Mad Men Mondays: You don’t kiss boys, boys kiss you

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.

No Peggy!
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

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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  • Feminista_84

    I understand that Betty’s life kind of sucks. I understand that she is not happy with her life. But it was pretty difficult for me to like her during this episode. I thought that Don seemed to really be trying to reach out to her and make an effort in the relationship and she completely shot him down. Even though this is what she seems to want from him (more attention, affection, quality time, etc) she has been sending mixed messages. I wish she would take more control over her circumstances.

  • americanaexotica

    I have been obsessively checking for the mad men post since I watched sunday night and my roommate said “pete did not rape her!” I’m so relieved to see that other people saw it my way. And I have to agree, that of course tons of people will say it wasn’t rape because people had a hard time admitting what happened to Joan was rape.
    i loved seeing betty speak italian and looking so comfortable, much more than don, in another country. and jos, i’m glad you mentioned gossip girl–i said the same thing while i was watching.
    did anyone else notice that in the middle of the night betty said “carla can watch the kids for a few days” as if carla doesn’t have a life or family of her own (i don’t know about family, but i assume she has a life)? like if she isn’t in their house she doesn’t exist? it made me crazy.

  • starryeyed.kid21

    When Don left the conversation, I felt like it was because he didn’t want to hear about his daughter transgressing. He seems to care about Sally and want to cuddle her (for lack of a better term), and I don’t think he wanted to hear about her acting out, something Betty used to complain to him about (if I remember correctly).

  • Mama Mia

    But what Betty wants isn’t actually more attention and affection and quality time. She wants meaning. When Don reached out to her, it was him saying, “We had this great vacation and I saw that there still exists in you this lively, intelligent person. Now just be that person even though it is incompatible with the real world expectations I have for you.” That’s like telling a painter, “I saw you paint a rainbow, so I know you can do it. Now do it with this palette of brown.”
    And expecting her to take more control of her circumstances is looking at her through a modern lense. To take control would mean swimming upstream with no one to support her, no one to role model it for her. When it comes to Betty and feminism, she is like an alcoholic standing outside an AA meeting. Everyone in the meeting sees it’s possible to stop drinking, but she never has. We can’t expect her to think and behave like a modern feminist when very few women of her time and situation did that.

  • VickyinSeattle

    Pete definitely raped Gudrun, wielding her supposed indebtedness to him–and her lower status as an employee of his peers–to do so. Closing the door on her also signaled the unspoken assertion that neither of them would leave the room until he got what he wanted.
    However, I don’t believe Pete KNEW he was raping her. He’s repeatedly shown himself to be a socially deficient person who is incapable of reading social cues and the temperature in the room (witness all his fumbles at Sterling Cooper, including his obliviousness regarding Admiral). As a result, he goes through life saying canned lines such as, “A thing like that!” and “Well, what would you know?”
    I feel like he was following a script with the au pair–and thinking the whole time he was being pretty smooth about it, too. After he close the door on her, he even touched her cheek, which isn’t the type of gesture someone intending to intimidate/terrorize another does. (In contrast, Greg made an explicit point of using physical coercion to force himself on Joan.)
    Additionally, part of what holds up rape culture is the script that a woman is supposed to resist a man’s advances–until finally succumbing to his exhaustive pursuit.
    It wasn’t until the next morning when he found out about all the “Kleenexes” that he realized this wasn’t the typical sexual encounter he was used to (aka, with Peggy).
    I also think his guilt wasn’t over cheating on Trudi–which he’d done numerous times without any remorse–but at the growing recognition that he’d done “something bad”–or at the very least, hurt someone.
    Will he ever consider what he did rape? Probably not, given the culture. But I think his reaction was more complex than plain guilt over adultery. I also feel that the way he implored Trudi not to leave him alone –with lowered head and a tentative reach for her hand–was out of sadness at having done “something bad” than casting the blame on her.

