Mad Men Mondays: Tuesday after Labor Day edition

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.
Peggy moving to Manhattan. “You’re gonna be one of those girls?” Peggy: “I am one of those girls.”
I love this! Own it, Peggy. Her response seemed aspirational — especially given her exchange with Joan over the ad and her initial meeting with the roommate. She doesn’t quite think of herself as “one of those girls” yet, and this new apartment is an important step. -Ann
I loved this line so much. My crush on Peggy continues. Though it’s clear from her meeting her potential roommate that she’s not quite one of “those girls” yet…but she’s getting there. -Jessica

Bobby: “War is bad.” Gene: “Maybe, but it makes a man out of you.”

Gene’s attempt at teaching Bobby masculinity – it’s all about violence and sex workers. Don is uncomfortable with encouraging the violence of war. Perhaps he prefers the version of masculinity he teaches by example – absenty father and husband, infidelity, using sexual violence to get what he wants… -Jos
This is also interesting in the context of Don’s story — war isn’t where he became a man, it’s where he became a different man. And you can see how much he dislikes Bobby’s interest in his grandpa’s war stories. -Ann
I thought it was intriguing how Don humanized the story Gene was telling as well by telling Bobby there was “a person in that helmet.” -Jessica

Sal and Kitty.
What a completely heartbreaking scene. Kitty watches Sal perform the role of a seductive woman and she just knows. Does Sal think about what he’s putting Kitty through? Sal’s closet is a terrible place and he’s crammed his wife in there too without her knowledge. I’m so glad Mad Men is showing what happens when the closet forces a gay man into opposite marriage and the impact this has on his wife. -Jos
This moment, I think, was only the second time that Sal’s sexuality has been anything other than infinitely subtle and barely perceptible. It was also a bizarre echo of Peggy’s private Ann Margaret impression in front of her mirror a few episodes ago. For me, it just drove home the sheer craziness of the idea that you could be married to and live with a person and really know almost nothing about them (and it reminded me that Betty, too, is married to and living with a man who, in many ways, she barely knows). -Chloe
Betty’s relationship to food, weight, and her parents. Betty and Gene’s attitudes about women working.
It’s easy to criticize Betty’s parenting, but this week we got some hints about how she was raised, including where her unhealthy relationship with food might come from. Eating the peach left in her dead father’s car reflected a theme seen in a lot of the parent/child relationships in this episode – an act of resistance against her parents and simultaneously an attempt for connection. -Jos
Ugh it’s just broke my heart when Gene talks about Betty’s mom making her walk home as a way to force her to lose weight. Though I did find it interesting that Gene took such an interest in Sally and her being independent and the juxtaposition between that and Betty insisting that she’s still Gene’s “little girl.” -Jessica
Joan gives Peggy advertising tips.
Joan breaking down what the housing ad was really about, exactly like the ad execs do in meetings. She should be in a corner office and she knows it. Sadly, Peggy is the only person she can take it out on, since it’s so much easier to target people who are closer to your position of power and privilege. -Jos
I heard this as Joan’s nostalgia for her single life, given that married bliss is not all it cracked up to be. Was it also a reference to her former roommate, who was in love with her? -Ann
The first thing I thought was that Joan should be a copywriter! She knew immediately what Peggy was looking for. -Jessica
Peggy tells her mother about moving to Manhattan. “You’ll get raped, you know that.” “There’s a man, isn’t there.”
No one was ever raped in Brooklyn in the 1960s. Pretty sure of that. -Ann
It’s curious that men are positioned as both the lure for independence, and the punishment. If you move to the city to more freely have sex with a man, you deserve to be punished with rape. -Chloe
I also noticed that her mom threw in a “why would I ever believe anything you say”? Maybe a not-so-subtle hint at Peggy’s pregnancy? -Jessica

Sally deals with Gene’s death.

Sally’s just lost the only adult who took some time to talk with her, who did more than chastise her for eating too much and tell her to go watch tv. The astonishing thing about the scene in which she yells at the adults for laughing is that not one of them gets up to comfort her. Then the tv — the thing that her parents think is the ultimate balm — just has more violence to show her. Another hint of the upcoming political turmoil to come. -Ann
I’m with Ann, I couldn’t believe that they just sent Sally off after her breakdown. The last scene with her lying on the floor in her tutu as the adults talk in the background just about killed me. -Jessica
I think Betty almost connected with Sally for a brief moment – as Sally passed behind Betty, both looking so similar after crying, Betty’s eyes subtly followed her daughter. But no, nothing, no connection. Brilliant work by January Jones, as usual. She elevated the material in an episode that didn’t excite and engage me as much as others this season. -Jos

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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  • sushi

    Awesome analysis.
    I love this show so much.
    Is it just me, though, or are the breaks to commercial really abrupt somehow? I don’t remember noticing that in the previous seasons.
    And can anyone believe that Pepsi was going to call their diet soda ‘Patio’?

