Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Mad Men

Being sick has provided me with an excellent opportunity to catch up on Mad Men (ahh, that silver lining of strep throat). A cable drama set in the late 50's/early 60's. The first look reminded me of Frank Wheeler's Manhattan that I read about in Revolutionary Road. The writing is amazing and very poetic. I think this new series is right up there with Six Feet Under. The characters are very well-developed, and multi-faceted. I like it when characters are ambiguous and there is no right or wrong, and they are flawed with a swirl of goodness, something very Shakespearean about that.

The series mainly addresses the issue of sexism. Women in the office, as the secretaries, are shown as sex commodities, but one of them actually gets promoted to be a copywriter. The show is about an advertising firm, marks the beginning of the commercialistic corporate era. Peggy Olson's promotion from Don Draper's secretary to a copywriter, made me wonder if she's earning the same salary as her male counterparts. But, the issue of salary discrimination is not archaic. Last month, a study showed that men still earn more money than women, even though more women are going for big corporate jobs.

I am probably going off on a tangent here, but sexism still exists in our western society. For instance, the other day I went to drop off my mom, and the entrance to the parking lot was closed due to construction. The big deep yellow sign saying "Men are working" warded off people, and made cars turn around to park elsewhere. I know this is something very small, and I am honestly not picking a fight here, as I have never seen a female construction worker. But, it just caught my attention, and as this Time's article points out, these signs give the impression that only men are suitable for these jobs.

Same thing goes for when I take my car for a tune up or repair. The car service area is a very high testosterone zone, and last year for the first time I saw a female mechanic, and I just wanted to say, "You go girl!". Moreover, you mostly see men bringing their wife's/daughter's car for repair.

In Rwanda, for the first time ever we have a female majority in the parliament. The legislative world is still dominated by white old men. Supposedly, we have surpassed the feministic movement, and my generation falls under the category of Post-Feminism era, where we didn't have to fight for our rights. But, sexism does exist. In my university math classes, I was part of a small number, there were only 4 other girls with me. This meant I couldn't be late for my classes ;-), because the profs didn't have a hard time remembering me.

Turning to Canadian politics, I couldn't be happier for Elizabeth May, the Green Party leader. She was the only woman at our debates, and she held her ground, in both the English and French language debates. Stephen Harper's advisors have asked him to wear a sweater to soften his image, so he can tap into the female demographic, who have gone for the Liberals in the past. Is it really that easy to get our votes?! But apparently, this strategy is working for Harper, and for the first time, compared to the previous elections, a high number of women voters are supporting Harper's Conservative party. Same thing goes for Russia's Vladimir Putin. Last summer, the then President of Russia, released bare-chested photos of him, so he could be seen as Russia's sex symbol.

But, the same sexism, in some cases, can also work for people's advantage. For instance in Sarah Palin's case, whenever her foreign affairs knowledge is questioned, the right-winged Fox News accuses the media for being sexist. Joe Biden, instead of attacking Palin's inexperience, and incoherent 'verbage', focused his attacks on McCain, in the last week's VP debate. He didn't want to be labelled as a pompous sexist.

You cannot really hold men responsible of sexism, when we have made the four ladies of Sex and the City crusaders of female independence and success. No strings-attached sexual behaviour shouldn't be a determinant of how far we have come. Nor does a woman's need of Manolo Blahnik to feel empowered. Why aren't we selling movies like Erin Brockovich, the only movie that comes to mind, I am seriously drawing a blank here, to show that women are intelligent. Carrie Bradshaw should not be put on a pedestal, and reckoned to be our heroine, it's women like Margaret Atwood who write about strong intelligent female characters who deserve the status we have placed on these four Botox-tod women. Or women like Mukhtar Mai, and Somaly Mam, who have made women's education and freedom their primary goals, and because of their will power have managed to transcend the cultural boundaries their patriarchal society imposed on them.