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When Mad Men Pitches Feminism: Popular Education and Historical Witnessing Through DVD Special Features

Mary Celeste Kearney


This article analyses Birth of an Independent Woman, a 2009 documentary about the U.S. women’s liberation movement. An archive of feminist memories produced for mainstream audiences largely ignorant of this past, the film’s social, political, and cultural significance is complicated. On the one hand, this documentary’s ability to inspire critical consciousness is potentially compromised by its corporate production as well as its distribution on one of Mad Men’s DVD boxed sets. On the other, it may signal an emergent form of popular culture that upsets traditional notions of both commercial entertainment and alternative media, not to mention historiography. Drawing on viewers’ investments in this popular television series to build knowledge about women’s history, gender oppression, and feminist activism, this documentary deserves critical consideration for its potential to facilitate ethical reception that contributes to progressive public memory and social change.