  • DeafBrownTrash

    I just started watching the show LAST WEEK, but I forgot to watch this week :-/
    but so far, I love what I’m seeing. Peggy, by far, is also my favourite character. You guys were right when y’all said there was a lot of feminist connotations in the show. Amazing.

  • Therese

    Yeah, you could tell by the look on Kitty’s face that she knew. Poor girl. But Sal would never leave her. I think he loves her, just not in the way she wants, of course – maybe in the way a big brother loves his little sister. I hope she will someday get the courage to leave him.
    I also liked Peggy’s triumph when the client HATED the “Patio” ad! They hated it because it was a cheap knock-off and they were embarrassed by it, just as Peggy predicted.
    As for Peggy’s move to Manhattan, I was surprised how cool her sister was with it. But now I think that she finally realizes how bat shit their mother is, she is teaming up with and supporting Peggy. My husband’s family has rural roots and he has helped me understand that there are people who have a pathological hatred of the city – any city. People of a certain generation are convinced that if you go to the city you will most certainly be robbed and raped. Granted, these days when we think of New York, we think of all 5 Burroughs (at least I do having lived there for 8 years). But it was only up until about 100 years ago that NYC stopped at 23rd Street, and 50 years ago, when people thought New York City, they thought of Manhattan only. Even people who lived a train ride away were afraid to go to the City, so Mrs. Olson’s reaction to Peggy’s impending move was not surprising.

  • Tara K.

    Coming from rural Applachia and a familistic culture, the scene where Peggy’s mother says, “You’ll get raped” rung so familiar.
    My grandmother, to this day, still says “be a good girl” when I talk to her one the phone — six years since I moved out and away on my own. The thread of rape and the suppression of female independence through the fear of this is such a constant thread in our society. Women are hammered into thinking that you must consider the possibility of rape or other violence against you before you go out alone, live alone, get a job i an unfamiliar area, travel, etc. This scene demonstrates, though, that all of society, not just male figures or authorities, use the thread of sexual assault and violence to keep us afraid and, thus, to keep us compliant and close.

  • yorubella

    Am I alone in thinking that Sal’s wife may still not “get it”?
    I think we may be projecting our awareness of sexuality today a bit. My family is West African, and until my Uncle actually dons a dress and put on lipstick, my Aunt will have no idea that he’s a closet case.

  • LCA

    While I agree that she probably isn’t thinking “Oh crap, my husband’s gay,” I think we’re seeing her realize something is “off.” We know that they haven’t been having sex, that he’s seemed distant, that he is more interested in his co-workers than her (remember when he invited Ken over for dinner?). But I hope they show how this marriage unfolds. Will he ever tell her? Will she accept her role as a beard? Will Kitty leave Sal? Or look for sex elsewhere? It could go almost anywhere.

  • Mama Mia

    I agree with you. I think it seems unlikely that her first thought would be that he is gay. I think more likely, she would be thinking there is something wrong with HER, not him. She sees that when she arrives in lingerie, he doesn’t respond, but when he talks about work, he gets excited and happy. What is wrong with her that she can’t make him excited and happy? Women were and are trained to look for the answer to marital problems in themselves, so I really don’t think she is seeing he is gay, yet.
    She clearly knows something is wrong with the marriage, though, and that makes her very sad and dejected. So sad for all.

  • DonnaDiva

    When you think about what horrid parents Don and Betty are it’s even more disturbing to realize that they are a substantial improvement over a lot of other parents at the time, and now. What I love most about this show and movies like Revolutionary Road is that they give viewers an unsparing look at a time when parenthood was pretty much compulsory if you were married. And no legalized abortion or available contraception to help you control the size of your family while still enjoying a sex life, either. This stuff should be required viewing for the young women I encounter all the time who are remarkably blase about the hard-won reproductive freedoms they enjoy today. And as a childfree-by-choice person, I’m rather tired of people acting like I’m Cruella De Selfish for depriving my non-existing children of the uninterested, resentful mother as I’m 100% sure I’d be.

  • Tara K.

    Oh, please don’t compare Revolutionary Road to Mad Men! I thought that whole movie was a rip off. Acting seemed replaced by two actors just screaming at each other and pretending that embodied sexual and marital politics of the ’60s.

