ABC's New Show Downplays Sexism in the Sixties

By Julia Fuino

Sensing the growing sixties obsession spurred by Mad Men's launch in 2007, ABC jumped at the chance to lure viewers with retro outfits and beehive hair. With Pan Am premiering earlier this fall, the show fuels misplaced sixties nostalgia by presenting a dressed-up dramatization of the decade and adding a rosy hue to a period of rampant sexism.

While it's assumed that the cookie-cutter housewife was contained to the picket fences of the 50s, women's domestic restrictions lasted well into the next decade. In 1960, only slightly over 30 percent of women held jobs. Shows like Mad Mendon't shy away from acknowledging to the dark side of the 60s and portraying the injustices faced by women of the decade through plotlines. Pan Am, on the other hand, downplays the sexism—hiding behind a hot flight attendant's uniform and fake smile. Pan Am depicts stewardesses as beautiful, free spirited women who thought they had the world at their feet. But whose feet were they under?

The women of Pan Am were said to be the "new breed of women;" go-getters who wanted to see the world, rather than settling into mundane marriages like their peers.The idea sounds nice, but it hardly achieved equality. What these women perceived as "freedom" came with crippling restrictions. Not only did stewardesses have to be single, under the age of 32, and attractive, they also had to style their hair a certain way, wear a girdle, and weigh in before every flight. They may have been "seeing the world," but in the process of catering to their customers, they conformed to stereotypical chauvinistic standards of beauty. Sounds like housewives of the sky.

Among the martinis, Jackie O-esque hats, and steamy in-flight scenes, Pan Am highlights a brand of inequality that we've spent decades trying to undo. Give me a show that focuses on the second wave feminist movements of the later sixties. At 33,000 feet, these women were hardly flying high on their own prerogatives. The first step towards respecting these sexist injustices of the sixties is restraining from media glorification. Get your head out of the clouds, ABC.