Mad Men Mondays: I can explain

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.
Roger Sterling and Annabelle Mathis.
It was kind of nice to see Roger flirting with a woman his own age. I also love that we’re getting some backstory on him. -Ann
I think this turned out to be so interesting, since Roger ultimately “rejects” her advances and normally his weakspot is teh ladies. It is almost cute that he is obviously doing it for some kind of broken-hearted revenge. -Samhita
Ugh. I hated seeing Annabelle’s character portrayed as ultimately “humiliated” because of her failed sexual advances on Roger, even if that portrayal rings true with the social norms of the time (and today’s). I don’t think it was a coincidence that she was also stubborn and “couldn’t move on” in business as well- that she had already “soiled the value of her good name” but was hesitant to look for another- it was just painful for me to watch her character as a casualty of Roger’s newfound strength/willpower. Women don’t have to take such a hard L every time a man decides to take “the high road”- if that’s what Roger was even doing. -Lori
Oh, yeah…and what Lori said. -Samhita
Q: When does Roger say “no” to sex with a drunk woman? A: When he wants to be cruel in an attempt to make himself feel better and win the upper hand. -Jos
I’m with you, Jos. For a moment, I really thought Roger had grown a conscience. So much for that. -Chloe
This whole thing gave me second-hand embarrassment. -Jessica
Don and Suzanne Farrell.
Don’s behavior with Suzanne, was now clearly foreshadowing for the facade of the Don “the Man” to break to him being a human. The tension of her waiting in the car along with Betts confronting him about his past was basically unbearable. What I still don’t understand about her character is that she is supposed to be the super independent bleeding heart liberal, but it almost reproduces this woman who is just blindly supportive of the actions of a man. It is almost what women are taught to fear about feminists…women that want/get all the love of a man, without the expectations or the attachments. -Samhita
Yeah I don’t know what it means for feminism and the show that she ended up getting hurt and sort of cast to the side. Was this meant to be a critique of the “liberated woman” model you mention, Samhita? I also thought it was interesting that of all the things Suzanne didn’t get to say in their brief “breakup” conversation, one thing she did ask Don about was her job. Damn. It just made me realize how perfectly aware she was that her affair with Don threatened virtually every element of the life she had set up for herself, and how much she had to lose, and yet she was still willing to jump into it head first. I just don’t know if the writers were trying to depict this, and her, as brave, romantic, foolish, or all of the above. -Lori
Ugh. Her waiting in the car was horrible. Her walking away with her suitcase into the darkness, looking so tiny was the worst. But Don basically forgetting about her and ending it so easily was a good reminder that no matter how independent or feminist or smart – he simply doesn’t have relationships with women that are based on equal footing ever. -Jessica
We’ve been building towards the big character shifts in this episode all season. We started off with everyone wandering aimlessly – things weren’t turning out how anyone wanted and there was a loss of stability, a shifting of the ground following the Cuban missile crisis, but no one knew where to land yet. In this episode Joan, Don, Roger, and Betty all took important steps in terms of recognizing or responding to their emotional realities, which is a huge change for a show that’s been defined by repression. Makes Suzanne’s character make a lot more sense to me, actually – she’s already taken that step but is surrounded by characters who haven’t so she comes off as strange, out of place. She’s not just an early suburban feminist, a manic pixie dream girl (thanks to commenter Tara K. for pointing out this aspect of the character), or clueless – she’s a complex character like the show’s leads, but we haven’t been given an in to understand her because our leads haven’t, either. At the end of the episode Don calls Suzanne by her given name for I think the first time – in fact I can’t remember anyone referring to her by any name besides Miss Farrell before this moment. Suddenly they’re closer to the same plain. The affair with Suzanne was a growing experience for Don, but even his self improvement work hurts women, in this case Suzanne and Betty. -Jos

Joan and Greg. “You don’t know what it’s like to want something your whole life and plan for it and count on it and not get it, OK?”

