Mad Men Mondays: This Place Is a Gynocracy

Welcome to our newest series! During the third season of Mad Men Feministing writers will offer some of our thoughts on feminist moments, scenes, and themes in the new episodes in order to start a discussion about these topics in our community. *WARNING: Lots of spoilers follow.
The opening dream-like sequence
I was struck in the opening moments of the episode by the intense sexism that defines Dick Whitman’s back-story and the degree to which Don Draper seems to be aware of this. Here is a man who is a proud misogynist, yet the past he rejects is shaped by the treatment of women as objects for sexual pleasure and reproduction, patterns Don has repeated. –Jos
Previous flashbacks for Don have often revolved around his father and a sort of hyper-masculine cruelty and neglect. These flashbacks were really centered around the women of his past, childbirth, bodies, and, as Jos said, sexism. I wonder if this is setting the tone for a shift in some of this season’s “births.” –Courtney
Betty says of Sally, “She’s taken to your tools like a little lesbian.”
From the beginning the show signals this season will deal with shifting gender roles as well as homosexuality. Betty’s joking did not downplay the fact that she sees Sally’s use of a hammer as aberrant behavior. –Jos
I actually wondered about Betty’s comment, was it anachronistic? I got the impression from previous seasons that homosexuality is perceived as a perversion, not really as lifestyle/sexuality. (Remember when the Russian guy at Sterling Cooper guy who comes out is called a pervert by folks around the office?) And therefore it would be weird for Betty to reference it so casually. But maybe I’m wrong. I need some schooling from a gay-rights historian! –Ann
I was sort of thrown off by Betty’s joke as well. There was certainly an edge to it, but even the fact that she would joke about it made it seem less pathological than I had thought it might sit in her mind at this time, in this place. –Courtney
I totally felt like it seemed anachronistic too. But maybe, like Jos said, it’s more of an indicator of what this season will be bringing to the table in addressing gender roles and homosexuality. Perhaps they’re looking to show changes in attitudes and some progression as the show moves forward through time – between Betty’s comment, Sal finally getting a little booty and Don not outing Sal. (Though not that much time has actually gone by in the show…) –Vanessa

Tentacle porn and “the man who imagined her ecstasy.”
One of the first signals that sexuality will be more overt this season came when Bert Cooper’s exoticizing fascination with all things Japanese took a pornographic turn. Of course the men of Sterling Cooper are still more fascinated by the male gaze than female pleasure. What interests Cooper is the mind of the man who would create such an image, re-inscribing the objectification of women represented in the painting. –Jos
That was a wild moment! So disconnected, so exoticized. It seems to underscore the ways in which female sexuality are pulsing underneath so much of Mad Men, but it is male sexuality that is always on the surface. –Courtney
Mr. Hooker the male secretary and gender roles. Joan says, “He’s repellent. He reminds me of a doorman.”
The gendering of roles in the business world is beginning to shift, making everyone uncomfortable. We’ve watched Peggy begin to take on roles considered male and now we are seeing Mr. Hooker in a traditionally female role. He is uncomfortable being there and Peggy and Joan are uncomfortable with his presence. Mr. Hooker challenges the gendered order of things, and even though Peggy has herself resisted these structures it still disgusts her to see a man in a place she thinks he does not belong. –Jos
I think they’re setting up an interesting dynamic with Mr. Hooker — he’s basically a secretary, but thinks it’s beneath him to be treated as such. I half expected Joan to dominate him the way she does all of the other new secretaries. But apparently gender trumps job title in this situation. –Ann
I saw Peggy’s resistance to Mr. Hooker as more centered around her need to control everything after the totally out-of-control experience of having an “illegitimate baby.” I feel like she’s just holding her breath all day long, trying to make sure everything is done exactly perfectly, and his presence shakes up that sense of control. –Courtney
It could also potentially be the threat that Mr. Hooker may pose to Peggy’s position; after all, she started as a secretary and had to struggle to get where she is at – as a male secretary, it would be much easier for him to enter more of a position of authority (with the possibility of replacing her, particularly considering Campbell and Cosgrove’s recent promotion.) –Vanessa
Sexually suggestive ads.
Suddenly it’s all double entendres to a degree we have not seen before. Sex in ads is much more overt. Still not stated outright, but it would be hard to miss the obvious phallic bottle and flasher’s raincoat. –Jos
Yes — up to this point, it was “happiness sells.” This is the advent of “sex sells.” –Ann
Finishing a bag of Fritos is “unladylike.”
Mmmmmm. Fritos. –Ann
Instructions: take a snack bag of Fritos, open it, fill it with copious amounts of shredded cheese and steaming chili, and eat like the hungry lady you are. So delicious. –Courtney
Don: “I’ve been married a long time. You get plenty of chances.”
As my colleague Dana Goldstein (the person who got me into Mad Men) pointed out, it’s clear Don is recommitting to his relationship with Betty because, up until this point, he has chosen to have affairs that are about more than sex. He’s been in relationships with smart women (especially Rachel and Bobbi) who look nothing like Betty. This episode, however, marks a departure: he is having a one-night stand with a woman who looks a lot like Betty. It’s still cheating, of course. And Don is still a jerk. But in his own twisted way, it’s progress toward being more committed to his family. –Ann
Super fascinating points Dana/Ann. I knew there was something different about this one, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was almost like Don was admiring her as a young, frivilous fascimile of Betty. Gross, but true. –Courtney
Sal’s sexual encounter and getting outed to Don.
This episode gave us a very different sort of moment of seduction in a hotel for Sal. In the past we have seen longing stares, hands brush. Here we have raw lust with hardly any of the careful posturing. The sexual liberation Don flirted with in the Village is slowly making its way into the mad men’s world. The fear is starting to shift for Sal, from being found out to being crushed by the weight of living a lie. But with one line of copy, “Limit your exposure,” Don shoves Sal back into the closet. –Jos
I was SO excited that Sal was finally gonna get it on. Damn that fire alarm! After the shock registered on Don’s face, there was a debate among my viewing crew as to whether Don would let this pass or not. But if we’ve learned anything about him, it’s that he’s pretty damn good at keeping secrets. So I don’t think Don will out Sal — or even mention the incident. It’s hard to imagine the scene on the plane ride home where Don asks Sal, “Hey man, so you’re gay?” It would never happen. –Ann
Such a hot scene! Yes, definitely a forewarning that this season is dealing with sexual identity in a big way. I predict a big, show-stopping explosion of some kind…not Don outing Sal, but something more jaw-dropping and bold, maybe initiated by Sal himself. –Courtney
I almost felt like, Don was letting Sal know, I know what it is like to hide who you are, with his line about limiting exposure as well. –Samhita
The new assistant Mr. Hooker says, “This place is a gynocracy.”
Best. Line. Ever. Hardly true, but it speaks to the intense discomfort Mr. Hooker feels with any degree of female power, especially since his “position” already makes him feel vulnerable as it lessens his perceived masculinity. Joan is in charge of decorum in the office, a role she handles brilliantly, and this bit of power in female hands is too much for Mr. Hooker. –Jos
Can this be the new Feministing tagline? –Ann
I second that! –Vanessa
I’m just waiting for Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh to hear about this phrase and start using it to describe our federal government. After all, there are more than like two women in powerful positions. –Courtney

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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