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The Sacrifice of Mad Men

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Verily_Mad Men Season 6

This Sunday brings the two-hour Season 6 premiere of AMC’s Mad Men. As the hype of the premiere builds, I’ve been left wondering what will come for the women who sacrificed self-respect, ambition, and love at the end of Season 5. Perhaps more importantly, what value is there in sacrifice if so much stands to be lost?

At the end of season 5, the Mad Men women face the unfair realities of sacrifice in the sexist 60s world to get ahead. Megan was left to decide between her dream job as an actress and her husband Don; Peggy pushed aside her sentiment for her mentor Don, and left the firm with tears in her eyes, hoping to move up the corporate ladder elsewhere; and Joan reluctantly agreed to a one-night stand for the opportunity to become partner at the firm.

“I’m talking about a high level of business,” Pete said, after asking his Joan to sleep with a client in order to ensure the firm’s deal with Jaguar. “It seems to me, some things are worth sacrifice.” Those of us who watched the end of Season 5 know that Joan decided that the sacrifice—even of her self-respect—is worth the gain. But, was she right?

Stepping out of the 60s and back to the present, we can be thankful the dynamic in the professional world has drastically changed. But what hasn’t changed is the reality that we make sacrifices every day, both professional and personal--whether deciding to forego breakfast to get to work on time or to miss our friend’s performance because we must finish that last stack of paperwork by 9 a.m. It is said that every relationship requires sacrifice, but, in the throes of love or ambition, it can be hard to see whether or not the sacrifice is really worth the gain.

How can one tell the difference? It seems the first question to ask is at what cost the sacrifice comes to oneself. Khalil Gibran, poet and author of The Prophet, calls upon the idea of maintaining oneself when in love. “Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping,” he writes. “For the hand of Life can contain your hearts.” Gibran, I think, isn't saying to avoid love. He is not even saying to avoid sacrifice. Rather, he knows that in order to fully be given--in order to make meaningful sacrifice--one must stay strong in their own moral code and self-understanding.

My most poignant memory of sacrifice is that of my mother. Opening a business at 22, my mother ran a successful company in Miami for over a decade before she had children. Once my brother and I came into the picture, she turned the business over to my father and dove head first into her new position as a stay-at-home mom.

“I don’t like the word sacrifice,” she told me. Sacrifice seemed much too grave, and too heavy a word for her to embrace. But in reality, sacrifice is exactly what she did for our family. She says she doesn’t regret her decision to become a stay-at-home mom, because it was what she wanted; far from jeopardizing her integrity, it fulfilled her. “I wanted to be a mother so badly," she said, "and I was lucky enough that I could.”

Her example taught me that when making a sacrifice, hold your dignity tighter than anything else and you won’t lose yourself along the way. Season 6 will reveal whether the Mad Men women find their sacrifices of Season 5 worth it, and, if not, how to move forward.

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Cori Capik

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Cori is a graduate student at Columbia University's journalism school and a freelance writer in New York City. Cori loves the sunshine, can't be away from the ocean for too long, and is always on the lookout for a great café con leche. You can follow her on twitter at @coricapik.