If I Had a Vase I’d Smash the Patriarchy
I don’t condone violence, but how satisfying was it to see her smash that vase? This is Joan grappling with how what she’s supposed to want (a surgeon husband, life as a happy homemaker) doesn’t line up with what she actually wants (a career, a challenging partner who respects her and isn’t a fucking rapist). Seeing her give Greg job-interview advice only drove home just how savvy Joan is about navigating the work world — something I’d managed to forget after a few episodes of not seeing her in action. I swear, the next time I need to muster a little courage at work, I am going to tell myself to “Joan up!” -Ann
Joan smashing that vase was uncanny and so out of character that it was refreshing. -Samhita
I couldn’t suppress my shocked but gleeful reaction watching this! It reminded me of Jill Scott smashing the bottle over her cheating husband’s head in Why Did I Get Married. So wrong, yet so satisfying. -Lori
I love how this season is really making Joan a more focal character in the show than ever before. And yes, I hate to also agree the vase-smashing was pretty bad-ass. I literally laughed out loud when she did that. -Vanessa
Greg raped Joan. Rape is an act of violence. And the rape itself was certainly physically violent, with Greg forcing Joan to the ground, pushing her into the Sterling Cooper office carpet. Is violence ever a good thing? No. But I have absolutely no problem with Joan hitting Greg over the head with a vase. I think it was freaking awesome! So great to see her reach that point of total exasperation with Greg’s whining while she’s in this marriage with an emotionally unstable rapist who hasn’t given her anything she wanted and expected from him. Also, check out this interview with Christina Hendricks on the vase scene and some other elements of Joan’s storyline. Hendricks consistently gives great, smart, nuanced interview. -Jos
Joan = the awesomeness. And I’m with what others have said. I don’t condone violence, but vase-smashing a rapist doesn’t strike me as all that problematic. -Jessica
Greg joins the army.
Flash forward to Mad Men season 6: Greg is killed in Vietnam. And then Joan becomes a bad-ass businesswoman. -Ann
Or Roger Sterling’s wife! -Samhita
Aww. Let me have my fantasy, Sami. -Ann
Well, Dr. Rapey is definitely going to die. They can’t possibly continue to make us watch her live with her rapist. -Samhita
I wonder if Joan’s thinking this is her out, with Greg going off to Vietnam. Pretty awful way to get out of an abusive marriage, but it’s not like she has a lot of other options. -Jos
Joan calls Roger.
Near the end of the episode, when Anabelle tells Roger he was “the one” and then we later see Roger making phone calls on Joan’s behalf, I can’t help but wonder if the writers are trying to tell us Joan is “the one” for Roger. In any case, I can’t wait to see what sort of awesome job he rustles up for her. I hope he doesn’t disappoint. -Ann
Yes, I thought the same thing in regards to Roger and “the one.” It also looked like in the previews for next week that Jane will be freaking out about him helping Joan. -Vanessa
Again, I am appreciating this sensitive side of Roger, even though it is complicated by his misogyny. -Samhita
I had the same thought, Ann and Vanessa. It was hard for me to watch Roger reject Annabelle so cruelly to build himself up and there’s no way I can believe Jane is his “soul mate.” But when Joan called Roger’s reaction was similar to seeing Annabelle in Cooper’s office but without the negative feelings connected to that relationship. -Jos
Betty gets advice from her family’s lawyer. “Are you afraid of him? … Is he a good provider? … You have three small children together. At least go home, give it a try.”
This was super depressing. That is all. -Ann
Ditto. -Samhita
I agree- super depressing- but was also a relief to see her physically (head in hands) and vocally acknowledging the desperation and frustration of her situation instead of just being this stone-faced woman who keeps her misery to herself. -Lori
The lawyer was an ass hat, but I loved that Betty didn’t just accept his words without question. I think this is demonstrative of a major shift that clicked into place for Betty and a number of other characters in this episode – no longer willing to accept the status quo they’ve been living in where social mores are considered much more important than acknowledging and dealing with their actual feelings. This was Betty’s Suzanne moment – lawyer guy was explaining how things are, what you do in these situations, what makes sense. But that’s no longer what makes sense to Betty. They’re functioning from very different frameworks. -Jos
You know, this sucked – but it was real and was a stark reminder of how few options women had if they wanted to leave a marriage. Way depressing, but I loved how Betty chose to take action any way and confront Don. The difference in her from last episode to this one was just awesome. -Jessica

Divorce laws in New York State.

