I finally caved this summer and became the last American to watch Mad Men. Blasting through the first season, I was incredibly uncomfortable with much of what I saw, particularly the hideous treatment of women — at home and in the workplace.
While the sexism and racism depicted in the show were hard to watch, I quickly realized what a gift it actually was. It portrays so vividly, the way no dry history book can, why women ultimately revolted and started the long, hard climb to where we are today in the home, the workplace, etc.
I began to wish the show could be required viewing for every young person who takes for granted the rights they have now, without thought to how we got here. Or the ones who had to suffer so much that they finally revolted. Society never just decides “Oh, right. I guess we should give you equal rights.” No, it’s the people who are being stomped on who have to rise up and say, “No more.”
One of my favorite writers in the disability world, Dave Hingsburger, recently wrote about a similar realization he had about the special education movement.
He was at a workshop with people with disabilities when an older woman stood up to talk about how she had been excluded from school. The younger people in the audience were disbelieving.
But sadly it’s the story of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of kids. I have a brilliant friend who has dyslexia. He has an MFA from Yale and won a Guggenheim award for his photography. Back in the 1960s and early ’70s, he had to go to school in a separate classroom. He wasn’t even allowed to ride the regular bus to school. This is real, and it wasn’t that long ago.
Dave told the crowd of incredulous kids: “Because this woman fought to go to school, you have the right to an education. Because this woman dared walk into a place where she had been barred entry, you have the right to expect open doors. Because this woman courageously walked down hallways forbidden to her, to people like her, now all people with disabilities have that right. I think we owe her something.”
Indeed we do. So here’s to all those who came before and had the courage to fight to be educated. We know it wasn’t easy, but maybe it’s reward enough to see the epic difference it has made to individuals, families, and really our whole society?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Mad Men catching up to do.
Photo: Museum of DisAbility History