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.
And yes, this edition of the column is a day late because of wedding weekend. A very good excuse, I’d say.
Seriously Mad Men writers, what are you doing to me? This is just mean. -Jos
Pete reads Ebony.
Pete really seems to be following through on his idea to market to the African American community. This was just a subtle hint but I’m curious to see where this storyline goes. -Jos
Betty: “I’m paid well enough already.”
What’s Betty talking about? What does she consider a housewife’s wages? -Jos
I love how Don’s first reaction to seeing Betty working on this campaign was “you should be paid for that”. Ironically enough, Betty does work- admittedly of a different sort- in front of him every day that he fails to really acknowledge or value. I wonder if the writers are foreshadowing a greater feminist awakening in Betty, since much of the feminism that emerges during this era is related to acknowledging the monetary value of housework (ie Betty Friedan). Sidenote: Woh, I just realized that Betty’s name is, well, Betty. -Lori
Betty’s daily work, applying lipstick in front of Sally.
One of my housemates commented that she thought it took Betty forever to put on her lipstick. I was impressed with how fast and how well it was applied (guess which one of us regularly wears makeup), as was Sally! This was the episode Sally started to step into the sexualized definition of female-ness. We got to see how fascinated she is with Betty, what a role model her mother plays. And at the same time we got to see Betty’s frustration with the role she’s stuck in. -Jos
“Well you know, when you don’t have any power you have to delay things.”
Wow. Betty is coming to a conscious understanding of her social position as a housewife. The Feminine Mystique has been a major influence on Mad Men since the show began, but this is the episode where Betty most clearly and forcefully articulated her experience and frustration. Betty is turning what she’s learned about power in politics to understanding her own home and marriage. Doing a power analysis of an unjust situation is a vital first step in organizing for change. I’m so thrilled to see Betty going down this road! -Jos
Joan works at clothing store, Greg is studying psychiatry.
I love the mutually assured destruction that Peter isn’t quite aware of when Joan says “This never happened.” Joan and Peter interact as equals perhaps for the first time, because she used to be Queen of the Pond. -Ariel
Betty and Don’s Roman holiday.
Initially, I thought Betty lobbied to go because she felt guilty about the kiss with Henry, but upon realizing she speaks fluent Italian, it seems more likely that it was a reaffirming act to break back into her younger, more independent days of modeling. -Ariel
Carla takes care of the Draper kids, Francine’s kids.
Betty was raised by a black maid, so it makes sense she is comfortable repeating this pattern. It’s interesting to see the trust Betty and Francine put in Carla – the writers have made a point of showing us these women are racist, but they trust a black woman in this specific, very gendered role. The fact Betty would leave a newborn alone while traveling overseas was a surprise for me. -Jos
Betty and Don’s game.
Is this the first hint of role-playing we’ve seen from the Drapers? -Ariel
Betty likes the beginning of relationships. She is excited by the flirting, by being desired. Just like Don. These two characters have similar patterns of desire, and both are bored by the sexual element of married suburban life. Betty and Don have very similar sexualities, but Don is relatively free to explore his, while Betty’s opportunities to cheat have been much more limited. Don’s affairs are enabled by his social reality, whereas Betty has much more difficulty. Also, Chuck and Blair totally played the same game on Gossip Girl, but I think it was much more exciting to watch on Mad Men! -Jos
Sally and Ernie play driving, kiss, Bobby and Sally fight.
There have been a few jokes about Sally being a lesbian this season. Suddenly she takes on an active role, kissing a boy for the first time as far as we know. I’m wondering what this tells us about understandings of female sexuality. How Sally is understood seems to shift instantly with this one action. Perhaps before the kiss she was understood as asexual, and her perceived lesbian tendencies were non-threatening. As soon as she acts in a way that fits into heterosexual norms Sally starts to step into an important aspect of her female identity. I think this plays into the way of thinking that female sexuality cannot exist without men. So “lesbian” is a potential, humorous identity, but not a real way of understanding a woman’s desire. Because women don’t want sex, they want men and they want men to want them (as Don has explained over and over again). -Jos
I loved how this moment that is supposed to represent the pinnacle of gooey, mushy, “girly” femininity- Sally’s first kiss- also represents this moment of anger, aggression, violence, and physical domination over a guy (her brother). -Lori
Pete rapes Gertrude the German au pair. “Look, there are plenty of nannies in this neighborhood. Stay away from her. In fact, be smart, stay out of the building.”