New York is currently the only state in the U.S. without no-fault divorce. So the reality Betty’s family lawyer explained isn’t too far off from the situation today. This seemed like a pretty clear example of the show’s writers pointing to a problem that we think about existing in the 60s that hasn’t gone away. Getting out of a terrible marriage is still incredibly difficult for a woman in Betty’s position. -Jos
When her lawyer asked Betty, “Can you prove adultery?” it just about broke my heart, because we’ve watched him commit adultery a hundred bloody times – he spends practically every night at Suzanne’s house! And all this time I’ve been thinking that Betty must know, but that her capacity for denial, or her acceptance that this is simply the way marriage works, kept her from confronting Don (with the end of last season being the rare exception). But surely she could prove it if she had to? -Chloe
Betty confronts Don. Don: “I can explain.” Betty: “I know you can. You’re a very very gifted storyteller.”
Go, Betty, GO. -Samhita
Don repeating that he could explain and Betty acknowledging that’s what he’s best at defined how I understood this whole conversation. I don’t think there’s any denying Don exhibited real emotions – his whole being seemed to collapse when he finally had to acknowledge his secret was out. But Don still used his masterful communication skills to try to make this conversation go as well as possible, and showing so much genuine emotion was no doubt the most savvy choice for him. And again, Betty wasn’t going to take it. Yes, she was very understanding, very appreciative of Don’s emotional reality. But she still put her own needs first, a huge step that can’t be overstated. I felt drawn in by Don’s words, felt an understanding for his pain even after watching him be such a terrible person to his wife for three seasons. I’m so impressed by Betty’s resolve, by her ability to keep her own needs front and center. -Jos
I thought this was such a well-acted scene. And it was incredibly riveting to see Don falling apart like that. Though the morning after, when he was composed again, made me wonder if his brief glimpse of honesty would last. -Jessica
I’ll admit it: there are moments when I think that Jon Hamm was cast for how good he looks in a suit with a ton of Brillo cream in his hair. This was not one of those moments. This was a really powerful piece of acting, from both of them. -Chloe
Don cries about Adam.
This is the first time we’ve seen Don cry, right? He was upset right after Adam killed himself, but not to the point of letting it show with tears. We can probably assume this is the first time Betty’s seen him cry, too. -Ann
That moment was so complex and I hate/love when writers complicate a villain in that way. Don is a product of his time, but as of last week, I kept thinking he is a genius villain in a story of feminist uncovering. I think it shows us the harrowing affect that gender roles have on men as well and how we would all benefit from dropping the facade. But in the back of my head, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a geniuse-ly manipulative move on his part to make Betty put down her gun. -Samhita
From the moment Don fumbled and dropped his cigarette to the point where he broke down, it made me feel like the writers were more exposing this vulnerable side of Don. Not only does his partner know his real identity, but he knows she has the power to rip his world apart with his secret. It was like the box transformed him back into that defenseless boy. I also found it interesting how Betty reacted to him crying, considering what Ann said that this might be the first time she saw him cry – but Jos also makes a good point that I’m also sure Don was using his skills to get Betty’s sympathy (she says, “Am I supposed to feel sorry for you?”) so she wasn’t just going to cradle him in her arms and tell him it was going to be okay. She’s too smart for that. -Vanessa

The Gypsy and the Hobo.

What’s sadder is that not much has changed. -Vanessa

The whole Draper family goes trick or treating.

Betty knowing Don’s whole story could go one of two ways, I think. It could bring them closer together, because she is now one of the only people who knows who he really is. Or it could drive them further apart — because what does Don hate more than people who understand his vulnerabilities? -Ann
Good point, Ann. A part of me feels that the writers are suggesting it will bring them closer together, at least knowing that he ends things with Suzanne (yet perhaps only temporarily). But the betrayal may also drive Betty further away, perhaps to Henry Francis? -Vanessa
Totally agreed, Ann. Watching how the conversation played out, how Don shaped the revelations, was the first time I thought Betty knowing the truth might actually lead to her staying in the marriage. I think there would have to be a major shift in how the relationship works, though. Might some of Don’s interactions with Suzanne form his model for how to interact with Betty in the future? The power dynamic will certainly never be the same. The role of money should not be ignored, but Betty has a real opportunity to shape the future of this relationship on her own terms. -Jos
I’m with Ann and Jos. As the family prepared to go out together, I got the sense that the playing field between Don and Betty has been leveled in a very dramatic way. The way Betty looked at him, the way they interacted when deciding whether or not to bring the baby with them – even just for that brief moment – looked and felt suspiciously like the beginnings of an equal partnership. Betty, despite the fact that she’s been living a lie and probably can’t leave him (thanks, outdated divorce laws), now has the power to make Don’s apparently perfect life fall apart. And she knows it; he revealed to her when he told her about Adam the lengths to which he’s willing to go to preserve the lie he’s built. In many respects, it’s a lie he built for both of them and now that it’s in danger, they’re really in this together. -Chloe
I said to Andrew as we were watching them walk out the door…how apt it was that the kids were in costume – because really they’re all “dressed up” in one way or another. Dick as Don, Betty as a mindless housewife when we know she’s so much smarter, etc. -Jessica

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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  • Toongrrl

    Do you think Joan just had a delayed reaction to the rape? Dumbass doesn’t even guess that Joan gave up her career in order to marry his whiny ass. His going to Vietnam will be a lucky shot for her, no offense to anybody.
    Don is such a gifted storyteller, that he should just give up advertising and start writing novels!!!!

