‘Happiness is just a moment before you need more happiness’.
So said hit US show Mad Men’s mysterious protagonist, Don Draper.
This series is jam-packed with complex, interesting characters, but it is undeniably Don who steals the show. Don Draper is good-looking, smart, successful and (generally) a loving father. He is the quintessential Alpha Male- the men want to be him and the women want to be with him. To everyone around him, Don lives the 1960s American Dream. But you only have to watch a couple of episodes to see that he is also a prolific cheating husband, an alcoholic and a liar. His entire existence is a lie, but the truth of his past is forever nipping at his heels. No matter how successful Don becomes, how much alcohol he consumes, or how gorgeous his wife and lovers are- it is never enough. Nothing heals the pain of his youth; nothing satisfies the hollowness, and he knows it.
You’re probably wondering why I’m banging on about a fictional character.
Despite the show’s exaggeration, its characters illustrate the complexity of human nature and our inability to escape from ourselves. Don Draper’s remark on happiness is a reflection on how we have all felt over and over again; that the very word holds so much promise, yet is fundamentally unsatisfying.
Navigating the world of womanhood is hard. As a 20 year old, I haven’t been doing it for very long, but so far it hasn’t been particularly straightforward.
Wherever I turn, I am confronted with contradiction. Every day is a walk along a very fine line between opposing worldviews. Society- or at least the minority that work in media and claim to represent society- endeavours to tell me what, as a woman, I’m supposed to be.
Let’s start with appearance. Fashion mags airbrush celebrities until they’re unrecognisable, suggesting that looking like a plastic mannequin is definitely the way to go. They advertise beauty products that you absolutely need because God forbid you’re pretty enough without them, and they instruct you to wear orange this season, because if you don’t, you’re obviously a social reject. You should also be thin, but not too thin because then you must have an eating disorder. Yet articles about eating disorders often appear in the very magazines that contribute to a woman’s insecurity in the first place.
Films and TV tell you exactly what kind of life to live- this job, these friends, that boyfriend. If you’re not having some kind of dramatic relational crisis, your life is just too boring.
Wanting to study and have a fulfilling career is all well and good, but what happens if and when you decide its time to start a family? Or what if you don’t want a family? Or, what if you don’t want a job? It seems no matter what you do, people will judge your choices.
The music industry suggests that if you ever want to become a singer, removing most of your clothing is a guarantee to success. Doesn’t matter if you’re tone deaf- auto-tune will take care of that.