  • Gabi

    I felt that the moment where Betty was eating the peach was another example of her… lacking parenting skills. Gene said earlier in the episode that Sally likes peaches, and he died after going to the grocery store/just before picking up the kids from school. I assumed he was buying peaches for Sally, but that Betty was eating them instead. It also made his death even more heartbreaking for Sally, he was probably the only adult in her life that took the time to actually get to know her as a person (including her favorite foods).
    Damn that episode was depressing…

  • DonnaDiva

    I wasn’t discussing the artistic merits of either. Whatever you think of DiCaprio’s and Winslet’s acting or the story, it was clear the characters hadn’t thought through their decision to procreate. They did it because it was compulsory. As did the Drapers.

  • davenj

    Love the analysis, but what about Horace Jr. and his Jai-Alai dreams? It’s a great discussion of class and wealth, and how they pass between generations.
    Horace Sr. has the line “He grew up in a cloud of success”, just about the best way I’ve heard the advantages of class privilege described on television. Of course Pete Campbell knows Horace Jr. (“Ho-Ho”) from Dartmouth, so the cloud condenses in this instance.
    I think the episode does a great job showing the advantages accrued from wealth, too. “Ho-Ho” has connections. He has the money to dream big. He also has confidence. I loved the 50% line. The idea that he can make a coin flip for millions of dollars.
    It shows some of the sharper edges, too. The recklessness that comes with a lifetime of success, the hubris. It also shows the way in which children of successes need to push even harder to distinguish themselves. Horace Jr. needs to give his father a franchise for his 75th birthday. Nothing less will do.
    He’s at the same time confident and a sucker, connected and alone, successful and unsatisfied. It’s a terrific analysis of class and how it perpetuates itself.

  • HoyaGuy

    “I also liked Peggy’s triumph when the client HATED the “Patio” ad! They hated it because it was a cheap knock-off and they were embarrassed by it, just as Peggy predicted.”
    I don’t know. I’ve heard elsewhere that people thought this was related to Sal’s homosexuality somehow.
    The theory being that he wasn’t able to quite capture the sexuality of Ann Margaret.
    It sounds homophobic….but I’m not sure it’s implausible that this was the direction the writers were going in.

  • allieb87

    Am I the only person who came away from this episode not thinking, “Wow, Betty is such a bad parent!”?
    I saw the scene with Sally’s outburst as two very different people having two very different reactions to death. Not to mention that Sally’s take was very childlike: “He’s really dead.” This is how I remember reacting to death in my own childhood. It was very scary to realize how concrete it was. I was appalled that the adults around me weren’t completely broken down… or at least that they didn’t appear to be.
    Betty knew her father was really gone. Hearing her daughter scream it was painful. Yeah, maybe she reacted badly but nothing leaves an adult feeling so infantilized as a parent’s death. I think Betty’s reactions were natural.
    I think the conversations between Sally and Gene were meant to show just how different Sally and Betty are. Gene says that Sally reminds him more of Betty’s mother than Betty does. We already know that Betty had a strained relationship with her mother and I think this was a set up for future tensions between Betty and Sally. I see their relationship becoming a power struggle.
    But I just don’t think any of this makes Betty a bad parent. Most people do things to screw their kids up. The sixties don’t have an exclusive claim to “bad parenting”. Yeah, the characters on Mad Men smoke and drink during their pregnancies and park their kids in front of the TV a lot. So what? That’s really how it was. Yes it seems foreign and strange to us but it isn’t bad parenting when put in context.
    I think Betty is acting the way she is because she can’t think of anything besides how trapped she is. The pregnancy reinforces this. And her reaction to discussing Gene’s wishes probably came from the fact that she couldn’t cope with the thought of losing her father (and thus the last tie to her own childhood) because it would mean that she had only herself to rely on.

  • Art Mitchell

    love the site, love the show, love the analysis! however, as much as i’ve enjoyed peggy’s character since the 1st episode, my question after the end of this episode is, “why was there no mention of peggy’s kid?”
    i guess i figured it would’ve been brought up by peggy’s sister, if not her mother. maybe i’ve missed something in the canon of the series- i do remember from earlier when peggy asserted her responsible-ness and her sister replied “the state of new york didn’t think so…” alluding to her possibly bequeathing her parental rights…am i crazy for thinking this?

