The Secretarial Pool of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce vs. The Grand Ladies of Westeros
Before I even begin, a small disclaimer. I’m not really sure if I’m a Third Wave feminist or not. I do appreciate and revel in the freedoms won for me by my predecessors, but I do also love to knit and cook and do ‘girl’ things on a regular basis. Women are women and men are men and we’re different and that’s cool and what makes the world go around. I state this first because what’s to follow get’s a bit more into traditional feminist territory than many men are usually comfortable engaging with. You’ve been notified. Now then…
George R. R. Martin’s books have become a hit TV show, bringing his epic fantasy saga to a wider audience, many of which have never been exposed to the genre before. As things developed, I have seen quite a few people up in arms about the treatment of women in the Song of Ice and Fire. I find it interesting that we have a very similar situation with the women of “Mad Men”, and I hear much fewer complaints. I’m here to take a look at these two shows and throw them head-to-head for a bit of exploration as to why that might be.
Let’s establish a few similarities these series share, shall we? On a certain level, both stories are dealing with historical fiction. “Mad Men” is set in the Sixties, “Game of Thrones” in the vaguely Medieval (it was based on the War of the Roses, to be precise). Both strive to be viscerally accurate in its portrayal of life during the time period being shown.
Of course, with “Game of Thrones” we have one small twist: the angle of alternate reality, sometimes referred to as alternate Earth, and a bit of the fantastical thrown in because if it wasn’t there it could just as easily actually be Earth and what’s the fun in that?
Both series also have huge casts with plenty of plotlines for viewers to grab onto and follow. They’re both well written, and there’s plenty of intrigue and excitement on both shows. Great characters on both sides of the debate keep us wondering what will happen to our favorites next, even if it’s just because we love to hate them.
Where else do we find them to be the same? Violence? No, and here is where I think we find a root to the argument. The sex, violence and general debauchery of GRRM’s saga gets a derided as ‘too much’ or ‘over done’ and yet the men of SCDP change their women like they change their shirts, smoke like chimneys and drink until the cows come home and no one bats an eye. Why is that?
From my perspective, the women of “Mad Men” feel more repressed and powerless than their medieval counterparts. Joan, while definitively the queen bee, has little true power in her own world. Cersei Lannister, an actual queen, is also the shadow power behind the men in her life, but has the potential to do some serious damage to the world she quietly rules. And a girl like Arya simply wouldn’t be allowed to exist in the “Mad Men” universe.
Could it be violence that separates these women who dwell in very similar places in life? I must admit there is a lot less death and destruction in “Mad Men”, and far fewer swords, although I’m sure Don would argue the pen is mightier. So, is the quiet violence of mental degradation that much more acceptable in our society? Is the female oppression more acceptable in Mad Men because there are many, many people alive today that remember what it was like then and it has a familiarity to it all?
I’m honestly not sure. This little essay is more about bringing up the comparison and exploring it for myself and to share the thoughts with you all. For my money, the distance of alternate reality combined with the medieval feel makes what happens to the women of “Game of Thrones” more palatable, though admittedly still hard to watch. The “Mad Men” girls, on the other hand, seem to accept their positions all too readily, or are not yet able to shirk the oppression weighing them down. The fact that my own mother grew up in this time period just makes it all feel too close, too recent, for it to sit well with me. I suppose I worry that there are men out there right now enjoying the show because it’s like the ”good old days”, and that is not a way of life I want to see repeated any time soon.
All in all? These shows make for great television. They bring up interesting questions about being human, about society and morality and what it is that makes us tick. And in the end, I honestly would love to see Don Draper take on Tyrion Lannister. May the most debauched man win.