  • tsokol

    For those of us who do not watch “Mad Men” (I lived and worked through that era — why would I want to revisit it?) I hereby respectfully ask for some “Monday Monty Blogging” (if not now — soon).

  • gothicguera

    my two cents about Suzanne she seems to want a real relationship with don someone that she can introduce to her family and be with him out in thew open. Don wants someone on the side, he just wants sex or something else( but not a real open relationship). So Suzanne is bound to be disappointed when Don does not leave is wife for her. He is after all “married”, despite seeing Betty as an accessory and not a person.
    I just want Betty leaving don for some else.
    Joan for some reason I feel that either Greg going to cheat on her and leave her for someone else or something.
    No peggy!! wahhhhh!

  • VickyinSeattle

    I loved every minute of last night’s episode! Here are my thoughts:
    Roger and Annabelle: I don’t think Roger rejected Annabelle out of “newfound willpower” or to be “cruel,” though he was definitely cruel when he told her, “You’re not the one.”
    From the moment she walked in, he was clearly moved–and rattled–by her presence and the memories she evoked. Roger has no problems cheating when it’s for thoughtless fun (though he developed feelings for Joan over the course of their affair), but I think he rejected Annabelle to protect himself from stirring up old passions and re-opening old wounds. Did he really want to be reminded of what could have been had she not rejected him?
    If the gender roles were reversed, I imagine we might be criticizing the sense of entitlement an old flame would had to come back into a woman’s life and expect her to drop everything she’s built since he abandoned her years ago.
    Suzanne and Betty: Suzanne’s fear of being fired and Betty’s conversation with the lawyer really hit home women’s weaker societal position. Suzanne could have lost her job because her “moral character” would have been deemed deficient to teaching children. Short of Betty “being afraid of Don,” the lawyer saw no reason why a woman should endure the descent from being the wife of a successful man to a single mother (thus, social pariah). Ironically, Don is the man responsible for potentially putting both women in those circumstances–and as man, he’d walk away unscathed if Suzanne were fired and socially better-off than Betty if she left him.
    Don and Betty: I don’t think Don was faking his stress and tears. The moment Betty cornered him at his desk, his Don Draper facade cracked to reveal the vulnerable Dick Whitman inside. He could have prevented her from unlocking the drawer, but he just stood ashen-faced as she took charge.
    Betty was clearly hearing it for the first time when he conceded he was the son of a prostitute. His comment about “Uncle Mac who treated me nice” was a painful counterpoint to how his father Archie treated him. And when he wept over his brother, I think it was genuine guilt. He already displayed that guilt last week when he went out of his way to drive Suzanne’s brother to Massachusetts. Plus, I don’t think a man of that era would have thought that tears were a manly recourse even if he were trying to gain his wife’s sympathy.
    Sure, Don tried to whitewash the story by fudging the divorce date and glossing over his accidental murder of the real Don Draper. Would anyone really want to reveal that he was responsible for torching someone? It’s horrifying. But he did take the blame for driving Aaron to kill himself.
    I’m curious where Betty and Don go from here. I’d love a TV show that would tackle the struggle of a couple trying to make it work rather than the drama of letting a marriage unravel.
    Joan and Dr. Rapist: Every time they came onscreen, I was tense–fearing that Greg would take out his frustrations on Joan physically, but it was the other way around. She’s usually in perfect control of her emotions, so it’s cathartic when every now and then, Joan expresses how she really feels (crying at her goodbye party and now the vase). I thought it was HILARIOUS that Greg bought her flowers AND promised to replace the vase that SHE smashed over his head.
    Their marriage is such a powerful commentary on rape culture. He clearly has no recollection of the incident and wouldn’t ever see what he did as rape. She has taken charge of the marriage ever since the rape–Christina Hendricks said that her character saw it as a “bad date,” an anomaly rather than a revelation of someone’s character.

  • argolis

    Christ, would you all please make up your minds about how you feel about domestic violence??
    “We are morally opposed to domestic violence in any and all forms but, hee hee, isn’t it just so great when it’s against a bad guy?”
    Oh, and here’s a gif of an unsuspecting person being hit in the head over and over again by a blunt object — trigger warnings and abuse victims be damned!

  • ohmyheavens

    None of you all would be saying that about Roger and Ananbelle had the genders been reversed.
    Just as VickyinSeattle said you all would be condemning the audacity of a man to think a woman should drop everything in her life to submit to his advances. And how great it was to see a woman not be coy to save a man’s ego and simply tell him like it is.
    I hated to vase smashing scene, it is so out of character for Joan it seemed too forced. I would’ve been much more happy to see her give him a smart ass remark and leave him feeling like an idiot, but I think the got the point more clearly with the vase upside his head.
    And I love how you all started off by saying “I don’t condone violence but…”
    What you all really wanted to say is “I condone violence as long as it supports one of my causes.”

