Mad Men Mondays: You grow bullshit

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.
No Joan!
I feel so conflicted. Season three of Mad Men has been a genre roller coaster ride (we’ve even had a musical episode and a screwball comedy, not to mention the many horror subgenre references including depiction of Betty giving birth and Don’s sorta abduction this week). Even though “Seven Twenty Three” started with flash forwards it still felt to me like a classic episode, a reminder of why I fell for this show in the first place. So much happened and the show engaged with so many fascinating topics, but can I really love an episode with no Joan? And I didn’t see her in the preview for next week either. -Jos
No Joan freaks me out. It’s like peanut butter with no jelly. Or something. Though I can’t imagine the show would do without her for too long. (Also, random weird Joan fact that I certainly did not find out while reading InStyle Weddings – Christina Hendricks is marrying the Super Troopers Snozzberries kid. Seriously. -Jessica
Don’s one on one interactions with other men: Roger Sterling, Conrad Hilton, Pete Campbell, Carlton, Bert Cooper.
A strong reminder that Matthew Weiner wrote for The Sopranos, a show focused on fragile masculinity. This week gave us a number of comparisons of performance of power between Don and other men. Don and Roger used to be like a buddy comedy, but I think Don also saw Roger as a father figure. In an episode so filled with daddy issues it felt positively Freudian, Don had to kill his father – metaphorically, of course. I was reminded that both Roger Sterling and Archie Whitman went about affairs in very public ways that Don disapproves of (a major source of his own self-loathing – he hates his birth so much he’s been running from it for years). Don finished the slow work begun at the end of last season of pushing Roger Sterling out, at least in relationship to creative. Don’s interactions with Connie Holton and Mr. Cooper both contained telegraphed visual cues that they are more powerful than him – both men took Don’s chair. Connie feels a connection with Don, but he presents a hypocritical “family values” image that will probably become an issue. Remember, this man who told Don his office needs a Bible and family pictures was a notorious womanizer who cut his heirs out of his estate. Cooper finally played the card he’s had since season one: “After all, when it comes down to it, who’s really signing this contract anyway?” Cooper’s pretty eccentric, but he showed us in this scene why he is so successful. Meanwhile Pete and Carlton provided the contrast, men to whom Don can easily feel superior. I mean, Carlton stares at the sun (yes, I get looking at the eclipse was symbolically rich, including representing characters approaches to change. But it was also a source of much funny). -Jos
Betty gets involved in local politics in her living room.
I’m glad to see Betty doing something else than sulking and riding horses (though her shooting was pretty cool that one episode) but I kind of hate that her fellow Junior Leaguers were pretty blatant about wanting Betty to use her looks to get shit done. -Jessica
Betty’s fellow members of the Junior League, upon discussing the consequences of a water tank and endeavoring to talk to the governor’s office, say “Real estate- that’s scary.” Uh oh, ladies– property ownership. Run away. -Ariel
Also, Betty says to Don “all you do at work all day is evaluate objects. I would like the benefit of your eye,” in reference to interior decorating choices it felt like the writers’ comment on the constant objectification of women in the workplace. -Ariel

