Can 'Mad Men' Teach Us Christian Chivalry?
I don’t know if you’ve ever watched the long-running, and recently departed, television series, “Mad Men.” Frankly, as a Christian I really can’t recommend it to you.
Set during the 1960s in New York City and depicting the go-go advertising industry on Madison Avenue—hence the title, “Mad Men”—the cleverly written series is full of values and behavior that, shall we say, cross the line. Okay, that’s an understatement: sexism runs rampant through the series and hot-shot male executives chase skirts as much as they do clients in the office pool. But all of this is why I found an article about the show in the New York Post so intriguing.
Writer Heather Robinson says that many single career women in their 30s and 40s in Gotham these days look wistfully at “Mad Men” and the simpler era it depicts, when men dressed up for dates, held the door for women, and actually had to work for their attention.
Robinson writes, “I can’t help but wonder if in some ways life wasn’t easier back then—especially for single, marriage-minded women . . . Is it possible,” she continues, “that some of the wild enthusiasm for ‘Mad Men’ among viewers stems from a yearning for the satisfaction and sexiness of traditional sex roles, including chivalry?”
Robinson points out some alarming trends for women that we’ve talked about for years on BreakPoint, like: “The proliferation of online dating sites and ‘hookup culture’—or the decreased stigma around no-strings-attached sex between strangers.” All of which means, Robinson writes “that immature men’s playground is no longer just the halls of their office buildings. It’s the entire city.”
It’s no surprise, then, that as sexual relations have become easier to obtain for single men, marriage and even romance itself have receded beyond the reach of many women who actually hunger for them.
In 1960, just ten percent of men and women at least 25 years old had never married. Today it’s double that. And according to Pew Research, in 2011, the median age for first marriage for men was nearly 29, while it was 26.5 for women. In 1960, it was in the early 20s for both. Some of this, of course is due to more education and better career options for women, which on behalf of my three beautiful daughters, I’m thankful for. I want them to have every opportunity. But equality doesn’t mean sameness, and the sexes are hardly on equal relational footing these days.
According to sociologist and author Mark Regnerus, the sexual balance of power has shifted, and women clearly are the losers. Using the language of economics, Regnerus says that the more our culture offers porn and pressures women into promiscuous behavior, the more men are allowed to act like perpetual adolescents. Ironically, though young women, on average, are more successful and more educated in the marketplace, men still have seized the upper hand when it comes to sex—because of the expectations placed on women in our society. Gone are the days when men were forced to grow up and reach certain thresholds of adulthood, including marriage, in order to meet their sexual desires.
No wonder some career women today long for the era of “Mad Men”!
Now of course, the male chivalry toward women portrayed in shows like “Mad Men” doesn’t even get close to the heart of Christian chivalry. God expects so much more of His men when it comes to our behavior toward women. He expects respect, appreciation, and love—and not just eros. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church—that’s agape. And we are to love our neighbors—that’s phileo.
And as Regnerus states, churches need to emphasize marriage as a “developmental priority” for young people and provide avenues for Christian singles to meet one another in a safe, supportive environment.
If we were to do these things, the world will likely think we’re “mad,” but they may just sit up and take notice, too.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.
Publication date: June 2, 2015