  • Elizabeth

    Pete didn’t know he was “raping” her in the sense of what the term is usually used for: violence. But she was showing pretty clearly that she didn’t want to have sex with him. But he did it anyway.

  • JLu

    I thought that end scene was so great because Betty finally totally and completely verbalized how she was feeling in her life and Don totally and completely ignored her, effectively dismissing her feelings. He wants her to be that woman in Rome and she was telling him that it wasn’t possible at home. He wasn’t listening.

  • Yekaterina

    Ha, as soon as heard Betty say that line about kissing boys, I knew it would be the Mad Men Mondays line!

  • argolis

    This comment has been deleted because it violates our Comments Policy.

  • argolis

    Well, my previous comment was deleted. Fine, a clarification.
    The writers deliberately made the situation between Pete and the Gertrude ambiguous. They cut the scene off just as she acquiesced to his embrace. We have no idea — unlike with Joan’s rape — whether Gertrude gave her consent later and was actively engaged in sex with Pete or whether she physically tried to fight Pete off.
    Did he abuse his power over her? Yes. Was she initially reluctant to have sex with Pete? Yes. Was she upset over what happened? Yes. Does that make it rape? No, not necessarily.
    We don’t know whether she was crying about being raped or crying out of guilt for betraying her boyfriend.

  • Mama Mia

    Your point about part of rape culture being that script that the woman is supposed to resist is such a good one. I don’t think Pete would ever use violence to get sex, and would be horrified if someone thought he would.
    But he, too, is raised in and wrapped in the culture of the time, that says she will say no but it really means yes (the culture of our time, too…). He has never been to an HR seminar about appropriate conduct and it would never occur to him that what he did was rape. I think he felt dumb for getting caught by the other man (the au pair’s employer) and felt humiliated that the other man would see him as a loser. I think if he hadn’t gotten caught that way he probably wouldn’t have felt bad about anything and would never have mentioned it to Trudy.

  • wax_ghost

    Really? I thought Betty initiated the whole thing by showing little bits of her essential self to Don. Like when she cheered about winning a little victory with the City Council – that was Betty the human being, not Betty the woman/wife/mother. Same with her impulsive decision to go with Don. I don’t think they would have had such a great time in Rome if she hadn’t have done those little things that revealed little things about her to him. But ultimately, those little things are not enough to free her from her constricted role, because it is so constricted.

  • tizzielish

    argolis: review any statutes that outline the elements of criminal sexual assault. Lack of consent is res ipsa loquitur evidence of criminal sexual behavior. .. the degree of physical violence tends to correspond to the degree of the crime, first degree, second degree, etc. or the difference between felony assault and misdemeanor assault. You might wish to parse the degree of violence in Pete’s sexual assault of Gudrun. .. but the lack of consent, the clear coercion makes this unquestionable ‘rape’. The reason most criminal codes do not use the word ‘rape’ is because it is an imprecise term. .. take a look at the element of cirminal sexual assault. lack of consent makes it rape.

  • omphaloskeptic

    what clues did the writers offer that she might have consented? I didn’t see any.

  • VickyinSeattle

    For sure. Peter definitely has a side of him that enjoys lording it over others. He did it to Peggy the first day of her job, commenting on her figure upon meeting her. He’s occasionally dressed down Trudie, once barking at her to “sit down!” during an argument. He even tried–and failed–to blackmail Don.
    He grew up in privilege, and thus has an overdose of the entitlement that white men in that period had.
    I watched the last episode twice, and my sense is that when Pete first offered to help the au pair, it was because he felt sorry for her. As things progressed, it was to show off what he could do and be the hero. And, of course, what happens to the hero at the end of the story? He gets the girl. So, after a few drinks, he thought, “Why not? I deserve it.”

  • argolis

    She kissed his cheek before she closed the door on him the first time and, right before the camera cut from the scene, she began to return his kiss.

  • argolis

    She may have given her consent or she may not have. It’s not clear. The viewers weren’t there with her they way they were with Joan.

