This week we celebrated International Women’s Day. This week I also started on Season One of Mad Men – an American drama series set in the 1960s that revolves around a prestigious ad agency in New York. This stunning series has won critical acclaim and numerous awards, in particular for its historical authenticity and visual style. The Hubs got it for me a couple of months ago but I wasn’t terribly excited because the whole 1960s ad agency storyline sounded so very bleah. Turned out that this was one of those series where it just grabs you right from the first episode, and I stayed glued for too many back-to-back episodes late into the night.
Mad Men drew me into a world long gone – one where people worked 9-to-5, where the only piece of technology in the office was a typewriter, where it was okay not to wear seat belts in the car, where most people were homophobic and racist, where people smoked everywhere – in the office, in restaurants, in homes. And then there is the sexism. In the 1960s, it was a men’s world. A married woman’s place was in the home. And for the working single girls – you were expected to make coffee, fade into the background and put up with sexist comments, constant groping by male executives and to be objectified.
Sitting in front of my TV in 2011, I couldn’t believe how sexist and…. ugly .. the 1960s were. To think I used to believe it was only about The Beatles and rock and roll. And then I thought about how far we’ve come along. All my life, I have been taught to stand up for myself and that I could do anything, be anything. Growing up, my mother never insisted that I learnt to cook or clean so that I could be a good wife or mother. Or that I needed to learn because I was a girl. Instead, I was told I only had one job – to study hard and get into the university. Her rationale for a good education was simple – freedom. Freedom to make the choices in life I wanted. And freedom not to be dependent on anyone, including my husband. I never really thought about my parents’ gift of independence until I watched Mad Men this week.
I suppose it is because of the way I was brought up that I’ve never been able to be a 小女人. Till this day, I have problems letting The Hubs pay for things or buy me expensive gifts. I have an irrational need to contribute in cash or kind in our relationship. I need to pull my own weight in the relationship. Thank goodness The Hubs encourages this. Not many people know this but The Hubs doesn’t open bottles for me. To put this more accurately, he will watch me struggle to open a bottle of mineral water, and when I whine for help, refuse. His explanation is that I need to learn how to do things for myself. In the same way, he celebrates my successes, pushes me grow and sees me as an equal partner in the relationship. After watching Mad Men this week, I am suddenly feeling incredibly grateful.
But there are days when I am hit by the whole concept of gender roles. These are the days when I catch myself ironing The Hubs’ shirts, and taking secret pride in the fact that he has clean, well-pressed clothes to wear. The feminist in me mocks that after years of education, I still see my role as the ironing lady. But when I think about it, I realise that I’m not doing the laundry because I’m expected to. I choose it. And I take glee in that I can do it well. Gender roles have become a whole lot more complex today compared to the 1960s. At least then it was clear who does what. Now, anything goes and it pretty much depends on whether your mother-in-law screwed you over by bringing up a son who expects to be waited on like a king.
Women still don’t have it easy these days, especially working moms. I’m guessing it’s not easy being a man, either. But we’ve come a long way and I’d like to believe it’s only going to get better. International Women’s Day celebrates women’s economic, political and social achievements. But more importantly, I think it celebrates women from past generations who had the wisdom and fortitude to make sure that their daughters could be anything they wanted today. Happy International Women’s Day.
P/S: I’m almost done with Mad Men Season 1. Text me if you want to borrow it. It’s in blu-ray.