Mad Men Mondays: What if this is my time?


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
Sally’s teacher.
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
Equal Pay!
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

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24 Comments

  1. allieb87
    Posted September 15, 2009 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    I was completely horrified by Betty’s childbirth scenes. My mother didn’t think it was a big deal at all though.
    I was practically jumping out of my chair saying, “OH MY GOD! That nurse is awful.” And she just sort of shrugged.

  2. starryeyed.kid21
    Posted September 15, 2009 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    I saw the naming as Don disliking Gene, so he didn’t want his child named that. It’s completely rational and Betty should understand that, just as Don should understand he was Betty’s dad. It’s a joint decision, and it’s THEIR child; they should both agree to the name, but only Betty wanted to name him Eugene.

  3. rose0red
    Posted September 15, 2009 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    –>Pete tries to market Admiral Televisions to black people, harasses Hollis:
    The racism in these scenes struck me and the comparison of Admiral to Cristal and Hillfiger is apt. But something else occurred to me as I thought about the coming story arc. Pete realizes there is money to be made by marketing to the black community and it leads him to actually try to engage in conversation with Hollis and listen to what he has to say. Ultimately he fails because of the racism he brought to the table. But I thought it was significant that he did make an effort to understand what motivates that demographic rather than automatically adopt the “negroes automatically what whites like” marketing strategy of the time. (Quick digression: isn’t that marketing strategy reminiscent of the “men want her, therefore women want to be like her” strategy they employ when advertising to women?)
    Now Pete is still a racist, and for him to decide Hollis (and blacks as a whole) are worth his time and consideration just because he can profit off them is pretty disgusting. And it me think of how retailers suddenly realized they could make money by marketing to the gay community. Anybody else see a parallel there? I doubt that everybody who started marketing to the LGBT community were doing it for noble reasons.
    –>Giving birth in a hospital in 1963:
    I found myself longing to watch these scenes with my late mother, who gave birth to several children in the 1960s. I remember her telling me Twilight Sleep and about how you’d black out and wake up with a baby. And of course kids were NOT allowed to visit (hence the window scene). I would love to hear her opinion of this storyline!
    Good point, Lori, about never seeing the doctor.
    [SNIP}“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?”
    Maybe it’s the implication that men in general were seen as a glorified prison guards for their (house)wives?
    [SNIP] “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?”
    There was definitely some woman-on-woman violence here, but I saw these elements as symbolic of how poorly the medical community treated women at the time. (Also, Betty’s drug-addled line, “I’m just a housewife, why are you doing this to me?” seemed to speak to that.)
    The idea was that women had no minds of their own, did not know what was good for them, and they needed authority figures to help/make them do what is “right.” We’ve seen a patronizing attitude from a medical practitioner before, in the attitude of Betty’s psychiatrist.
    –>The father’s role in childbirth:
    [SNIP}"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.?"
    That was my initial thought, but then somebody at Jezebel (or was it Gawker?) pointed out that it could mean their baby didn’t survive birth. Maybe that is it, considering death in childbed was brought up when the guard was talking about his fears.
    -->Betty: "His name is Eugene." Don: "We don't have to decide that now."
    I find it interesting that Betty got her way on the name because Don had to work. Looks like there was one upside to the non-existence of paternity leave.
    -->"What if this is my time?"
    [SNIP]“Who wants to take bets on whether or not Don takes a pay cut to give Peggy a raise?”
    Not going to happen. Not if everybody stays in character and true to the time period, anyway.
    –>Betty behind bars:
    I found myself hoping that this scene wasn’t foreshadowing a postpartum depression storyline. Betty’s got enough problems.

  4. Mama Mia
    Posted September 15, 2009 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    For me, Betty is the most intriguing of the female characters. All the other women are easier to identifiy with, but Betty is so wrapped in privelege, it is easy to dismiss and dislike her. She is a very inconvenient victim of her times because she so clearly has things that other characters need desperately, like Carla, whom she mistreats. Yet she is as trapped as the rest.
    But the birth was a reminder of how little control over her life she is given, how little trust she is given. And she can see this but doesn’t know how to deal with it. She could be Betty Friedan, but will she?
    Also on the birth, did you notice how long she got to stay in the hospital after giving birth? Today, with a vaginal birth with no complications you will be pushed out of the hospital in 24 hours. 3 days for a typical c-section. Insurance reform anyone?
    Finally, fathers and birth. Did anyone notice that strange scene where Don and the prison guard were getting help from the candy striper with the cigarette machine? It seriously looked like they were attending a birth, with the cigarettes being the baby. Did anyone else see that?

