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Leah Hollar

Communication Theory & Research


Sudeep Sharma

Hegemonic Femininity and Masculinity as Portrayed in


Mad Men

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While the concept of hegemonic masculinity has been widely researched, according to

sociologist Mimi Schippers there has been a call for more theory and research on femininities

(Schippers, 2007, p. 85). The ideology behind societal gender norms are displayed in texts like

the television series Mad Men. While fictional, the series is based on accurate truths relating to

how society operated in America in the 1960s. Some of these truths are relevant to our society

today. With regards to hegemonic femininity and masculinity as portrayed by the characters in

the first two seasons of the AMC television series Mad Men, theories on hegemonic femininity

and masculinity and how they relate to systems of gender inequality will be examined

(Schippers, 2007, p. 85).

Hegemonic femininity, also referred to as emphasized femininity by some theorists, is a

concept that was developed in tandem with hegemonic masculinity to acknowledge the

asymmetrical position of masculinities and femininities in a patriarchal gender order (Connell &

Messerschmidt, 2005, p. 848). The concept focuses on compliance to patriarchy and is still

highly relevant in contemporary mass culture (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005, p. 848). The

hierarchical relationship between femininity and masculinity ensures inequality and domination

along gender lines (Schippers, 2007, p. 93).

The men in the series substantiate theories on how hegemonic masculinity can be

defined. They possess physical strength, the ability to use interpersonal violence in the face of

conflict, and authority (Schippers, 2007, p. 91). The female characters themselves substantiate

theories on how hegemonic femininity can be defined: they are physically vulnerable, unable to

use violence effectively, and compliant (Schippers, 2007, p. 91). The men express their

masculinity by expressing erotic desire for the feminine object, a construction of masculinity.

(Schippers, 2007, p. 90). One quote from the married head of the fictional advertising firm

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Sterling Cooper, Roger Sterling, is the perfect example of this. Sterling tells the main character

Don Draper in the episode Long Weekend, Remember Don. When God closes a door he

opens a dress. Sterling and Draper are both married men who cheat on their wives. In the

episode Ladies Room, Draper asks Sterling, Let me ask you something: what do women

want? Sterling replies, Who cares.

While the men in the series objectify women in many ways from constant gawking and

flirting to going to strip clubs, the women serve to perpetuate the idea that they are there to be

looked at. In the episode Red in the Face Betty Draper says, As far as Im concerned, as long

as men look at me that way, Im earning my keep. Betty plays a compliant and subservient wife

up until the end of the second season, when her husbands transgressions come to her attention.

In order for men to maintain superiority and social dominance over women, the

constructs of masculinity then must remain unavailable to women (Schippers, 2007, p. 94). To

achieve this, any feminine characteristic that does not fall in line with hegemonic femininity then

must be defined as deviant and stigmatized (Schippers, 2007, 94-95). Promiscuous women, for

example, were often stigmatized. While there are some conflicting ideologies relating to

promiscuity in the show, a situation relating to the character Peggy Olsen is an example of the

dominant beliefs of the time. Peggy, when she was a new secretary, had an affair with engaged

account executive Pete Campbell. After Pete ended the affair, single Peggy found herself in the

hospital one day with stomach pains. She was pregnant. Because the child was not only born out

of wedlock, but was the result of an affair with a now-married man from the office, Peggys

sister adopted the baby. Nobody except Peggys family could ever know the truth about who the

father of Peggys baby was.

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Likewise, any masculine characteristic that does not fall in line with hegemonic

masculinity then can be stigmatized. Men who desire other men throw off the order of

superiority and dominance. The character Salvatore Romano in Mad Men is a closeted

homosexual whose desire for men is very subtly displayed on the show. His sexual orientation, a

taboo during the times, is not revealed to other characters in the first two seasons of the show. He

attempts to appear as though he is in line with hegemonic masculinity by marrying a woman and

joining the other men on outings to strip clubs.

The examples of hegemonic masculinity and femininity as portrayed in Mad Men work

as a model for gender inequality that can be applied to real world experiences. By interpreting

how such inequalities operate in a society, we can begin to better understand the implications of

our actions and beliefs as a society.

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References

Connell, R.W., & Messerschmidt, J.W. (2005). Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept.

Gender and Society, 19, 829-859.

Schippers, Mimi. (2007). Recovering the feminine other: masculinity, femininity, and gender

hegemony. Theory and Society, 36, 85-102.

Weiner, Matthew (Producer). (2007). Mad Men [Television series]. Los Angeles: Weiner Bros.