Jane Maas: The real life Peggy Olson

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First aired on Q (26/3/12)


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This week saw the long-awaited return of the AMC drama series Mad Men, which had many television viewers toasting their screens with an Old Fashioned or two. After a 17-month hiatus, Don Draper, Peggy Olson and the rest of the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce gang are back, ready to renew their office affairs and martini lunches. While the set design and costumes on the Mad Men are meticulously chosen, the show has many people curious about how realistic its portrayal of a 1960s advertising agency culture is. Was there really that much sex and scotch at the ad office?

According to Jane Maas, author of the new memoir, Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the '60s and Beyond, the answer is yes. "People ask me three questions when they find out I was in advertising in the '60s," the former ad executive told Q host Jian Ghomeshi. "They say, 'Was there really all of that terrible treatment of women? Did you guys really have three-martini lunches?' And then they lean forward and say, 'Confidentially, was there all that sex in the office?' And I say, 'Yes, yes, yes!'"

Maas, known to many as the "real life Peggy Olson," began her career as a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather in 1964. She worked her way up to becoming one of the biggest names in the business, and the brains behind many memorable campaigns, including the now famous "I Love New York" tourism campaign. 

The industry had as much sexism as it did sex, and Maas and her fellow female colleagues had to fight to be heard. "Men called the shots," she said. "Women were not allowed to work on car advertising because men didn't think we knew how to drive and we weren't allowed to work on financial because they thought we didn't know how to balance our chequebooks."

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Sexual harassment was also evident in the workplace, and the women who were subject to it were "supposed to handle it quietly, not complain about it, not go around talking about it." In fact, even if they wanted to say something, they couldn't, Maas explained, because there was no human resource department and no policies protecting workers. Maas herself was harassed by a co-worker for two years before breaking down in her boss's office and finally asking for a transfer to a different creative group.

Another challenge Maas faced was being a working mother. At the time she went into advertising, she had two young daughters. While her husband was a successful architect, Maas knew she didn't have to work for financial reasons, but chose to do so for emotional ones. She wanted to work, wanted to be productive and wanted to contribute. However, "it was another cross to bear," she said. And the pressure came from both genders. "Women looked down on me because clearly I was not being a very good mother," she said. "Men felt vaguely sorry for us working moms. They felt we must be married to bums. Otherwise, why did we have to work to support our families?"

Despite these challenges, Maas looks back on her time on Madison Avenue fondly. "We had a wonderful time. We were passionate about creating great advertising. We liked each other enormously. We respected each other. We worked hard, but we had fun," she said. "Advertising was a wonderful profession for me."

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