“Women Don’t Buy Suitcases”: Unpacking Liminality and Gender in Mad Men

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Jess Derr


For a show called Mad Men, much of the critical scholarship surrounding the hit AMC period drama relates to the women of the advertising offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. As much as we like to look back on the 1960s as a time of radical change and empowerment, especially considering the stark rise of second-wave feminism, the strict expectations for women and the linear teleologies prescribed to them were far more reminiscent of decades prior. In contrast, while men of the period and the show proper are not without their own share of societal pressures, they are afforded far more leniency in how they conduct themselves in relation to assigned archetypes, a certain level of space and flexibility to engage with identity play when needed.

This paper will apply conceptions of liminality developed by cultural anthropologists including Arnold van Gennep to examine "The Suitcase," perhaps Mad Men's most well-regarded episode, in order explore what happens to working women like Peggy Olson who neither fit neatly into the teleology and social roles established for women nor the male-dominated spaces they find themselves inhabiting.

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