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09 September 2014

I have a theory. I've been thinking for a long time that the mid-20th century, Mad Men-era sexism is of a different strain than old school patriarchy. Tell me what you think[More:]

I don't necessarily see a straight line between socially conservative "traditional values" and the idea of people hiring only "attractive" flight stewardesses or harassing their secretaries. That sort of Playboy Magazine, men-in-suits, women-as-sex-objects thing seems to be more of a new-ish result of the mixture of free love/sexual revolution and commercialization-driven commodification of sexuality. As an extreme example of old-school patriarchy, think of the Taliban: their mores would never lead to the notion of a "sexy secretary", because of strict sex-segregation and frowning upon extramarital interactions. In a less extreme way, Victorian middle-class mores don't necessarily encourage that kind of behavior either. There is something "new" that happens with the sexual revolution that combined with business, advertising, movies, etc. makes the male gaze (and objectification of women, normalizing bad behaviour, etc.) suddenly so widespread.
That's so hot.

Seriously, that's kind of interesting. I found myself agreeing and disagreeing alternately as I read it. And I'm thinking.
posted by Doohickie 09 September | 19:58
Mad-Men era sexism predated the sexual revolution. One of the driving forces in that particular era, though, was to convince women it was natural to go back to the home and focus on parenting and domesticity, after having made continuous inroads into the workplace throughout the earlier half of the twentieth century. Regressive mores and overt propaganda helped to drive that. Those same regressive mores considered women as decorative, mainly there to please and service men. It's easy to get both the "traditional mom" and the "sexy secretary" out of that ideology. The point is a woman is not fully human, she is there to satisfy and fulfill men. I suspect the Taliban and Don Draper can agree on that, whether the woman in question is a prostitute or their wife.

Commercialism plays a part. But you can't just override cultural differences by comparing the Taliban to 50s middle-class white culture in America. There are a lot of flavors of sexism, but they all have the same root. The thesis is a little too sweeping to comment helpfully about.
posted by Miko 09 September | 20:46
Mad-Men era sexism predated the sexual revolution

Yeah, I guess I meant less of the 60s and more like the free love movement of say the late 1800s that I believe grew more especially after World War I. Basically a spreading of the normalization of the behaviour of having sex with someone without a lasting relationship being a necessary requirement or consequence.

she is there to satisfy and fulfill men

True, I was thinking that that is the main commonality between the very different situations. By mentioning prostitutes you have also hit on the other thing I was thinking about, that the parallel in older times would be like prostitutes, various types of dancers across different cultures, mistresses -- basically you take the way men looked at these women and then turn that same gaze to flight attendants and you have it.
posted by Firas 09 September | 21:15

Also, don't take the Victorians at their word. They behaved differently than they said they did.

As did earlier generations, as well. The veneer of status and appearances obscures the nature of real relationships, but honestly, we haven't invented anything.
posted by Miko 09 September | 22:35
Miko has pretty much nailed what I could see what wrong with this theory, but couldn't quite put a finger on - if you ignore the was society really was and believe all the school history books, the theory seems to hold up to some extent. However, we know that history is often written through rose-coloured glasses and life 'back then' wasn't really the way the books tell us it was. I wouldn't be surprised if the status of women vs men in society hasn't really changed all that much through modern-ish history.
posted by dg 09 September | 23:00
It is all the same to me -- locking women into confining little boxes. I don't care if we are viewed as sexy or slaves in the public jargon. All these social constructs subjugate women to men.
posted by bearwife 09 September | 23:50
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