  • RockItRachelMae

    Argolis, I completely agree with your post.
    I usually like reading Mad Men Mondays, but today it caught me off guard. Like Argolis mentioned, Ann, Samhita, Lori, Vanessa, Jos, and Jessica- you have all said some contradictory statements, such as describing Joan smashing the vase against Greg’s head as “satisfying, refreshing,” and “So wrong, yet so satisfying.” How is violence seen as “bad-ass?” or “laughable?” You “don’t condone violence, but vase-smashing a rapist doesn’t strike [you] as all that problematic.”
    If Joan was doing this in defense, then I have no problem with her smashing a vase against his head. But it seems to me to be a result of her suppressed anger (which she is entitled to, again, not through violence).
    Also, something rubbed me the wrong way with the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” As someone who struggles with depression and was hypomanic for a short period in my life, I find this offensive. Is Suzanne suffering from bipolar or a manic disorder? If she was, then I suppose this description makes sense. However, I find that “MPDG” is offensive and seems ableist.

  • Ellen Marie-Frances

    i want that little video of Joan totally owning Greg’s whiney ass! how can i get it onto my facebook page?

  • Mother Mayhem

    Two more things to point about Betty’s discovery this episode:
    One, she’s in the power seat twice in this episode. I thought the scene with her and the lawyer, where she was behind the desk was significant. In the first part of that discussion, she is in charge of both her brother and the lawyer.
    We also see her take charge when she demands an explanation from Don.
    I disagree w/ Jos, the lawyer wasn’t an “asshat” He was actually pretty kind and gave her the full story. His first reaction was to give her the real story of her legal options–this is actually pretty respectful, as he could have decided she wouldn’t understand and just brush her off. He also realizes that they are terrible options. He’s not wrong–she would be in an incredibly difficult situation if she left. His advice to stay with a “good provider” is appropriate for the time and was delivered fairly kindly.
    We see Betty take control of the information he gives her–she confronts Don, which was probably not part of the lawyer’s advice. Kudos to her.

  • Tara K.

    re: Roger/Anabel & Don/Suzanne:
    In both scenes, we see these women going home alone, defeated, ultimately feeling devalued because they in some way lost a battle with the wives of these men. THIS, I think, is so important and an ongoing thread in the show: the currency of matrimony, especially as it pertains to women. Being married is very much a status symbol for all, but it’s also a very real currency for women. In the scene from last night, it’s the difference between being Betty, the woman in the house who is, literally, sheltered and being Suzanne, the woman who is walking home, suitcase in hand, appearing homeless & forlorn (which also seemed to tie to the hobo/gypsy costumes & how they symbolize Don’s identity/life). We see how a married relationship with Don equals security (for Betty) whereas an unmarried relationship equals the risk of financial and occupational catastrophe (for Suzanne). Themes of matrimonial currency have always surged through the show (as with Joan, Jane, and Mona). We even see the death of the husband equated with the death of reputation/status/financial prosperity for Anabel.
    re: Joan smashing the vase
    It seems everyone wants to express their satisfaction over this scene while also including a disclaimer about their intolerance for violence. It’s important to remember than all things on the screen must also function in visual and narrative shorthand; Joan smashing the vase over Greg’s head was probably the most effective shorthand ever. Try to put all the meaning of that action into verbal lines that could have been worked into a script. It would have been a lengthy, bloated monologue. The rape was also effective shorthand, however unpleasant. While these are two very real acts of violence, they also accomplish a great deal in the narrative. I don’t think either Joan or Greg have ever had lines as powerful, communicative, and forceful as those scenes.
    re: Feeling sorry for Don & Roger at times
    This is why Mad Men is so freaking delicious to watch. There are no flat heroes/villains, and everyone works within power and roles.
    re: Betty confronts Don
    I nearly crawled into my TV during this scene.
    Again, Mad Men develops power organically; the power dynamics of relationships evolve through nurturing, deprivation, and sustenance. (Again, though, we see these shifts occur in very different directions for married women vs. unmarried women.) Don fumbling and dropping his cigarettes was another example of just how precisely the show executes shorthand. One reason I found it so difficult to watch the facade of Don Draper fall was because it was also an unearthing of so much pain — of an abusive, socioeconomically depressed childhood. It was an act of stripping and exploiting, demeaning and almost humiliating. My background, like Don’s, is one in which I have experienced upward class mobility. I left Appalachia for good at 18; I changed my accent. Where Don’s mother was a prostitute, so was my great-great-grandmother. Through tragedy, life insurance paid for me to go to college. I went on to grad school and started teaching college. I always knew, though, that this was not my world; my peers/colleagues were not my people. They didn’t grow up like I did; they grew up cushy. Like Don, I partnered in life with someone from a more privileged background. (Just last week I realized that Where the Wild Things Are is based on a children’s book. My partner (who read it as a kid) asked why I’d never read it. I said, “Isn’t it recent?” He pointed out that it was old. I finally explained that I didn’t have any children’s books as a kid.)
    So while I was applauding Betty’s assertion of power (long-deserved) in that scene, I was also really pulled toward the vulnerability and degradation that Don felt. In terms of class, pain, and trauma, some secrets really do belong to us. When other people pull them out, play with them, toss them around — there’s no way they can understand what it feels like.
    P.S. Thanks, Jos, for the reference!