Betty and Henry Francis.
I like the moment of Betty checking Don’s locked desk drawer after speaking with Henry, a reminder to herself how much Don hides. It’s fascinating to see Betty as the educated, independent woman flirting with a man whose moves are very similar to Don’s (that is, when Don is hitting on a woman who’s not his wife). -Jos
Agreed, Jos. I’m still trying to figure out what that whole “fainting couch” business was about though. -Jessica
I thought the fainting couch was about Betty feeling trapped like Victorian women whose breathing was constricted by their corsets. -Jos
If Betty Draper stopped falling asleep in beautiful dresses, maybe she wouldn’t need a fainting couch. - Ariel
Duck and Peggy.
On the surface Peggy and Duck sleeping together falls into a classic trope of sleeping with a father figure. Duck even says, “You are Don’s girl, aren’t you.” Some commenters online have already taken the surface as the deeper meaning, reading this sequence as Duck seducing Peggy, who is looking for a Don replacement. This reading, I think, is very wrong and misses everything happening just below the spoken words, where Mad Men really takes place. Peggy intentionally shows up to the hotel room late, knowing Duck will be there alone. The writers already made it clear (as if we needed a reminder of her sharp eye for lousy copy) that Peggy doesn’t fall for Duck’s corny lines (“I wonder who wrote that for him”). I don’t for a second think Duck seduced poor clueless Peggy (seriously, how could anyone believe this about her character?). -Jos
I completely agree. Peggy likes to get her rocks off, and Duck provided an opportunity. So she took it. I’m definitely curious to see how this relationship will play out. – Vanessa
Peggy to Pete: “Stop barging in here and infecting me with your anxiety.” Regarding the Hermes scarf: “I hope yours is a different color.”
I think it’s interesting that Peggy’s digs at Pete are specifically gendered. Being anxious is often considered a female trait, as we saw in Betty’s season one storyline. The Hermes joke needs no unpacking. -Jos
I love the way that Peggy speaks to Pete. It seems that ever since she told him about having his child and that she “could have had him” if she really wanted him, the power dynamic has been quite different. -Jessica
Betty: “I was an anthropology major, imagine that.”
I liked this line because it IS so hard to imagine Betty as anything else than her current wife/mother role. Even the quick glimpse we got into her life as a model didn’t really get into the depths of her character – but this was a reminder that before Don she had interests that went beyond what her life is now. -Jessica
Miss Farrell calls Don out.
Okay, I thought it was cool that she called Don out – but she did drunk dial him so it’s not like she wasn’t doing a little flirting herself. -Jessica
I think every television show needs a scene where children are walking around with boxes on their heads. -Ariel
Betty puts a fainting couch on the hearth, “the soul of the home.”
Wow. Betty claims her space and then some. Guess she’s moved on from the laundry machines. -Jos
But claims her space for what?! Resting? The shot of her initially on the couch seemed sexual, but then reminded me of her seeing a therapist…I’m still working this one out in my head. -Jessica

Roger Sterling: “Ben Michaelson can rape us later.”

This made me cringe, but it also served as a reminder of how folks use “rape” as a saying now, as well. (Shows how out of touch I am – my students at Rutgers tell me that people will often say things like “That test raped me.” Ew.) -Jessica
Don and Peggy. “Every time I turn around you’ve got a hand in my pocket. What do I have to do for you, Peggy, tell me? You were my secretary and now you have an office and a job that a lot of full grown men would kill for.”
Don’s disdain for Roger clouded everything he did this episode, especially this scene where he took a lot of that frustration out on Peggy. She is an easier target, after all. Not that hard for Don to say he’s already given her more than a woman deserves and she should be grateful for what she has. Jerk. And then Roger goes and does basically the same thing as Peggy, calling Betty under false pretenses, this time to tell on Don. -Jos

Dear Don, thank you for preventing all future generations of women in the workplace from valuing themselves, being assertive, and asking for raises. -Ariel
I’m pretty much over Don. He was always a misogynist, obviously, but this just irritated the hell out of me. -Jessica
Don and Betty on his history of disappearances, secrets, and infidelity. “Let me explain something to you about business since as usual you’re turning this into something about yourself. No contract means I have all the power. They want me but they can’t have me.” “You’re right, why would I think that has anything to do with me? It’s three years Don. What’s the matter, you don’t know where you’re going to be in three years?”
Is Don really so clueless about how he treats Betty that he can basically say, “I have all the power. [You] want me but [you] can’t have me” and not understand his own words? Way to call him out, Betty! Then the baby cries and Betty is reminded how trapped she feels in that house, again. -Jos
I think he is that clueless because he’s too wrapped up in his own narcissistic, self-hating bullshit. (Not to mention the fact that he doesn’t seem to respect Betty as a person, but sees her as a child.) But I was thrilled to see her call him out on that – she exerted a lot of power and independence in this episode, we’ll see how that pans out over the course of the season. - Vanessa
I love that he accuses her of being self-centered, and then whines about needing power. I think the recurring “Betty pauses, sighs, and looks forlorn while you hear a baby cry” will be a recurring scene. - Ariel
Don and the hitchhiking draft dodgers.
The use of horror genre devices this season has been building a sense of nervous anticipation. Characters are trying to find direction, trying to carry out their end games or make new plans after surviving an apocalypse (fear of a nuclear attack was a defining feature of season two). References to Vietnam, a conflict without a clear endgame that is looked on as one of the U.S.’s greatest failures, are starting to color all the storylines. The suspense is building as we barrel toward the Kennedy assassination, which has me wondering how the show will actually handle the event. I doubt Mad Men will treat it as a simplistic ending and beginning, but all the foreshadowing (see Amanda Marcotte’s take on the tractor fiasco) has me really curious about what the overall shape of season three will be looking back. -Jos
I like the trend of the show’s 2nd interaction with drugs. It was empowering for Peggy a few episodes back, but it made Don vulnerable. Also, when Don entered his office the next morning and said “Fender bender,” I thought he said “Gender bender.” -Ariel

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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Join the Conversation

  • Juli

    I can’t wait for Pete to find out that Peggy and Duck slept together. I’m dying for a massive fight between them.