  5. Ellen Marie-Frances
    Posted September 15, 2009 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    When Don and the prison guard Dennis passed each other in the hallway I almost got the sense that something had gone wrong with the birth of Dennis’ son. Perhaps because his wife had lost a lot of blood or the baby was breeched the baby was somehow defective (such as mental retardation). I also felt that the tryannical nurse almsot embodied Betty’s father in that forceful and dominating way which helped trigger the hallucinations. I love Mad Men so much and every episode my love for Peggy grows. She’s the kind of woman I want to be and I hope to become in my own workplace. Thanks for these weekly discussions! I felt like I was missing something when the weekly discussion wasn’t up yesterday, but now I’m complacent. This is my time!

  6. erinelizabeth
    Posted September 15, 2009 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    I saw Pete’s interaction with Hollis a little differently. Yes, he was being horribly racist. But I feel like the baseball exchange at the end of the conversation signified that Pete was starting to understand what Hollis was saying. It was Pete simultaneously saying “Sorry” in that guys-don’t-share-feelings way, and his attempt to bond with Hollis. Recognizing that Hollis is a man, not just an abstract Negro- “Hey, you’re a guy, I’m a guy, guys like baseball!”
    Of course, I can also see how that last exchange could be seen as Pete trying to be nice, but inadvertently telling Hollis, “I know you better than you do.”

  7. LCA
    Posted September 15, 2009 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    Slate’s TV Club has a take on Dennis’s lack of smile in the hallway. I’ll have to rewatch it to make sure, but apparently the mother was smiling, so the author thinks that maybe the baby is okay, and Dennis’s scowl is because he can’t keep the promises he drunkenly made to himself earlier. Better to just read it here: http://www.slate.com/id/2225274/entry/2228338/.

  8. davenj
    Posted September 15, 2009 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    I definitely got the first interpretation as well. There’s a divide, which I think gets highlighted by Pete Kinsey’s Mets tickets, but I think the “You watch baseball” is Campbell’s way of trying to say “No harm intended”.
    Now, how Hollis interprets that is a little different, but Campbell seems to really want an African American perspective on consumer choices, and is frustrated by being shot down over what to him is a good financial decision.

  9. Devonian
    Posted September 15, 2009 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    “I doubt that everybody who started marketing to the LGBT community were doing it for noble reasons.”
    I don’t think marketing has EVER been done for noble reasons…

  10. bookwoman27
    Posted September 15, 2009 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    I really liked the Sally-Don scene in this episode but if he ends up sleeping with her teacher that’s just ucky.

  11. rose0red
    Posted September 15, 2009 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    True, that.

  12. Yekaterina
    Posted September 15, 2009 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    Ha, that’s a great point! I didn’t see that but it makes sense now. Originally I just thought that the way it cut from the scene of Betty in her drug-induced dream (when in reality there’s prob. someone shoving forceps into her vagina) to the scene of the men’s overt violence against the cig vending machine was a way of juxtaposing the covert/imposed violence in women’s lives versus the encouraged violence in the lives of men.
    From what my mom told me of her birthing experience in the Soviet Union in the 80s it was pretty much the same (the isolation, not consulting w her as far as the drugs), plus added incompetence. She told me the family was hardly ever allowed in (alleged threat of infections) and she was kept in the hospital long after I was born. Apparently, she was looking out of the window with the family waving from the outside just like that.
    Just makes you wonder to what extent this scene portrays the past, or quite possibly the present – or even an aspiration – for many women in other countries today.

