Two straight months of watching HBO's Deadwood has had an odd effect on me. My language is both worse, and better (read: filthy, but creative), and I've been thinking more seriously about the role of women in period TV drama.
If you're a woman in 1870's Deadwood, god help ye — ironically, your career options are pretty much the same as they are in Grand Theft Auto IV. You can check the box marked whore, wife, or misfit, and be sure that you're going to get the bejeezus kicked out of you at some point. Amazingly, the women of Deadwood (the TV series, at least), kick and scream and chafe within their proscribed roles. Calamity Jane, the series misfit, has simply rejected gender roles entirely — and is without a doubt, one of the best men in the camp. These women seem — modern, somehow — resigned, but momentously discontented.
Fast forward to a resigned, but much more contented lot — the women of AMC's Mad Men, which started its second season last night. Guess what; a hundred years after the mayhem of frontier injustice, things aren't that much better (except wardrobe). Systemic sexism, universal racism, and sweaty heels damning otherwise sassy broads with "Thanks, sweetheart." It's vile. And, I'm pretty sure that even Alma Garrett would have kicked Betty Draper right in the corset. Reader, it rankles — so much, that the slings and arrows of everyday attitudes hurt more. I saw a picture of Tina Fey in InStyle, with the caption, "From Brainy, To Beauty!" Well, thank goodness she can be pretty — God forbid she just be smart and funny AND RUN AND WRITE HER OWN HIT TV SHOW.
So — why does Deadwood's outright hostility toward women, bother me so much less than the viciously pleasant disdain in Mad Men? I mean, women are murdered in Deadwood. No one's trying to kill anything in Mad Men except possibly spirits (which they're also drinking heavily). I haven't yet figured this one out — but I suspect it's because the women have bought in to the 1960's sexism. They think they have it good — they really believe they're second class. Trixie, a prostitute in Deadwood — knows she's totally screwed no matter what she does (no pun, etc.). She may be resigned to her fate, but she's pretty angry about it, and that, at least, is therapeutic to watch. But Betty Draper, the maligned Barbie married to our hero, Don Draper (who's a $&^%), thinks she's a lucky duck — never mind the anxiety disorder, or that HER HUSBAND TALKS TO HER SHRINK BEHIND HER BACK. Sigh.
In the end, the real heartbreaker is that Deadwood seems like another world, but Mad Men looks familiar (I mean, I would wear all of Joan's wardrobe). It's not that long ago — maybe my grandmother was treated this way. I understand Peggy and Joan — I work in an office, I've cried in the bathroom, and occasionally, I need help carrying my stuff out to the car. The similarity ends there. Both my bosses ... are women.
Below, a taste of Peggy trying out liberation, as opposed to libations. Oh, And by the way — none of the women on the show were nominated for Emmys. Sigh. Maybe they'll win some kind of beauty award.