Mad Men: The Psychology Of Women


Any first-year women’s studies student knows that the effects of advertising on the female psyche is, well, fucked—a constant source for depleting self-esteem and feeling inadequate. But on last night’s episode, we saw a chicken-or-the-egg scenario.

Ponds Cold Cream had already secured the married women’s market for their product, and were counting on SCDP to bring a younger demo. During a focus group, with the unmarried secretaries in the office, Dr. Faye Miller tried to work Peggy’s idea—of beauty care as ritual—into the conversation, but all the young women wanted to talk about was their asshole ex-boyfriends and the fear of not getting married. One girl broke down, discussing her own beauty, saying, “I feel like it doesn’t matter what I see. I feel like it matters what he sees.”

And that basically sums up everything that was/is fucked up with the psychology of women. These notions are imposed upon us at such a young age, sometimes so subtly, that we don’t even notice it (unless we one day discover Gloria Steinem, Janeanne Garofalo, Bikini Kill, etc.). And as we saw in this episode, the behavior and fears women learned at a young age informed the focus study of what women want (or what they’ve been told to want), to be reworked into a way to get them to buy something. And then those ads will inform a new generation of women, and so on and so forth.

The silver lining—if you want to call it that—is that we, as women, aren’t powerless in our own unhappiness. Actually we’re complicit in it. Ironically, it was the old-fashioned Freddy Rumsen who, in his own backhanded way, pointed out exactly how powerful female consumers are, saying, “Your financial future is in the hands of a room full of 22-year-old girls.”

But the effects of advertising on women is a depressing, never-ending cycle. Or is it? When Dr. Miller (“It’s a she“) presented Don with her findings from the focus group—that the agency should chose a strategy linking Ponds Cold Cream to matrimony—he became angry.

Don told tell Dr. Miller, “You can’t tell how people are going to behave based on how they have behaved.” Perhaps it was his artistic idealism, or maybe just his solipsism, that compelled him to reject her ideas that people are predictable and will never change. And maybe he was being a little self-aggrandizing when he suggested that his ad agency could change the way that people think, and shift social mores. But maybe he was right.

In the beginning of the episode, Roger and Don were on an intense conference call with someone from Lucky Strikes (which, at the time, was the majority of their business). They were probably freaking out because of the Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the United States. Released in January of 1964, it was the first time that an extensive scientific study linked smoking with lung cancer, emphysema and other diseases. The fallout from the report was massive, in that it put advertising restrictions on tobacco companies. The report came about because of increasing public scrutiny of the tobacco industry. And here, watching the show, we got the impression that everyone was cool with smoking.

Another indication of social change was Peggy’s new friendship with the Life lezzie, who introduced Ms. Olson to New York’s counterculture, and she embraced it.

It was interesting that Peggy had a conversation with a black woman at the party downtown, and then back at work that week, realized that Malcom X died. (And she had only just learned who he was.) So that would mean that this episode was taking place during the last week of February 1965. Just two weeks away, huge events in American history will occur: The Selma marches will begin and the first U.S. combat troops will arrive in Vietnam. These events will bring about dramatic changes, both legally and in social consciousness.

So Don was onto something about human behavior. But I still don’t think he knows anything about the minds of women.

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