  • roxie

    I don’t watch Mad Men (I want to, I’ll just have to start from season 1) but I saw Mad Men cosplay at Dragon*Con & thought I would be remiss if I did not share
    And some feminist cosplay:

  • argon

    I dunno… Jessica, Jos, everyone, I know you all mean well.
    I have been following this site for a while and I am sure that you all are very earnest about what you do. And it is admittedly a bit strange to make any comparisons of writing styles over the reviews of a fictional TV show. I am a member of the Mizzou Mafia and we usually like to go after more substantive pieces.
    But… I have been following your comments on a number of issues, many of which are nonparallel to significant sites; and over Mad Men, which very much IS parallel to major sites, most of which follow this show as slavishly as you.
    And the level of intellect and analysis is just not there. It is, to use the cliche of periods after every word, Just. Not. There. This site is just plain not ready for prime time.
    Not that you are unintelligent people… Jessica above all else commends herself with a high IQ. I have nothing but, as they say, “mad props” for her intellect. It’s that your staff treats your profession of journalism (even opinion-based journalism; even so-called “web journalism”) with a sense of casualness. You are evidently unready to sell your viewpoints to a larger audience and would rather sell your content to a largely ivory-tower crowed that already agrees with you. In other words, you all are very prepared to preach to the choir, but when it comes to exploring alternative viewpoints in order to challenge them… you don’t even begin to try.
    Again, it is odd that this is sparked by a review of Mad Men. But you have to admit, when you compare your comments to such a staid site as Slate, there’s just no there there. Best of luck. -WE

  • drdale

    The difference between HoHo and Campbell is that Campbell’s father lost most/all of his money while HoHo still has money to waste. Therefore, if Campbell wants to continue his life based on his heritage he has to do well for himself.


    I’ve heard other people say that too…but I don’t think that’s it.
    I don’t think it’s because Sal can’t conjure heterosexual desire.
    I don’t think Roger’s right and it’s because the actress wasn’t Ann-Margaret.
    I think Peggy was right all along. That ad is courting the male gaze and playing to male fantasies…but the product is aimed at a female audience…so the entire commercial is inappropriate and can’t work. The guys don’t know exactly what is wrong, probably because they can’t really take themselves out of their own subject position, but they feel something isn’t right: that they are marketing to women without actually understanding female subjectivity.

  • allieb87

    Um… what the fuck is this?
    What delightful, unwarranted criticisms you have to offer:
    “This site is just plain not ready for prime time.”
    I’m sure the editors of Feministing are hanging their heads in shame while sobbing, “If argon thinks so, then it must be true…”
    But it was nice of you to point out that Jessica’s “high IQ” redeems the site. I’m sure you’re privy to the Feministing staff’s IQ scores… probably their SATs as well. Do you have their Meyers-Briggs types?
    I know I may be taking troll bait but this was just too much… Jesus…

  • Lilitu

    Her sister isn’t raising Peggy’s kid. The baby was put up for adoption. Peggy’s sister was pregnant at the same time Peggy was, so she’s got a child the same age as the one Peggy had.

  • Lilitu

    Argh. I meant to add, no you’re not crazy. A lot of people have missed this one. They played it very subtly and probably should have made it a little clearer in the show.

  • Hille

    Why shouldn’t there any criticism allowed? I am not quite sure argon has the same reasons to come to this conclusion as I do, but I have to agree: I was really looking forward to your analysis of Mad Men, but I find a more substantial analysis every week for example in the Jezebel comments.

  • allieb87

    Criticisms are allowed but this was a poor criticism and a pretentious one. If someone disagrees with a post or finds it lacking I think they should be held accountable for identifying what they dislike instead of calling it “casual” and name dropping their journalism school. Give me a fucking break.
    Feministing is mainstream and for argon to suggest that it isn’t is insulting.

  • Tara K.

    You’re not ready for context, apparently.
    The point of the Mad Men posts on here isn’t to rival other blogs on television analysis, but to comment on the gender/power/race dynamics as the audience experiences them and as they are received in pop culture.
    I’m pretty sure all the ladies of Feministing could write an academic piece full of latinate and theory about Mad Men. But that’s not the point.
    Now, please, go whack off elsewhere.

  • Christina

    I think I look forward to reading this more than I do to actually watching the show. :)
    What do you all think about the picture Don was looking at? Is it possible he was lied to about who his mother was and what happened to her?

  • bookwoman27

    What I found interesting about Grandpa Gene in these past few episodes was how he seemed to challenged traditional gender roles with Sally (taught her to drive, had her reading above her grade level, told her she was smart rather than pretty), but also seemed to reinforce them with Bobby (the whole “war makes you a man” thing, etc.).
    Peggy is just awesome. I loved the scene with the potential roommate because it showed that even though Peggy is becoming “one of those girls” there’s not just ONE way to be one of those girls. Peggy is her own person, takes advice where she can get it, but ultimately makes her own decisions. And it’s easy to see that Joan’s version of a “fun roommate” is also someone ultimately looking for a husband, which Peggy really isn’t.