At this point, this commercial literally came on: “Be naughty–but not that naughty. Have a Fling!” -Ariel
Jezebel has a post about this scene and how the rape scenes on the show are often debated as to whether they was actually rape. It made me love Christina Hendricks (Joan) so much more from her reaction when Joan was raped: “What’s astounding is when people say things like, ‘Well, you know that episode where Joan sort of got raped?’ Or they say rape and use quotation marks with their fingers. I’m like, ‘What is that you are doing? Joan got raped!’” - Vanessa
This scene had me thinking about the fan reaction when Greg raped Joan as well. That was so incredibly obviously rape, and what we were shown was actively physically violent. The physical violence between Pete and Gertrude was not as obvious, but he clearly forced himself on her. If people had trouble accepting that Joan was raped, though, I’m sure there will be even more debate about whether Pete raped Gertrude. He did, of course. The power dynamics and the fact she did not consent were made obvious. There was an added layer of complexity here, though, in that we followed the rapist throughout the episode. We saw Pete’s experience of the build up to and aftermath of the rape.We saw that he thought he could buy Gertrude’s sexual submission. We saw that his guilt was about cheating on his wife, not raping someone. We were admitted into the mind of a male rapist who does not understand what he is doing and the intense wrongness of his actions. A deeply disturbing viewing experience because it gave a bit of a glimpse into the mind of someone who does not understand consent. People who deny this rape are in some way identifying with Pete. This is a potentially teachable moment, an opportunity to point on one person’s thought process as they plan, carry out, and react to raping someone. Coupled with an explanation of consent this can give people a really personal understanding of how they need to center consent in their approach to sex. Never before have I thought about how it could be valuable to show a rapist’s experience. Kudos to the Mad Men writers for their bravery in actively making one of show’s main characters a rapist and not excusing Pete’s actions, something that happens far too often in popular entertainment. -Jos
Don steps out of the parenting discussion between Betty and Carla.
Betty lying to her children was priceless: “Your father doesn’t know about this yet…” He witnessed enough of the conversation with Carla to know Sally had done something seriously wrong! But Betty needed to keep that card secret. -Ariel
It’s also indicative of how Betty has to use Don’s authority as a threat as opposed to her own to change Sally’s behavior. It’s like the scene where Sally freaks out about baby Gene’s barbie and Don steps in (because it was absolutely necessary at that point) to convince her the baby is harmless, but seeing Betty holding the baby earlier didn’t change her mind at all. Don’s assurance was enough for her. Once again, Don plays the governor while Betty does all the grunt work. - Vanessa
Pete and Trudy.
Just as Betty’s reaction to her own indiscretion incited her to go to Rome with Don, Pete tells Trudy he never wants her to go away alone again. Closeness born from the guilt of rape. -Ariel
I hated that – it was as if he was blaming Trudy for what he did because she wasn’t there to “control” his urges. It’s behind the age-old argument that men can’t help themselves. Crime of passion my ass. - Vanessa
Betty teaches Sally gender roles: “You don’t kiss boys, boys kiss you.” First kiss: “It’s where you go from being a stranger to knowing someone. And every kiss with him after that is a shadow of that kiss.”
Betty teaches Sally the sexuality we saw her display in Rome – women attract men, men play the active role, and it’s the initial stages of a sexual relationship that are the most exciting. -Jos
“I hate this place. I hate our friends. I hate this town.” Betty on Don’s present: “Then I can have something to look at when I tell the story about the time we went to Rome.”
The most overt, direct statement we’ve probably ever heard from Betty. She hates her suburban housewife existence, completely. She had a moment of relief, but knows the vacation to Rome was only that, and being a housewife is her daily reality. Actually saying this is a huge step. I think we’ll be seeing some major changes for Betty: this doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll be leaving Don or getting a job right away, but she’s through accepting that she has to be stuck. OK, so maybe this is how you make up for no Peggy: Betty’s feminist awakening! -Jos