Role of Peggy Olson in the representation of feminism on Mad Men

In the 1960s era, the struggle against existing social issues was in transition with the rising of social and political movements such as the African-American civil rights movement, Gay rights movement, Anti-war movement and the rising feminism movement. The representation of the presence of such social challenges can be seen in Mad Men. The show consisting of those activities that takes place in the advertising agency named Sterling Cooper located on Madison Avenue in New York during the 1960s represents the lifestyles of middle to upper class white Americans who displays significant views with regards to these issues. Importantly, the movement of the feminist power is exposed in Mad Men using the character Peggy Olson.

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The Sterling Cooper working environment comprised of important senior roles being strictly controlled and dominated by white American male personnel. These individuals strongly opposed to allowing these roles from being handed down to people who were considered “inferior” at that time including females. Peggy Olson, a humble, innocent yet strong-minded individual, commenced her career at the advertising agency as a secretary for the company’s creative director Don Draper. With the advertising campaign for the exercise machine “The Relaxerciser” that was targeted towards a female audience, Peggy Olson was assigned to test drive the device and write a review about it. This incident can be identified as somewhat a starting point for Peggy’s career transition from the secretary position to a superior copywriter position. The scenes, which contained Peggy Olson working with Ken Cosgrove on conducting an audition for selecting an appropriate female narrator to advertise the relaxerciser demonstrates the influence Peggy as a female has in having a voice in the male, based working environment. Her independent decision to choose Annie due to her displaying confidence at the audition instead of Rita even though Ken preferred Rita’s voice shows the decision making power assigned to Peggy. Peggy ultimately rejects Annie when she realised that Annie failed to display the amount of confidence in her voice that lead to Annie leaving the studio in tears. Peggy commands Ken to go after her and comfort her, which further emphasises her decision-making powers that was followed by her male co-worker.

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Don Draper being satisfied with Peggy’s ambitious attitude and valuing her feminist input into numerous advertising campaigns, becomes a supportive mentor in her process of becoming the first female copywriter of Sterling Cooper since the second world war. In season 1’s last Episode (13), After Don presents an inspiring presentation about Kodak’s slide projector, all the men meet and congratulate him; Followed by them discussing about Peter Campbell’s father-in-law’s campaign for “Clearasil” when Don decides to allocate Peggy to be the campaign’s copywriter. Peter Campbell angrily rejected that idea, as he believed that Peggy is lacking in experience to work on such a serious campaign. Nevertheless, Don ignores Peter’s remarks and continues assigning Peggy for that role which emphasises Don’s support towards guiding Peggy through her career. Peggy’s growth in the organisational role and responsibilities associated with it demonstrates the way in which the male dominant working atmosphere present in higher organisational roles is gradually on the path of being diminished hence the movement of the power of feminism in gaining equality in such environments looks forward to an faster increasing path as time goes on.

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One thought on “Role of Peggy Olson in the representation of feminism on Mad Men

  1. […] and the other two of average beauty.  Peggy immediately singles out the woman with beauty, indicating that what they are selling is ‘confidence’.  Peggy, frustrated that the beautiful woman did not sound confident enough dismissed her by […]

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