Mad Men Mondays: We’re not chauvinists, we just have expectations

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.
Betty’s dream.
Every time Betty wishes to passively allow life to happen to her, the fainting couch is involved. Being undressed by a man you’re not married to? It’s ok, darling, you’re clearly in distress because you’re on your fainting couch! -Ariel
Betty: “I want what I want when I want it. You don’t care what it does to the rest of us. Like someone else I know.”
Or like every relationship with a clear power dynamic in this episode. Conrad Hilton, Lee Garner, Jr., and Don Draper all want something: Connie wants a campaign, but also constant support, Lee wants Sal, and Don wants Miss Farrell. And they don’t care about how getting what they want affects anyone else. -Jos

The “I have a dream” speech.

I thought this was a nice correlation to the Birmingham terrorism referenced later in the show, as a sign not only of the disconnect, but of the contrast between the young activist teacher and the older, noncommittal ad man. -Ariel

Don and Miss Farrell: “Who are you? Are you dumb or pure or…”
Don is such an asshole. While I knew this affair was coming, I just wish that the show would have one woman turn Don down, especially the one who seems the most socially aware and cynical of his game. He comes off as such an ass, but she still succumbs to his wiles. Pisses me off. -Vanessa
Don expressed a similar sentiment about Miss Farrell as the audience has – who is this woman? What stereotype box does she fit into? The character’s a challenge, a really interesting one. I’m curious to see where this affair goes, actually, as I think she’s a bit more aware than Don is. -Jos

The different ways Betty and Don go about an affair.

Watching Don and Betty pursue affairs at the same time it was obvious how much more experience Don has. Betty had to be told she had to go to Henry Francis – Don knew he had to go to Miss Farrell. Betty is unsure at every step, Don confident. He’s an old pro. Asshole. -Jos
It’s interesting how Don will begin an affair as a result of his own failure, and Betty starts one in seeking independence. -Vanessa

Don: “I can’t do this all by myself.”

Why don’t you stop being such an asshole to everyone, then? Mmmkay? -Ann
I find it really compelling to see Don in a position of vulnerability. Hilton is clearly his superior, and Don’s shifts from overly complimentary to exasperated to praising to sarcastic showed his struggle to navigate this role after rising to a position of power. -Jos
Lee Garner, Jr. molests Sal, gets him fired. Don: “You must have been really shocked.” “But nothing happened, because nothing could have happened, because you’re married.” Sal: “I guess I was just supposed to do whatever he wanted? What if some girl?” Don: “That would depend on what kind of girl it was and what I knew about her. You people.” Sal: “I didn’t do anything but turn him down. He’s a bully.” Don: “I think you know that this is the way this has to be.”
Don saying “You people” was just so cutting. I’d kind of wanted to believe that, after Don spotted Sal with the bell-hop in the hotel, that Don was just a live-and-let-live type. As in, he didn’t want to talk to Sal about it, but he wasn’t judging because lord knows Don has skeletons in his own closet. But last night’s episode showed that isn’t really true. Don is a huge fucking asshole, not a confidant. He has basically viewed Sal as some sort of deviant ever since spotting him through the hotel window. So devastating. When Sal acts (even a tiny bit) on his true sexual impulses, he loses. When he maintains his veneer of heterosexuality, he loses. -Ann
“It would depend on what kind of girl it was and what I knew about her,” Don replies. Way to take a hard line on special privileges for The Gays, Don! Philandering: the job qualification. -Ariel
I liked Alan Sepinwall’s hypothetical question about this scene: “put Peggy in Sal’s position in this story, as Sal more or less tries to do. How does Don react when he finds out a client ordered her firing because she wouldn’t have sex with him?” -Ann
This scene was so unbelievably upsetting but so on spot. But did Sal’s character really have to sacrificed? Between Joan and now him, I’d be devastated if he was gone for good – his character is just too important to have on the show. And ditto to what Ann says. I hate Don more and more in every episode this season. -Vanessa
For Coming Out Day Mad Men gave us what I thought was one of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve seen on the show. Seeing Sal explode after Lee left the editing room, knowing what a vulnerable position he was in. The matter of fact-ness of his firing. The litany of hateful words spewed by Don. He managed to paint gay men as sexual deviants, reject the importance of consent, and then fire Sal for being gay all in one scene. A reminder that being fired for being gay doesn’t exist in some inferior past: in 29 states you can be fired for being gay. In 38 you can be fired for being transgender. We need very badly to pass a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. -Jos
Betty writes to Henry Francis: “But I do have thoughts.”
I think one of the reasons Betty is attracted to Henry is that he knows her in a very different context than Don. He met her independently of her husband and they sort of cemented their flirtation while working to block the reservoir project — something that Betty clearly feels very proud about. This was the logical follow-up to her comment to Henry in the coffeeshop about having a college degree she never uses. She loves the idea of someone who thinks she’s smart, more than a housewife. -Ann
Conrad Hilton: “It’s my purpose in life to bring America to the world, whether they like it or not. You know, we are a force of good Don, because we have God. Communists don’t. It’s their most important belief.”
And here’s the shows remembrance of Columbus Day (aka Colonialism and Genocide Day). Hilton speaks about spreading America around the world (and to the moon!) in such a matter of fact way it’s jarring. The show takes place in the period when the U.S.’s power was still on the rise following World War II, right before American superiority begins to really get questioned because of, among other things, Vietnam. -Jos
Don’s relationship with Conrad Hilton.
No wonder Conrad sees Don as more of a son than his biological sons. He sees himself in Don, in that they both came to their positions of power of their own accord rather than by inheriting wealth. It’s true that this is as close as Don has come to having a father. Connie’s wealth and status — and the circumstances under which he and Don met — make him more than a client. -Ann
Betty to Bobby: “Carla works for me not you.”
For me, this was the reminder that Carla works. What I struggled with in this episode was the fact that every time Carla was given an order, or finished a day of work, she said “Thank you.” It just feels like de-facto indentured servitude. -Ariel
“I voted for Kennedy, I’ll probably vote for him again.”
Foreshadowing! Dun dun dun! -Ariel

