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.
Yes, we are publishing this Monday column on Tuesday again. Between Omega and the VMAs it couldn’t be helped.
Pete tries to market Admiral Televisions to black people, harasses Hollis.
Pete represents an interesting shift, realizing money can be made from African Americans as consumers while still being racist. His approach is all about the bottom line – black people are buying Admiral Televisions so the product should be marketed to them. It’s the most logical economic decision. Pete is still a scary racist, using his position to menace Hollis. And he’s still incredibly ignorant, failing to realize The American Dream has a very different meaning to Hollis, especially in the aftermath of Medgar Evers’ assassination and thinking he can get some comprehensive picture of why some members of a group would by a product from one man. He just doesn’t have a problem taking any money he can get. -Jos
I’ve read comparisons of the 1960′s Admiral Television depicted in this episode to the modern day Cristal, referencing the public falling out between the high-end champagne company and rapper/hip hop mogul Jay-Z back in ’06 when a Cristal rep made some problematic comments about the company’s hip hop following. This analogy works for me but I’m more inclined to recall the Tommy Hilfiger escapade from the 90′s. Remember that whole thing? The hood started rockin’ Tommy to death (I remember my middle school self decked out in those tommy overalls, one strap loose!) and then there were rumors (never fully substantiated, I should dutifully add) that Hilfiger said his clothes weren’t made for the African-American community, but for upper-class whites. *shakes head* But let’s be clear. These situations- Mad Men’s Admiral, the real world’s Cristal and Tommy- don’t embody the manifestation of some epic duel between bigoted racism and colorblind capitalism. That would make capitalism moral, and it isn’t. Rather, the situation with Admiral in this episode showcases how intertwined and indistinguishable these social forces are. Capitalism isn’t some kind of separate entity, independent of the society it serves. It- just like any other social system- is both a reflection of and an influence on the people who make up its ranks. So racist behavior is driven by capitalist ideals (Pete’s racist assault on Hollis in the elevator to get the info he needs for financial gain), and capitalist behavior is driven by racist ideals (Admiral execs choosing to advertise to whites based on the idea that blacks will want what whites do, aka the idea that blacks will be racist by virtue of self-hate). -Lori
The Bridge on the River Kwai.
This has nothing to do with anything, but The Bridge on the River Kwai is my favorite movie and I was happy to see it name dropped on Mad Men. A good choice in an episode that touched on decorum and communication across difference. -Jos
I’m trying to figure out what is up with her character. I get that she’s supposed to be the kind hippie and all, but what’s with her drunk dialing Don? Is it because of the connection they have in losing someone when they were young or his general irresistible-ness? -Jessica
I found her calling Don like that a little unrealistic – not to say this doesn’t happen, but something about it just didn’t sit right with me. I’m still trying to get what she’s about too, am curious to see how the relationship unfolds. -Vanessa
Mad Men has earned my trust when it comes to storytelling, but the clichéd possibilities with the teacher have me a little bit worried. And seeing her drunk dial Don with her bra strap hanging off her shoulder did nothing to allay my concerns. Visible bra strap = slutty flake is just way too overplayed (and, ya know, sexist). -Jos
Giving birth in a hospital in 1963.
I was struck by the extreme isolation and lack of choice Betty had in childbirth. Betty is taken away, wheeled off alone while Don goes to wait. Her doctor has abandoned her, too. Betty appears to have no choice about the drugs put into her system or really anything related to giving birth. She is in a cold, sterile environment, drugged to the point of hallucinations, and being treated by people who don’t care about her as an individual or her childbirth experience. The nurse tells her, “Either you can do it or we will, but it’s going to come out some way.” Betty is there to do a job, one that is hidden from the rest of the world and not actually discussed, nothing more. -Jos
Ugh, ugh. Betty’s whole birth experience had me incredibly upset. It was all just so violating – she had drugs forced into her, she’s held down and essentially violated. Horrible. I appreciated though, that they showed that Betty was trying to exert herself – she wanted her own doctor, wanted to know if he had been drinking, etc. I also was truck, like Jos, by her isolation – not only during the birth, but once the baby is born as well. There’s a quick shot of Betty up in the window with the baby looking down on Don and the two kids that I found really compelling. -Jessica
This scene made me wish Miriam watched the show. With pregnancy and labor so medicalized today already, it’s hard to imagine it possibly being this much worse back then. -Vanessa
Can we please talk about the fact that the doctor never showed?! For me, this is perhaps the singularly most significant detail of the episode. In the midst of childbirth, Betty was constantly being offered the reassurance that a competent, sober man was coming to take care of her, as an incentive for her to submit to being drugged and soothed. She’s asking for Don and being physically restrained on a gurney while Don is befriending a prison guard and, ironically enough, offering him reassurance. Is the implication that Don is a glorified prison guard? And was it supposed to be some kind of social commentary that the nurse was so damn sinister, lying about the doctor’s impending presence? Like women are somehow complicit, and often times actively so, in perpetuating each other’s oppression? -Lori
The father’s role in childbirth.
