If Only Sexism Could Be Cancelled

By Douglas, Susan J. | In These Times, November 2011 | Go to article overview

If Only Sexism Could Be Cancelled


Douglas, Susan J., In These Times


DO THE WOMEN OF AMERICA really want to go back to 1963? Or the men, for that matter? Riding on, and imbibing, the contrails of Mad Men, two new TV shows, Pan Am and The Playboy Club, seem to think so. That we can even have a show based on, and nostalgic for, Playboy Clubs speaks volumes about how acceptable it is these days to traffic in, and even celebrate, sexist depictions of women in the media.

Both shows are set in the early 1960s and, as a devoted fan of Mad Men, I can say, "I know Mad Men, and you are NO Mad Men" For Matthew Weiner, the deeply admired creator of the show, one main purpose was to expose all of the inequities and frailties of white male patriarchy circa 1963: the sexism, racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism. While it is true that the show evinces a fondness for the period, Weiner has always deftly walked a tightrope between nostalgia and condemnation of the prejudices and oafish (or worse) male behavior that dominated the era. Indeed, the most interesting characters on the show are the women, poised just on the brink of a women's movement that they are consciously or unconsciously helping to forge.

Pan Am and The Playboy Club- both dreadful, by the way, even without the sexism - seem to long for the days when women could be freely and openly objectified. Yet at the same time, those responsible for the shows do know that it is 2011, so they inject completely ahistorical elements to make it more palatable to depict women in bunny outfits or getting their asses slapped in stewardess uniforms. Playboy Clubs, it turns out, were actually liberating, providing a haven for strong-willed women who wanted to make something of themselves. In a voice-over from none other than Hugh Hefner himself, we are told that"Bunnies were some of the only females in the world who could be anyone they wanted to be." Gee, that's just what Gloria Steinern asserted in her path-breaking exposé of working as a bunny!

In the second episode, when the bunnies wait anxiously to see who is going to be chosen for the magazine's cover, we learn that the criteria include "brains and selflessness." Right. The men in the show - well, the good ones- are avowedly anti-sexist and hate the exploitation of women. In the show's premiere, a new bunny is harassed and then assaulted in a back room by a creepy patron. …

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