  • Yekaterina

    I agree with whomever wrote about Jon Hamm being a good actor. It’s true that routinely Draper is not that complicated a character to portray – the range of feelings he reveals basically comes down to anger/annoyance. But this scene demanded a much higher level of acting, and Hamm was great. Such a good cast.
    It was painfully ironic how that conversation Don has with Betty could, potentially, have been a watershed moment between them that would turn their whole marriage around – instead I found myself thinking how Suzanne sitting in that car just totally wipes out that possibility. I really wanted Suzanne to walk into the house looking for Don at that moment, and for Betty to see her, because that would def. be the end of that marriage then – Betty clearly wants out (showing her packing a suitcase before giving us an explanation as to why she is doing it, Betty asking Don for money because what she has is not enough, finally discussing divorce with the attorney).
    However, Suzanne is too smart to go looking for Don in his house (may be she didn’t call him that time at home after all?) It’s too bad. I still think (and hope) though that there will be something explosive coming out of this affair.

  • Mama Mia

    One thing, when Betty was asking Don for more money, it wasn’t because she didn’t have enough. She was trying to force him to admit that he had a stash of cash in the drawer that he hadn’t admitted to.

  • VickyinSeattle

    Hmm, I don’t think that was a delayed reaction to the rape. You could see Joan’s expression as Greg wallowed in self-pity: “Oh, no you didn’t!”
    Christine Hendricks said in the New Yorker that her character viewed the rape as a “bad date” or a “bad night,” and put that away in her mind. Which is what a woman in that era–or sadly, ours–could very well interpret her fiancee’s behavior.

  • VickyinSeattle

    Oh, here it is:
    “Q: Do you think Joan thinks of what happened as a rape?
    A: No, no, she thinks it was a bad date, a bad evening.”
    This, however, contrasts with how Hendricks herself perceives the incident. She was appalled that fans were calling it “rape” with quotation marks, and asserted that this was, in fact, rape.

  • Hara

    Re: Farrel being a “super independent bleeding heart liberal, ”
    No, no, no. Her behavior is that of a doormat and a victim.
    “I swear, the next time I need to muster a little courage at work, I am going to tell myself to “Joan up!” -Ann”
    Me too!!!
    re: the lawyers personal advice
    Women in much worse situations were almost always told to stay.
    I say this from witnessing my mother’s experience.
    We actually have come a long way in that regard.
    Long way to go still, too.
    Did Betts wear pants in other episodes that weren’t riding pants?
    did anyone notice that.
    My mother didn’t wear pants till …the late 70’s early 80’s, flat shoes came into her closet around 1984.

  • VickyinSeattle

    Thanks so much for your insight into your personal upbringing as well as on the series.
    I do love the complex layers as well as the use of metaphor, allusion and other literary devices that one doesn’t always pick up on during the first viewing.
    You’re so right about the characters not being stock black-and-white bad guys or good guys. I find it narrow when some feminists say they “hate” Don because he’s a cheater and sexist–sort of like when men who say they love Don because he sleeps around, etc. Really? Does Don strike you as a happy person?
    Re. the power dynamic between Don and Betty, it’s interesting to see how that will evolve now that Don’s revealed himself to be pretty much a “lumpen proletariat” (son of a prostitute). Betty’s got some serious class privilege–the way she pointed out how he didn’t know how to handle money, plus the time she criticized him for tipping the Italian bellhop too much (“He earns that much in a week!”)

  • Hara

    I’m not a pet person and watched my mother live thru that hell…I’m glad this generation is getting a slight glimpse into one aspect of the population and the sexism they survived.

