mad men stories (post for a class assignment)

Here's a post I wrote for class, that I thought I would share while I work on another for this blog. Working every afternoon has left me too tired to write at night, and every morning has found me with homework. Once I finish classes, I'll begin writing in the mornings, again.

Context: most of the students in the class are Conservative Evangelicals, and I think most of them are Baptist. I'm the only female.  I could write about anything related to culture, so I chose this topic. I tread lightly, because the last thing I want to participate in is heated debate over an old argument.


Mad Men, for those of you not familiar, is an award winning AMC drama following the lives of New York City ad executives and their families in the 1960s. The central character, Don Draper, plays a Creative Director for the firm Sterling Cooper, and later Sterling Cooper Draper Price. He's a brilliant and creative salesman who is conflicted about his identity, and lives a discontented double life. One side of Don Draper is what would appear to be a typical 1960s family man: he goes to work everyday, sometimes comes home at night to a dinner provided by his wife, provides more than enough for his family to live on, and his wife stays at home to look after their two children and manage the household. The other side of Don Draper is an unhappy womanizer who dulls his conflict of identity by drowning himself in alcohol and [extra-martial] sex.

Betty, Don's wife, is a beautiful, blonde, quintessential Feminine Mystique era housewife, who does nothing outside of home management. She cooks, does the grocery shopping, oversees her household help, gossips with her neighbor friends, does not work outside the home, plans and hosts parties and events, doesn't ask questions of her husband's job or money management, always looks polished, adheres to current social etiquette and ensures her children do the same, and escorts Don to his work-related shows, dinners, and parties. Based on outward appearances, Betty is the perfect stay-at-home wife and mother.

Being recently married (just past the three month mark) and still nerdy, gender roles are always at the forefront of my mind. I had already dismissed the aforementioned portrait of a housewife as a standard, since the times have changed drastically. I had already intellectually dismissed the idea that a stay-at-home wife is the only "biblical" way to be. So, why, up until last week, did I find myself attempting a failing impression of Betty Draper, or better yet, June Cleaver?

My initial thought: because of the culture of gender roles. Of course, one could say it's because my mother also a modeled for me what a wife and mother should look like (stay-at-home household manager), but in actuality, the only real examples of marriage I got close up, including that of my parents, were strangely like June and Betty's models. The wife stays at home, makes sure everyone has good food to eat, and keeps a clean and welcoming home. The husband goes to work and brings home the goods. It wasn't until my husband told me I should stop trying to act like June Cleaver and read more books (and write!), did it occur to me how deeply these gender roles had become ingrained in the Conservative Evangelical circles in which I grew up, and as a consequence, ingrained in myself. It bothered me a bit. Is this the way it should be?

Here's what I have concluded so far: gender make up is one thing and is God-given, but gender roles are socially constructed, for the most part. Not all men will be working outside of the home, and not all women will be working inside the home. Not even all women will be assuming the role of household manager, but instead operate their businesses from inside their home, and have someone else cook and clean. The boxes don't fit everyone. I think everyone should operate on the basis of what their natural skills and talents are, as well as doing what needs to be done for a season, regardless of socially constructed gender roles. I'd like to think of gender roles in more of a pragmatic way.

What's your experience with gender roles? What's you take on them? What's worked, and what hasn't? Do you think there is a biblical model for specific gender roles?


P.S. I'm very thankful for a husband who encourages me to embrace who God made me to be, instead of trying to fit inside a stereotype.