Photo: ©2008 Carin Baer/AMC.
A young woman sits in a bustling office, wringing her hands as she waits to confront her boss. Nerves palpable, she is readying herself to demand four walls in a company where all the women sit at open desks.
"I need my own office," she says when she gets 30 seconds of face time. "It's hard to do business and be credible when I'm sharing with a Xerox machine. Freddy Rumsen's office has been vacant for some time. I think I should have it."
"It's yours," her boss says matter-of-factly.
"You young women are very aggressive."
"Oh," she recoils a bit. "I didn't mean to be impolite."
"No, it's cute. There are 30 men out there who didn't have the balls to ask me."
So goes a typical scene in Mad Men, AMC's Emmy-winning mega-buzz drama about the inner workings at 1960s ad agency Sterling Cooper, which returns for its third season August 16. The exchange, from last season's penultimate episode, is between Peggy Olsen, an up-and-coming copywriter struggling to get ahead in a man's world, and Roger Sterling, a partner at the firm.
True, the interaction is dated. You won't hear that kind of dialogue in today's workplace—not unless the boss wants a lawsuit—but Robin Veith, Mad Men's executive story editor, would argue it's less a product of the decade than viewers might think. "The truth is that a lot of these moments that seem period and horrible for women come directly from experiences that I and the other women writers have had in our lifetimes," says Veith, one of seven female writers on the show's nine-person writing team. "Like the [first season] episode 'Ladies Room' where Peggy goes into the bathroom and there are women crying. That came from [consulting producer] Maria Jacquemetton's life experience."
That's not the only office drama Jacquemetton says she's seen firsthand. "Peggy assumed that Paul Kinsey in Season 1 wanted to talk to her and valued her opinion, and it turned out he really just wanted to date her. That's something that has certainly happened to several women on the staff, including myself, in our early days out [in Hollywood]," she says. "Men like women, and women want to be valued for more than just being attractive, and sometimes those things intersect. That's certainly not something that's decade-specific."