  • VickyinSeattle

    I’m also conflicted about Betty. I thought it was delightful the way the show slowly revealed her Italian proficiency–first showing just the usual words that tourists learn on the fly, then unspooling that into an entire conversation in which she more than held her own with the two Italian men. It made me wonder what other hidden talents she has.
    Betty shines when she gets out of the house and puts her people/conversational/social skills to use. In Season 2, after a dinner with Don and some clients, she even told him, “I like it when we get to be a team.” It gave her a sense of purpose.
    At the same time, Betty’s comment that “every kiss afterward is a shadow of the first one” seemed to show a personal inability to enjoy what she has and live in the moment. It’s being on display, admired for her beauty, and chased, that she appears to really enjoy. Once things are secured, then that’s just boring same-old, same-old. How can one enjoy what one has when it can never compare to the thrill of the past?
    The first issue–of not having challenging, stimulating things to do–is definitely a feminist issue. The second is a personal problem that has nothing to do with societal restrictions.
    That’s what makes the show so great. The characters aren’t just one-dimensional caricatures waiting for the ’60s and ’70s to either liberate them or cut them down to size. They’re real people.

  • Gopher

    She couldve done it out of intimidation. I think the act of brushing her cheek was just to get her to do what he wants, like a way to get her to be more compliant and less intimidated by him. Maybe also to confuse her so she would think that what she feels isnt accurate?

  • VickyinSeattle

    When she kissed his cheek the first time, it was a polite “thank you” as well as a reminder that, “I have a boyfriend, and this is all I will offer–a platonic gesture of appreciation.”
    The second time, when Pete showed he wasn’t going away without what he wanted, she just resigned herself to what was going to happen–because she felt she had no power to say no to him. That is NOT consent.

  • Tara K.

    But we do know the after effect: a girl who was traumatized and bawling.
    Clues that she was raped: many
    Clues that she was not raped: none
    Score count?

  • Gnatalby

    Betty’s conversation with Carla when she returned was what caught my attention. She spoke to Carla like she was one of her children (Carla, you brought it up.) And it echoed to me the times Pete and Don have required that a black person answer their questions even when that person doesn’t want to: Don with the busboy in the first episode and Pete to Hollis about his tv.

  • kat

    One interesting scene to ponder:
    Don seems to support Betty’s work on the reservoir issue. But then, when he gets a phone call, he writes on her list of names and phone numbers.
    While it was probably unconscious on his part, it definitely sent the message: “Go ahead and do your thing, but my work is always the most important.”

  • wax_ghost

    A person does not have to fight off their attacker for it to be rape. The “force” involved in a rape can be psychological, which is exactly what Pete did.
    We also don’t know if she actually had a boyfriend or if she was trying (as so many of us women do) to get him to leave her alone sexually.

  • wax_ghost

    A person does not have to fight off their attacker for it to be rape. The “force” involved in a rape can be psychological, which is exactly what Pete did.
    We also don’t know if she actually had a boyfriend or if she was trying (as so many of us women do) to get him to leave her alone sexually.

  • omphaloskeptic

    argolis, you’re right that the writers left it somewhat ambiguous, in that they could have made it more obvious that it was rape as they did with Joan. however, I agree with Tara that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of it being rape.
    that Gudrun turned down Pete’s original invitation, was hesitant to let him in the apartment in the first place, the fact that he used overt coercion,leveraging what was for her an enormous favor and a secret that could cost her her job, in order to enter her apartment, and that she “kissed him back” (whether this is the case, I’d have to watch it again) only after he trapped her against a closed door make it difficult to read this situation as anything but coercive.
    there are other reasons that the writers may not have finished out the scene as they did with Joan, leaving it relatively more ambiguous. For instance, Pete is a major character with whom we are meant to connect, and the visual of the rape scene might have made that more difficult. it also seems as though, as Jos points out, the way in which this scene was handled brings out some complexities that open up opportunities for discussion and education.
    also, I think the way the scene was handled is interesting in that it pushes the viewer into the mindset of the time, where Pete’s coercion is not viewed as rape. admittedly, I was initially confused by the male neighbor’s visit to Pete because what he said supported the idea that Pete raped G, but without any moral consequence–the problem isn’t that Pete raped G but that Pete raped the neighbor’s au pair and the suggestion is that Pete find other foreign women to force himself on. I think the male neighbor’s reaction (as did Joan’s reaction to her rape) makes these scenes confusing because they fly in the face of how we generally think about rape. this seems partly due to the fact that we are entering into a culture of a different time but partly to false assumptions about rape that persist in our own time.
    all in all, the handling of the scene turns out to be a pretty successful non-anachronism in my view. but not to view Pete’s actions as rape–or coercive at the very least, whether the two are different is a whole other discussion–however, strikes me as a willful misinterpretation of the clues the writers actually offer.