Did anyone notice how when Don was bringing flowers to Betty and passed Dennis with wife and child in the hallway, he didn’t say hello but somewhat quickly looked down as he was passing? It was as if their encounter was one to be kept secret, perhaps because of all of the sharing of insecurities around being a father, etc.? -Vanessa
YES! I noticed that as well – though I didn’t quite get what it was all about. I even thought Dennis’ look was a bit angry. Anxious masculinity? -Jessica
I thought the interaction – or lack thereof – between Don and the other expectant father as they passed each other in the hallway a few days after their respective wives gave birth was so telling. These men just went through a terrifying, thrilling experience together; in his elation, the other father pledges to become a better man, and begs Don to bear witness to his pledge. A few days later, he can’t even look Don in the eye. It was a powerful comment on American masculinity and on how men are allowed to relate to each other in this culture. One realizes that what happened in the waiting room was a transgression of the rules of manhood- the exception, not the rule. -Chloe
Betty’s dream sequences. Betty’s mother: “You see what happens to people who speak up? Be happy with what you have.” Gene: “You’ll be OK. You’re a house cat: you’re very important and you have little to do.”
I was glad to see social justice struggles linked by connecting Betty’s experience as a housewife with the assassination of Medgar Evers. Betty feels trapped and unable to speak up. In her dream her mother warns against speaking up, using the civil rights activist’s assassination as an example. -Jos
I really really wanted Betty to let out a little “Meow” after this line. -Lori
Betty: “His name is Eugene.” Don: “We don’t have to decide that now.”
Don is an ass. -Jos
He really is. I thought for sure he wasn’t going to “let” her name the kid. -Jessica
Duck and Peggy and Pete, oh my!
I thought it was so interesting that Duck reached out to both Peggy and Pete, two people he knows want more than they have, not to mention that he picked up on their connection. I also thought their reactions were telling – Pete has more relative power and privilege, so he was more wary of losing his current position than Peggy. -Jos
Go Peggy! The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, but it doesn’t seem to be doing Peggy much good. Just because equal pay is the law doesn’t Sterling Cooper is going to comply. Don basically suggested Peggy is less important than paper clips – again, ass. -Jos
I loved that Peggy brought up the Equal Pay Act, and I also loved that the writers had Don respond in a way that a dude of his time – even one that helped Peggy get ahead initially – would have responded. -Jessica
Peggy: “I look at you and I think: I want what he has.” Don: “Really.” Peggy: “You have everything, and so much of it.”
What a brutal scene. Peggy wants to be Don, which is hard enough to watch. She can do so much better! She sees him living the dream with a family, something she recently gave up. Peggy is getting tired of accepting what she’s given and is ready to speak up about it. She seems to feel like she gave up that family dream (which I didn’t realize Peggy wanted), so she should at least work for the business one. I really hope this is her time, too. -Jos
“What if this is my time?”
Here I really felt aware of the connections- and tensions- between the women’s movement and the civil rights movement. Peggy uses the line “What if it’s my time?” when talking to Don about getting a raise. “It’s our time” was basically the driving mantra for inspiring much of the action of the civil rights movement (think Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail). Roger Sterling’s MLK reference kind of touches on this as well. So there’s that connection. But also in this episode I was made to feel very acutely the sense, the fear, from the era that it can only be one person or group’s time, at a time, and so in order for one to move forward, something’s gotta give. As Don points out, the resources aren’t endless, so it’s basically a zero sum game. Of course this is a theme that still works against intersectionality movements today,creating barriers and impeding social progress. Speaking of intersectionality- Who wants to take bets on whether or not Don takes a pay cut to give Peggy a raise? -Lori
Betty and Don bring baby Eugene home.
They look like The American Dream – the reality of childbirth is completely hidden. -Jos
Betty behind bars.
A little on the nose, but a powerful image. Betty gets a lot of grief from viewers, but the fact is she is trapped in the housewife role and has realized she’s really not happy in that part. -Jos
Yes yes yes. I’ll admit it was a wee obvious, but right after this closing scene, I said out loud, “Goddamn, I love this show.” -Vanessa