told her employer this and asked to make the same as what a man in her position made, because now she was the head of the household. She was told no, because she would remarry soon and her new husband would be the breadwinner and provide for her family.
Watching Mad Men has often made me think about what must have been an infuriating and demoralizing event in my grandma’s life. But that’s the way it was back then and women have enjoyed tremendous progress since, right?
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Certainly there have been significant strides. Men can no longer pat us on the butt in the office or comment on our figure. Women can be CEOs of major companies. No one can get away with calling us "sweetie" and demand we take a shot of whiskey with them at 10 a.m.
Yes, a lot has changed since the ’60s, but to suggest there’s an equal playing field now is naïve. Women still make considerably less than men — just 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. And it’s far worse for minority women.
But despite pay inequity being a major issue for half of the workforce, the question of equal pay for equal work wasn’t asked at last week’s Republican presidential debate. In fact, the only question asked about women and money was, "Who would you put on the $10 bill?"
The answers were pretty telling: "My mom." "My wife." "My daughter," were among the replies, as well as two foreigners. Then there were those who couldn’t come up with an original thought and repeated "Rosa Parks" after others had already offered her name.
In all, 11 candidates were asked to name a great American woman. Not counting their ineligible living family members, duplicates, and disqualified non-Americans, they managed to mention four. Too bad none of them had Mitt’s ‘binders full of women’ to pick from.
Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to hear just one candidate seize the moment and say, "In addition to putting a woman on our currency, let’s honor all women by paying them the same wages we pay men for doing the same job."
I suppose, given the pool, we should just be grateful no one said, "One of the Koch brothers’ wives."
Their answers were disappointing to say the least. There is no shortage of women who have served in top positions in our government and our society. But there does seem to be a shortage of knowledge about these women.
One of those women is Rosa Parks, and her name was offered three times by three different candidates. She’s deserving for sure, but the irony of the answer is enough to make Don Draper cry into his Old Fashioned.
Earlier in the debate, every single candidate vowed to defund Planned Parenthood. Some have even threatened to shut down our government (again) over federal funding for women’s healthcare. I wonder if they knew Rosa Parks was a board member of Planned Parenthood?
Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley.