So I just finished Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls. It’s a novel about three beautiful women who all become rich and famous—but not without being victimized, betrayed by love, and addicted to valium (sedatives, the “dolls” of the title). It’s an addictive read, and while certainly not literary, I was left pondering just what the message was supposed to be here.
The novel is set between 1945 and 1965, or so, and the portrayal of women is something to behold. Like the assumption, throughout the novel, that a woman should quit her job—no matter how fabulous—the minute marriage or even just engagement is on the horizon. Pile on the more dramatic horrors of involuntary incarceration in a mental institution and choosing suicide over the potential loss of fabulous breasts to cancer, and you’re left feeling rather glad to be living in these times.
One gets a similar sense from the much-hyped TV series Mad Men, set in 1960. One character, Peggy, becomes the first “since the War” to do any copy-writing for the Stirling-Cooper ad agency feature. “It’s like watching a dog play piano” says one of the men, of Peggy’s writing abilities.
The most recent episode I watched focused on the Nixon-Kennedy election. The firm—which the creator notes is a “dinosaur”, destined to be rocked by the changes of the times, not participating in them—is backing Nixon. And having to accept that their man has been bested by the young, charismatic Senator from Massachusetts.
And here we are, with the year’s US election, and the old man of the Republican Party figures his best chance of defeating the young, charismatic Senator for Illinois is to put a young, dynamic woman on his ticket.
Good thing she didn’t quit her job when she got married.