  13. rose0red
    Posted September 15, 2009 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    William Bradley at HuffPo pointed out that Betty’s doctor (the one that wasn’t present) had a WASP-y name, while the attending had a Jewish name. I completely missed this and am going to have to pay closer attention when I watch the ep again tonight.
    So in addition to Betty’s understandable desire to have her own doctor deliver the baby, there was probably some of Betty’s anti-Semitism in the reaction as well.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-bradley/imad-meni-the-fog—-huff_b_286384.html

  14. argolis
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    Yes, I was about to make this point too. I’m really fascinated with the politics of baby names and I’ve read how many women to this day think that child-naming is their right and theirs alone. It’s really sad that dads miss out on that experience. Parents-to-be have to sit and imagine their baby growing up, getting a job, falling in love with that name. It’s an important experience. Despite how most kids end up with their father’s last name, it doesn’t seem like a fair or necessary trade to me.
    Anyway, I think little Gene Draper might be going by his middle name – Scott. Perfectly appropriate for the first Gen-Xer of the show, right?

  15. Hara
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    @ Lori
    the Hillfiger rumor/myth was dispelled once and for all on an Oprah episode. Look into it and in the future, amend your statements about the myth so that you aren’t propagating a falsehood. Myth spreading makes it more difficult to do anything about the actual cases of racism in retail and other industries.
    so the comments that were ” (never fully substantiated, I should dutifully add)” were in fact not true at all.

  16. Hara
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    The thing about Peggy asking for a raise is how highly unusual it is for women to negotiate pay raise (especially back then) let alone bring up the sexist differences in pay rate.
    I find it a challenge to negotiate a pay rate I am worthy of (I’m freelance so I have to for every job). Anyone else out there have the same challenge?

  17. rose0red
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Oh yes. I’m a consultant and in spite of doing this for some time now, I still feel incredibly awkward negotiating pay. I wonder if I’ll ever get over that?

  18. Lori
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Hi Hara,
    I’m aware of the Oprah episode you bring up, but alas, contrary to popular belief, Oprah declaring someone innocent does not make it so :-) We can debate whether or not Hilfiger made racist comments until we’re blue in the face, but we will probably never know what really happened. I called them rumors, and that’s what they were. I still believe it was wholly relevant to bring up in this particular situation. Thanks for reading and commenting, though, and I’m glad you’re also interested in bringing down racism in industry!

  19. Hara
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    Any disdain for Oprah and Hilfiger aside, she didn’t simply declare it, her producers investigated and dispelled the myth.
    I’m not a fan of the designer, but, I wont call him a racist or hold him to a comment that was started as a rumor, has never been proven, has no witnesses, especially considering his philanthropical work in the community. I do encourage exposing those who actually are racists.

  20. nadiaa
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    I would to add to the dicussion by
    noting something about the episode
    “The Fog.” The whole birth
    experience is horrible and I want
    to explain something. The “fog” is
    what birthing in those days was
    called because of the drugs that
    were forced on women….in this
    case ‘twilight sleep.’ I read a
    book a while back called “Birth” by
    Tina Cassidy which truly opened my
    eyes to the history of birthing
    and how women have suffered (not
    just during the days of pre-modern
    medicine). Anyway, during twilight
    sleep, women often had to be tied
    to the bed and had helmets on so
    not hurt themselves too badly. It
    is a terrible “high,” where you
    don’t remember much. The drugging
    of American women during over-
    medicated birth has a long history
    in this country. They eventually
    discountinued it because other
    things came along and many people
    (often husbands) would complain
    about why their wives would come out
    of giving birth with bruises, cuts
    etc.

  21. Hille
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I agree that it should be a joint decision for parents to name their child if they intend to raise it together. I also had the impression that Don had in mind how naming the child Eugene could affect Sally. She misses her grandpa terribly and she could get the feeling that the new child is supposed to “replace” him if he gets the same name. I think Don also intentionally calls the new brother “baby” in front of her. And Sally is already not liking the idea that her new brother will move into what she calls Grandpa Gene’s room. Betty should have been more considerate here.

  22. chrisbean
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    No comment on the implied/overt racism of Betty’s reaction to being told that the only OB/Gyn available was Dr. Mandelbromovitz? I mean, she probably would have considered racism against blacks to be slightly tacky, but I bet the club is still “restricted.”
    We love her, but she’s flawed. And we love her, because she’s flawed.

  23. SereniT03
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    that was totally right! I really think you nailed it there. Remember how Sally was asking if the baby would live in Grandpa’s room? And now the baby has the same name? Totally.

  24. SereniT03
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    that article was totally compelling :-)

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