By Olivia LeClair
Though I’m not an avid viewer of Mad Men, I do like to watch repeats in my spare time and enjoy gazing adoringly at the Banana Republic line of Mad Men – inspired clothes that I cannot and will never be able to afford. While searching the library shelves for a new book to review, I happened upon a book that was on display called Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the ‘60s and Beyond.
The memoir was written by Jane Maas, who worked in the advertising world in the Mad Men era—and she was no lowly secretary.For Mad Men fans, think of Jane Maas as a real-life Peggy Olson. She started out low on the totem pole in 1964 at the agency Ogilvy and Mather, and eventually rose to be a creative director and agency officer.
She was also the president of another New York advertising agency, and even had an agency of her own for a short period of time.
If you’ve ever heard of or seen the “I Love New York” campaign (who hasn’t?), then you’ve indirectly known who Jane Maas is. She was one of the directors responsible for the project, which is one of her bigger claims to fame. She was also one of the first women to wear a pantsuit to work, and was the first woman to be assigned to the prestigious American Express account at the agency she worked for.
Maas discusses Mad Men quite often throughout the memoir, and mostly compares the real life working conditions and structure with that portrayed in the show. She wrote from her own experiences, and interviewed many of her former colleagues about their experiences.
One major theme throughout the memoir is that of working mothers. Maas was not the only working mother in her office, and notes that Mad Men fails to portray this—it was much more common than we initially think it was. She expresses her guilt because of missing out on parts of her children’s lives, and the scrutiny she received from stay-at-home mothers.
Throughout the memoir, Maas is nothing but candid. When describing her first memoir, Adventures of an Advertising Woman, she admits that she was unable to write freely, and that the purpose of the book was to generate more sales and press for her agency.
She is also unafraid to name names – her honesty shines through on every page.
Though Maas was honest and certainly dealt with many serious issues in this book, I really appreciated her use of humor throughout the memoir. Her descriptions of ad campaigns and clueless men puzzling over “what women want” are enough to make anyone laugh out loud.
Mad Women is a relatively quick read, and is certainly worth your time. It really makes you appreciate the effort of the women’s rights movements in the 1960s, and the barriers that were broken down for our generation. We still have a long way to go, but thanks to Jane Maas, at least we can wear pants to work!
Rating: 4 out of 5
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