There’s something about the women of the 1960s that TV producers just can’t get enough of right now. It’s a moment in history that’s getting another 15 minutes of fame.
The sixties was a violent upheaval of ideas about women that were long-held and limiting.
At least that’s what it thought it was.
But television writers sitting in 2011 — an adequate distance from the decade to take an objective critical reading of it — see holes and hypocrisies in the women’s liberation movement of that moment.
At least that’s what they think they see.
In a recent article, TIME Magazine analyzes what three shows (two of them new this season) have to say about women in the 60s. I haven’t seen any of them, but TIME ranks them and their messages about women as follows:
1. Mad Men
TIME thinks this drama about a New York advertising agency is the most overt and thought-provoking about the inconsistencies in 1960s ideas about women’s liberation. The female characters in the show are working women, yes, but they are secretaries only. And their only source of real power comes from their abilities to attract and seduce.
2. Pan Am
This new show takes a look at the lives of flight attendants in the 1960s, examining the ways the opportunity was celebrated by women as a chance to see the world and be independent of the traditional life-path — marriage, then children, then housewifery. But the show also points out the shallowness of that opportunity (i.e. part of the uniform is a girdle). What it doesn’t do is question whether a permanent departure from the “traditional life-path” is what women really wanted.
TIME thinks this show tries to argue that becoming Playboy Bunnies is an expression of what women had always wanted for themselves — that it represents fulfillment of their deepest desires and greatest potential. And TIME makes it pretty clear they think that’s complete bull.
Pretty interesting stuff, right? I’m not saying you should watch these shows. I’m not saying you shouldn’t.
What I am saying is this: TV isn’t as much like real life as it thinks it is, but neither is real life sometimes. Sometimes what we think is “women’s liberation” isn’t. And sometimes what we think is an “objective critical eye” isn’t either.