  • Zippa

    Am I the only one that remembers when Betty reminded Don about her being an anthropology major in a season 1 bedroom scene?

  • Tara K.

    Pete’s character has evolved so much!
    To begin with, he was just an obnoxious twerp there for jokes and dislike. And he’s still pretty despicable, but I really dig the unique relationship he and Peggy have. It’s complex and rough and “not right” or fair — it’s like the relationships many of us have had, but just a little juicier. There’s at once something sexual and something almost sibling-like (but not all Flowers in the Attic).
    Re: Tension, crumbling/deteriorating conditions —
    I feel like Don’s weakening, disempowering situations this week are meant to signal the fall of the king, the fall of the land. It serves as another cue that all will come tumbling down.
    Re: Peggy & Duck have sex —
    I’m annoyed with a lot of people who want to know “why she did it.” Maybe she doesn’t know. Maybe she screwed him for the same reasons I ate a crappy frozen pizza for dinner — it felt good/easy/was wanted at the time. Again, we expect all of Peggy’s sexual choices to be– what? They’re about sex. Not just like Don’s affairs, but similar in some respects. Why can’t we allow her sex to be meaningful, but not that way, just like Don’s.

  • gothicguera

    “I can’t wait for Pete to find out that Peggy and Duck slept together. I’m dying for a massive fight between them.”
    Me too I started watching mad me and Peggy is my favorite. I just want her to be happy.

  • ooperbooper

    I didn’t think Ms. Farrell was “calling Don out”. This was a strange scene and I think she’s a strange character. I’m not sure where the writers are going with that.

  • Yekaterina

    yea I thought she was flirting with him, not calling him out – was it just me or did it seem like he wasn’t even hitting on her, but she was trying to spin it that way?
    It was really harsh when Don yelled at Peggy, I think I even recoiled a little. I can’t imagine something like that happening to me in the workplace and me handling it as well as Peggy has, nonchalantly offering Don coffee next morning. He instantly knew he had wronged her. I also like the fact that she didn’t just write a resignation letter on the spot and run to tell Duck she’ll be taking the “opportunity” he was offering her – it shows that she understands where her real opportunities lie. I also thought it was interesting how Don did not yell at Pete the way he did at Peggy when they (both) essentially asked for the same thing (if anything, Peggy did it in a much more subtle, “feminine” manner).
    And I’m loving Betty’s disdain for her hearth. Her interior designer is right, the fainting couch is terribly out of place there. Heck, Betty herself knows. But she puts it there anyway =P

  • Juli

    I agree with everything you said. Pete is actually one of my favorite characters (it helps that I love Vincent Kartheiser) and I want to get more from his character this season.
    I don’t think that Duck took emotional advantage of Peggy – she’s shown us before that she knows how to say “no.” I think that she wanted him as much as he wanted her, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I can’t wait to see if this was a one-night/morning stand, or if it will evolve into something more?

  • Juli

    “was it just me or did it seem like he wasn’t even hitting on her, but she was trying to spin it that way?”
    That’s how I saw it too! I know that Don is a total dog, but the conversation seemed perfectly innocent to me until she got all snarky. Can anyone say ego? Because any man who asks her what she’s doing over the summer must want to have sex with her. Yea, that’s the only possible explanation.

  • Renee

    I actually cannot stand Pete. He is still a sniveling jerk that cannot understand that he is not God’s gift. Look at how he reacted to his wife wanting to adopt a baby. Why should he have the final say? I also cannot stand the way he is continually trying to exercise power over Peggy. Dude you may where the pants but she is the boss.

  • ooperbooper

    I actually sort of like Pete. I know that’s going to be unpopular here… well, everywhere really… but I do think he is aware that he is flawed. He seems to be oblivious to his mistakes when they’re in progress but I usually sense a subtle regret afterward. I don’t think Pete likes himself very much. I can actually see him turning around. At the very least, his story is an interesting one.
    Full disclosure: I also like Betty. In fact, I like Betty waaay more than Peggy who really gets on my nerves for some reason. I know, call me crazy. I live in the South where there are a lot of women who still live like Betty does. I can relate to her. In fact, I know a lot of women like her and I don’t hate them.

  • ooperbooper

    Yeah, it’s usually not hard to tell when Don is looking to get a little action and I did not think he was going after her at all.