  • Lamour

    I read somewhere that the first season, Betty was a child; in the second, she was a teenager; now, she’s moved into adulthood. I’m not sure if I quite agree with that over-simplification BUT I am completely amazed at her transformation, and even more so by how gradually and subtly the writers pulled it off.
    I’m also blown away by how much something as simple as wardrobe seems to change things– when she was floating around the house in those dainty, puffy little dresses, it almost infantilized her, demeaned her, limited her own physicality and forced her to be this non-threatening OBJECT/decoration. Last night, I was struck by how different things were just by her ability to wear pants and a top. It really brings home how “big a deal” clothing can be for women and how they are perceived. In her clothes during the ‘confrontation’, Betty could move around, she could almost loom over her husband, she had control over herself, and she didn’t look like a piece of home decor… such a difference!
    Jon Hamm was brilliant. I could almost FEEL this bitter, resigned, nauseous feeling come over me, it was emanating so strongly from him.
    The fact that Suzanne was waiting in the car was such a brilliant addition to the whole scene.
    As for the vase– I’m sorry– that was just so cathartic to see. When it first happened I actually said, “Holy shit!” out loud, absolutely stunned… then I was overjoyed. I think it’s because, in their scenes together, there always seems to be this tension, this underlying threat of danger from Greg– although it could totally be my own construct. I’m always kind of on the edge of my seat with them

  • DRush76

    I have something very unpopular to say about Joan Holloway.
    If we’re expected to see her bashing Greg over the head with a vase as some sign of feminine empowerment, you can keep it. I thought it was a childish and violent act of a frustrated woman, who has finally realized that she had made a stupid mistake in marrying Greg Harris in the first place.
    For God’s sake! The man had raped her! Granted, she probably couldn’t seek legal actions against him. But she could have ended the engagement. Instead, she went through with it like a fool, because like Betty had a decade earlier, had internalized the idea of being the wife of a successful man, while living in the suburbs.
    Let me make this clear. Joan was NOT to blame for getting raped. It was Greg’s fault, pure and simple. But . . . Joan was rather stupid in going ahead with the marriage to him. And I cannot help but wonder if she realized this after breaking the vase over Greg’s head. As for her little act of violence, that is exactly what it was to me. A childish act of violence. In that moment, Joan had lowered herself to Greg’s level.

  • Yekaterina

    Wow I didn’t even think of that. I thought in the back of her mind she wanted to stay in her father’s house and needed some extra money to hold her over

  • Devann

    Wow, everything about this post was poor. There is so much interesting/smart stuff being written about this (great) series & I was interested in delving into a more hermeneutic approach to a show, seemingly begging for one. But I don’t see much in t he way of feminism here, unless by feminist you mean interpreting the actions & decisions of every woman character in the most charitable way possible & of every male character in the exact opposite way; not even the decision of a married man not to sleep with a drunk woman being spared.
    The lowlight of the discussion has to be the ridiculous way the writers treated the smashing of the vase over Greg’s head by Joan. The rote & completely insincere disclaimer that of course we don’t (normally) condone acts of violence whilst barely able to contain their glee at the assault (complete with an embedded gif of the most unfortunate & totally regrettable act no less). Justification being that, after all Greg is a rapist, and even worse he’s “whiny”. Pathetic.
    I would call this high school, but that would be a disservice to just how sharp high schoolers are these days. This is just juvenile. You ladies can do better.

  • argolis

    As for her little act of violence, that is exactly what it was to me. A childish act of violence. In that moment, Joan had lowered herself to Greg’s level.
    Yes, yes, exactly. We’ve been anxiously awaiting Joan’s awakening for a season and a half, and it finally comes and it’s dramatic and pretty (flowers! a vase! heart-shaped symbolism in a scarlet red room!) but it’s ultimately ugly and mean too. To see it over and over in that gif only highlights that nastiness.
    I can’t tell whether I am giving Mad Men writers too much credit for deliberately muddying the water here, for creating such a morally complex situation. I don’t think I am… I think they knew that there would be discussions in which, “He raped her, but, hey, she attacked him too, so maybe they can put that all behind them now” might occur in the future.
    I just know I am so disappointed in the Feministing staff writers for their commentary. They just struck me as so… one-dimensional in their understanding of the scene. They might have well as written “Joanie kicked her rapist in da nuts hur hur hur.” There wasn’t even mention of how she was trying to wake him up too, how she was still (still!) trying to help him.