Betty and her friends talk about segregation in the south while Carla silently works in the background.

The civil rights movement is inserted rather quietly into the show — cocktail-party chatter, a bit of radio noise in the background. Indeed, if you’re an upper-class white woman in the northern U.S. without particularly strong political beliefs, like Betty, I imagine this is exactly how distant the movement would feel. I found her choice of words to Carla — “You can leave it on your station” — to be so telling. Betty feels zero investment in or relationship to the cause of civil rights. She cannot connect the clips she sees on the news with her own privilege, treatment of Carla, and role in the oppression of black Americans. That seems to hypocritical to us, watching this show in 2009. But this sort of thing is absolutely still happening today. Privilege means you have the option of tuning out the news and being disengaged from what you perceive as other people’s fights for equality. -Ann
What tweaked my gut is the privilege oozing from Betty: the idea that while Carla is concerned, and acts as a surrogate mother to Betty’s children, Betty knows her children would never be in a dangerous, “black” situation. Is it possible the writers also intended to map this out onto the modern-day LGBT human rights movement? It would correlate well time-wise. -Ariel
The way Carla occupied visual space in the Draper house in this episode was just brilliant. A group of white women stands talking about how horrible and backwards the South is while Carla is separated from them spacially, working in the hall, and by the way the women are standing, circled up and facing away from her. Carla quietly goes about her work behind them, cut off and ignored. -Jos
Henry Francis to Betty: “I don’t know what you want.”
Betty doesn’t know what she wants. I found her to be so incredibly annoying in this episode, like a petulant child. She’s bored and wants attention. -Ann
I think the theme of not know what you want extended well beyond Betty in this episode to Don and his confusion with Miss Farrell, Sal and his intense building hatred of the closet, and Conrad Hilton and his moon. It’s true, Betty doesn’t know what she wants, just that she wants something different, something better than the suburban fantasy of the prison she lives in. -Jos
Birmingham. Betty to Carla: “I hate to say this, but it’s really made me wonder about civil rights. Maybe it’s not supposed to happen right now.”
Again, stunningly beautiful use of space. Carla stands trapped and separated, confined in the small space between the table and the wall. Her voice, her experience is so small and cramped in this house. Betty’s ignorant comment gets more air. -Jos
Deborah Lacey (who plays Carla) really knocked it out of the park this episode. In nearly every scene she’s in, her facial expressions say a thousand words. -Ann

Sal goes cruising.

Like Ann said – Sal is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t, so he might as well do what he wants, and come what may. But while he plays the “deviant” Don paints him as, both Don and him do the same thing in this episode as a result of their career failures by committing philandery. The difference is that Don doesn’t have qualms about it. -Vanessa
Miss Farrell: “I don’t think you’ve done this before this way.” Don: “I want you. I don’t care. Doesn’t that mean anything to someone like you?”
He may as well have added, “…you pathetic, desperate, single woman who probably falls asleep every night dreaming that a man like me will even look at you!” Again, Don makes me wanna puke. -Ann

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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