  • Juli

    Like I said above, I like Pete as well. I think a lot of his asshole-ness is a shield.
    As for adoption, it wasn’t common in the 60s, and maybe he didn’t want people to know that they couldn’t conceive a child.

  • ooperbooper

    Agreed on the adoption angle. Plus, I think that Pete knows he isn’t ready to be/will never be a good father. He’s more self-aware than he is given credit for, I think. Not to mention that he did consider the adoption at one point.

  • Anony-mouse

    Dear White People,
    Please stop talking about this show. No one else cares. There are lots of topics far more important and influential to spend your brain power on.
    A Random Black Person

  • ooperbooper

    I’m gonna keep on being bi-racial and keep on watching and talking about Mad Men if that’s cool with you.

  • Eresbel

    Where was this supposed musical episode? I’m pretty sure I’ve watched every episode and I have yet to see one that qualifies as a musical episode.

  • Unequivocal

    Gee Anony-mouse, what do you do with your spare time? I certainly hope you don’t spend any of it watching or discussing TV shows or doing anything else that could be described as not making the world a better place.
    There are, after all, starving children in third world countries. Stop wasting your time here and get to it!

  • Smithie

    Episode 303, “My Old Kentucky Home,” featuring the Tigertones reunion, Roger’s appalling blackface act and my personal favorite thing to ever occur in the history of television, The Pete and Trudy Show (Plus Charleston!). Also Joan tragically closing out the episode by playing the accordion to distract from the social awkwardness of her loser rapist husband.
    I think it really says something about how well-written this show is that the “musical episode” was played so subtly and really just felt like “a Mad Men episode.”

  • Mama Mia

    Betty and the fainting couch. Here is my interpretation. The room that was just decorated was completely decorated without Betty’s input. The expert woman and even Don decorated while Betty was passive. And when she asked about the space around the hearth, she was told that the hearth was the most important part of the room, it was where people looked. It is the power spot.
    The fainting couch represents the ultimate in female oppression. The women wore corsets so tight they couldn’t breath, so they needed places to faint. It is exactly Betty’s life.
    Yet in this episode, she stands up to Don, and is beginning to see her power have influence beyond her own family, impacting politics. Her power is based in her beauty, yes, but she is starting to take control of it for her own purposes. So she is beginning to feel herself having power.
    So she buys the fainting couch, which is a symbol of what she is expected to be (and she buys it without getting permission). She places it right on the hearth, the center of power, a place where it cannot be ignored. It is the only part she has in decorating the room, and it places a symbol of herself in the position of power in the house. The decorator doesn’t want to take the blame for this couch, or for Betty asserting herself, for that matter.
    So in essence, she took a symbol of weakness and subverted it, putting it in a position of power. Betty is on her way.

  • Gnatalby

    Okay my favorite moment was when hitchhiker dude was like, “How is he still sitting up?” And hitchhiker lady was like, “I gave him two!”
    Little did they know the calibre of liver they were up against! I’m pretty bad at catching foreshadowing on Mad Men when it comes to drugs and alcohol, because I just assumed car accident, not assault and robbery.
    Peggy and I, it’s clear, do not share the same taste in men or in pick up lines. I can’t decide whether Pete’s gross hunting story or Duck’s “I love the taste of liquor on your breath” was worse.

  • norbizness

    Something always struck me as semi-strange and artificial about the show (even as I’ve watched the first two seasons and enjoyed them very much), in that none of the creative staff appears to have been alive during the period (Matthew Weiner was born in 1965, much of his writing staff are 30somethings). It just seems like they’re doing more of an academic exercise in visual style/fashion at the expense of story than, say, a purposefully semi-anachronistic, more plot-driven historical series like Deadwood.

  • Jessica

    Awesome, thanks for this.

  • i_muse

    The way he framed his f*&k proposal was pretty fricken hot!

  • Hara

    really? I felt like she should have resigned at that point. If she really believed in her own talent, the new company, with her in a more powerful position could be where the real opportunity is.
    The question is, would he have talked to one of the men that way? Would the male character have resigned?
    Is Peggy afraid to branch out or is she really making the best decsion.
    A competitive company with Ducky, Peggy and Joan would be interesting.
    I’m just hoping to get Joan back into the story.

  • Hara

    Thank you for assuming we are all “white”
    Race is a cultural construct, while racism is alive and thriving-
    comments like yours feed it.
    thanks a bunch, mouse.
    If you want to understand what I mean by “cultural construct” follow these links:
    I can be entertained by shows with people who look like me in it and without people who could be my close relatives, good or bad, it’s part of the minority experience.
    One thing is for sure, as a woman, regardless of skin tone, I experience sexism and this shines a light on sexism pre 70’s “Women’s Lib” movement.