  • moodygirl

    I also interpreted this as Sal’s homosexual identity/inability to identify with mainstream straight male subject positions showing through. When the Pepsi guy said (words to the effect of) “It’s totally wrong, but I can’t put my finger on why,” I mentally (okay, verbally) added, “It’s almost as if the director of the commercial were gay!” I’m not sure if I buy that the guys suddenly gained the insight to see that the Ann-Margret impersonator won’t appeal to women; after all, the ad men as well as clients agreed that the ad fell flat, and these are the same guys who pushed the Marilyn/Jackie bra ads a few episodes back, with the same principle of “men want her, and therefore women want to be her,” and the only reason that ad campaign didn’t get used was that the client thought it was too edgy. Peggy may have been right in the sense that the commercial wouldn’t have spoken to women had it ever been aired (though the presence of plenty of other female characters who accept their assigned “subject-position” as sex objects whose primary wish is to appeal to men may suggest otherwise), and the clients’ rejection of the ad no doubt vindicates her viewpoint; however, I think the clients’ reason for rejecting the ad was different from Peggy’s.
    I think the issue was that Sal’s vision for the Ann-Margret clone had too much subjectivity and lacked the coyness and thus sex appeal of the original. Just like Sal when doing his own rendition for his wife, the actress seems to be performing for herself, confident more than coy, implying that she wants to drink Patio for her own reasons and not to become a mind-sticker (, and I don’t think Sal quite gets the distinction the other men perceive, instead getting lost in the campy theatricality and identifying with the actress rather than objectifying her. Peggy’s Ann-Margret in the recent episode is an interesting counterpoint; it isn’t natural or comfortable for her, but I think her lack of confidence in her own sexual power (combined with her willingness to go along with it when the guy she meets in the bar assumes she’s a typist) allows her to pass as the flirt-pretending-to-be-naive when really she’s just awkward at picking up men. Being gay, Sal’s male gaze is out of order, while he also lacks women’s experience with being on the receiving end of that gaze.
    I really wish the other gay guy–the Dylan-lovin’ beatnik–had been in this episode to weigh in on the Patio ad.

  • allieb87

    Not following Christina… where did you get that idea?

  • Christina

    He was looking through the box of pictures from his brother and saw one of his father and a woman, then looked at the names and date on the back. He seemed a little surprised by what he read. Don has so many unresolved issues from his childhood and I don’t think he’s done looking for answers from the past. Not saying his mother is alive (that would be a bit much) but I think he might think or hope that she is.
    Then again I could be jumping the gun and it’s nothing. It seemed to be somewhat significant though.

  • allieb87

    I remember the scene. It seemed kinda random to me. Maybe having Gene in the house just made him think of his own parents?
    I thought that was the woman who raised him (meaning not his biological mother but his mother nonetheless). I just don’t see Mad Men doing a whole soap opera style reveal of Don’s past. I think we already know most of what he’s hiding.

  • Jessica

    Is this supposed to be a real comment? Seriously, get over yourself.

  • bookwoman27

    I thought this scene was included to remind us once again how emotionally alone/isolated Don is due to his double identity… he can’t grieve or rage openly about his parents the way Betty can, just as he couldn’t celebrate his true birthday openly in 3.01.
    I also wonder though if this has something to do with what he told the rich stranger (Conrad Hilton) in the last episode about the lost farm in Illinois, and how his family moved to Pennsylvania coal country when he was little. According to the AMC web site, that picture of his father and stepmother was taken in 1928, when Don was 3 years old, and it does indeed look like a farmhouse in the background. So it might be an indicator that Don was telling the truth in that scene, hence we have a little more information about him. Don likes telling the truth when he’s talking to strangers… he can actually, in a weird way, be himself.

  • Yekaterina

    I think the reason Grandpa Gene was challenging gender roles with Sally and reinforcing them with Bobby is simply the fact that even today people have an easier time with girls appropriating traditionally male roles than boys venturing into the “girls” territory. Think about all the parents who enroll their girls in karate classes, vs the number of parents who enroll their boys into ballet. Fathers who think its cool their daughters work on a car with them or use their power tools, but would completely freak out if their sons donned aprons and went baking. I would imagine for a person living in the 1960s (and having been raised in an even less egalitarian era)it would be even more difficult to challenge gender roles of boy are brought up in.
    I do, however, think Gene’s attitude reflects the changing attitude towards womens’ roles that is taking place in society. No such thing for men in the 60s.

  • allieb87

    Excellent points bookwoman27.

  • Art Mitchell

    thanks for clearing that up for me!