  • Jos

    Here’s the url – you can link to it or download it from here:

  • barley

    I feel very strongly about what I’m about to say. I think it’s great when a novel/film/tv show is so well-written that people are moved to discuss the characters as though they are real people.
    So with that in mind, I truly do not understand the argument that feminists shouldn’t support Joan or Betty, or any female character who isn’t “feminist enough.” Many of us love Joan and Betty not because they are perfect, but because we identify with their humanity and their difficult, difficult struggles within an oppressive patriarchy.
    Watching them navigate those waters is inspiring and moving. Who wants to watch a show with perfect characters? The minute a person ceases to make mistakes is the minute a person ceases to be human. You want a perfect feminist character who never falters in becoming a strong woman? Don’t look in well-written novels, films, or tv shows. They won’t be there. Instead you’ll find nuanced characters like Joan and Betty, and thank God.
    Plus, isn’t it important to care about the process by which a character becomes stronger? I find that process infinitely more interesting than perfection in action.
    I think many people here agree with me, but occasionally I see a comment that makes that “But Betty and Joan are not real feminists! They made mistakes! They’re so….human!” arguments, and I just can’t believe it. Human is what we’re after. I thought.

  • DRush76

    I have no problems with Betty, Joan or any other female characters being flawed. I have a problem with fans who make excuses for their actions and pretend that they have not done wrong. Or, I have a problem with fans who exaggerate their flaws due to some kind of dislike on their part.
    I don’t really have any feelings about Joan, one way or the other. But I was disturbed at how many fans had viewed her attack upon Greg as something to cheer about. I saw nothing in her actions that was positive.

  • 76cents

    Tara, I know exactly where you’re coming from.
    Something I noticed was with regard to the horse meat. Anabel saying “people all over the world eat it, I’ve eaten it, it tastes like venison”. Don agreeing saying “I’ve eaten it”. Roger looks at him in surprise. I thought that’s the first slip Don has made at work regarding his background. Horse meat was eaten, in his childhood, by the impoverished.

  • Jos

    Such a great point about the currency of marriage. It’s an example of how oppression replicates itself – Betty is in an oppressive marriage, but her position has been normalized. Suzanne is outside of even this position which, while being a way to keep power and independence from women, at least packs the privilege of a certain form of social inclusion.
    When Betty told Don “You don’t understand money” I instantly thought “I’ve been told exactly that.” This episode was so full of references to childhood class background. Racial background, too: the status of Italian Americans in the U.S. was in an intense period of changing and shifting, which gives some insight into Suzanne’s role as an outsider in the Draper’s suburb.

  • j-doug

    I agree, you either condone domestic violence or you don’t. You either say violence is never a good thing or you say it can be good sometimes. You cannot have it both ways.
    On the other hand, this is a television show.

  • j-doug

    Two comments that don’t just apply to this entry but the the general approach of this blog to Mad Men.
    First, I doubt Betty wants to get divorced, and this has nothing to do with NY’s divorce laws. Even in a no-fault divorce she’d be stuck with three children, half the assets she inherits, no immediate income, and social disdain. If she had to give up her social position along with her marriage I doubt she’d do it.
    Second, I’m still perplexed by all the Joan love. She’s a great character. She is not a feminist. She reproduces all the roles that a woman in her situation is required to, and when she’s in a position to do so she forces other women to do so as well (see her interactions with Peggy first season). She reflects the patriarchal sexual demands and knows it. She doesn’t seem to have any desire to break these oppressive traditions. In fact, she prospers in them.

  • j-doug

    Because several other characters in movies and individuals in real life are criticized in this forum for not being “feminist enough.”

  • j-doug

    And I’ll add to that the fact that the criticism that Miss Farrell, who is clearly more aware of and in front of the changing political environment of the era than any other woman on the show, receives.

  • feministjen

    Adding a trigger warning is a good call.
    However, I loved what Joan did. I’d love to smash a vase over a rapist’s head. Don’t have a problem with it for one second. I don’t care if it’s in self-defense, three weeks later, or in several decades. Smash away, Joan.

  • tealy

    a) Violence is either never okay or sometimes okay. Since the former is kind of a pillar of feminist thought and activism, I don’t see how you can condone the vase-smashing scene in any way, shape or form.
    b) Please refrain from using the phrase “mindless” if it immediately precedes “housewife.”

  • Juli

    I didn’t realize we were supposed to dislike non-feminist characters. That puts us in a difficult position concerning a show that takes place even in 1963.

  • mayfly

    I don’t think that Joan had much of a choice, actually. They were engaged, she had given her notice at work, what was she supposed to do? It’s not like she had that many options, especially from a social and “moral” standpoint. His behavior was considered not *that* bad at that time, and she would have been considered foolish to break an engagement with a successful, handsome man who was publicly good to her.

  • omphaloskeptic


  • Hara

    I can’t seem to get that one line from Betts out of my mind-
    “You don’t understand money”
    when she said that, I wonder if anyone else who didn’t grow up with old money went WOW
    it’s so true. anglos from old money seem to relate to money more easily than sex. It amazes me.