  • Toongrrl

    I can’t wait for the next episode. Me and my brother watch this show, when we saw Joan in Hermes, I explained what happened and he said “Because her husband is a bad doctor!” That’s the half of it. Pete raped the nanny??? I loved the roman holiday convo (“he’s ugly”)

  • Toongrrl

    I can’t wait for the next episode. Me and my brother watch this show, when we saw Joan in Hermes, I explained what happened and he said “Because her husband is a bad doctor!” That’s the half of it. Pete raped the nanny??? I loved the roman holiday convo (“he’s ugly”)

  • Honeybee

    I think it was clearly rape. Pete is so creepy.

  • MountainPika

    One of the things that really struck me in the show, which I am surprised wasn’t mentioned here, is the kiss that Betty got from the governors aid.
    In this show and the previous one Betty is shown as working hard to save this part of town which she loves. She is really being passionate about something and then when the guy kisses her, I felt like she realized, although she might have known it all along, that it wasn’t her passion, the cause or hard work that he was rewarding with his support of the governs office but his attraction to her. In that way he invalidates the work that she did. I saw her dropping of the further political issues not as guilt out of a guy kissing her, but a dissatisfaction around the invalidation of her work and others not taking her seriously.

  • Hara

    Betty came off as a spoiled, over privileged, “bored” housewife when she was given a token from the trip to Rome.
    I didn’t quite understand, until reading here, that it is supposed to be a liberating move (to be dissatisfied with her privilege).
    I loved that she was fluent in Italian. A glimpse of a more full life pre- marriage and children.

  • LittleLauren

    I feel like the story of Pete’s rape needed to be told ambiguously because of the time.
    My mother, who was born in ’58, talks to me about a lot of things that happened to her in the seventies which I would definitely call rape and she does not. When I tell her that her experiences qualify as rape, legally and by any current social standard, she says: “Well, at the time, girls weren’t supposed to be riding around in cars with older men.” or “Well, at the time, if you were out on a date and dressed provocatively, men just expected something to happen”
    I feel like her response to that scene would have been: “Well, at the time, you just didn’t accept favors like that from strange men without knowing he was going to expect something in return.”
    Which is not to say that either of us would justify that rape, or deny that it was rape. But, the story was told the way it would have gone back then, and I can definitely appreciate that. I get the impression that it is supposed to be shocking that people don’t realize Pete is forcing himself on this woman.
    Just like it should bother us all that Pete’s neighbor didn’t come out and say “You raped my au pair” but instead makes a reference to tissues and tells him to rape people outside the building.
    As far as Pete’s guilty exchange with Trudy, I took it differently than what I’m reading here.
    I thought that Pete began to understand what he had done to that woman. I saw that he was disgusted with himself (because he wasn’t interested in sex with his wife). and I got the impression that he commanded Trudy to stay with him at all times, because he knows that he did an awful thing without even realizing it and no longer trusts his own judgement (because never, with any other woman has he shown ANY guilt about cheating on his wife. Even when he was feigning fidelity to everyone in his social circle.) Why was this the first time he was in tears over what he had done?