  • Hara

    I can understand that.
    The costumes/clothes are all too new. No wear and tear….they showed a food stain on the sons shirt this season, but, it felt placed. No one in the office is ever wearing something a lil outdated or less than new. It gives the show that new car smell/look.
    Does that make sense?
    All that smoking and not one smokers voice, smokers cough?
    No bathroom scenes that I can remember. No one is having little side meetings as they really do occur in office jobs, in the bathroom.
    It’s a stylized look for sure. They may be avoiding the little things that would make it more “real” on purpose.

  • Hara

    The school teacher gives me the creeps. She was hitting on him in the most passive aggressive and potentially embarrassing way, for her.
    Remember when she drunk dialed him?
    She has the hots for Don.

  • Juli

    “The question is, would he have talked to one of the men that way? Would the male character have resigned?
    Is Peggy afraid to branch out or is she really making the best decsion.”
    Maybe Peggy didn’t leave because she feels loyal? I’ve been in similar situations and it’s hard to leave a job when you feel your employers have done a lot for you.
    We have to remember that while the equal rights act has been passed and we all know Peggy deserves the same amount of money, women today are still fighting for this right, and her asking Don for a raise probably felt very inappropriate at the time. And maybe her work isn’t up to Sterling and Cooper standards, we don’t really know. If I was Peggy I think I would stay with Sterling and Cooper, especially since Duck is only reaching out to her and Pete to hit Don “where it hurts.”

  • Juli

    Great analysis.

  • bookwoman27

    Hmmmmm, I think Miss Farrell knew exactly what she was doing… Don was staring at her the whole time and she knew it… the sunglasses concealed it a bit but his gaze was always aimed in her direction… By “calling him out” she all at once painted herself as highly sought after (“this happens all the time”), played hard to get, re-emphasized their summer schedules, and made Don feel special (“Oh, so you’re different, huh?). She’s totally going after him.
    I think it’s entirely possible that Don being vulnerable to the young hitchhikers could foreshadow a bigger fall that’s on the horizon for him. For example, perhaps Miss Farrell is luring him only to expose his behavior publicly. Now that he’s got Hilton and a 3-year contract, a sex scandal involving his daughter’s teacher would start to chip away at the slick facade he’s created for himself, and the lies that are his life.
    What I’d really like to see is Betty’s rise juxtaposed with Don’s fall. THAT could be awesome.

  • LSG

    Fantastic analysis — I was so proud of Betty this episode! I hope they’re leading up to her getting her hands on a copy of Feminine Mystique.

  • bookwoman27

    I hope so too, especially since they are currently in the year the FM came out (1963) and the show has previously highlighted important books of the time period.

  • Yekaterina

    Yea, I agree that Duck’s motives in trying to get her to quit were not at all sincere, as we can now plainly see… And I agree with Hara that this was really misogynist, unfair treatment she received from Don – but in those days she could not find a comparable position where she wouldn’t endure the same. At least at SC she knows her immediate supervisor (Don) is not going to hit on her and will ultimately judge her on her talent – even if that judgment is unfairly harsh because of her gender.
    Also, I’m kind of confused as to why everyone is talking about the sleazy teacher drunk dialing Don – she called the Drapers’ house, not his office or anything. Wouldn’t it be more likely that Betty picked up the phone when she called (since Betty is the stay-at-home parent)? I really thought she didn’t call to flirt with Don to begin with, she just took the opportunity when it presented itself. Did I miss something? God knows I’m not always 100% sober when I watch the show either.

  • Lilitu

    Thank you for this comment. It’s finally helped me put my finger on something that’s bothered me. With the men it’s harder to tell, because it’s all business suits all the time, pretty much, but the women pretty much never (at least, as far as I can recall) wear the same thing twice. I know that’s a really common thing on tv shows, but it bugs me, and it bugs me more on a show that pays so much attention to details like clothing.

  • Juli

    I thought her calling them while drinking was a little weird, but I didn’t think she was doing it as a way to seduce Don.
    I do however think that her assuming he was hitting on her was wildly uncalled for. Even though we all know he’s skeazy, I didn’t get the feeling he was doing anything of the sort. And her “calling him out” in front of the students, distracted though they were, was so inappropriate. While I’m not a teacher, I’ve spent several summers as a camp counselor and not even in such a casual setting would I have behaved that way, especially towards a parent. I kind of wish Don had reported her to the principal.