The madness of men

With rock camp and all, it was a busy weekend, and then Sweetie and I had to catch up on the rest of life. So we didn't have time to watch Sunday's episode of Mad Men until last night. To say it was disturbing is a gross understatement.

I don't even have to post any spoilers (although there will be some). If you watched it, you'll know why I'm disturbed. It was one of the best episodes of the season, but seriously, I felt like I needed a shower afterward.

All along, we've seen the sexism and misogyny that we knew were prevalent in that era. It's the kind of thing that gave rise to Second Wave feminism. As the world became more modern, women's lives were still seriously circumscribed. Even more than now, it was a man's world.

But here we are now in 1967, and if anything, this episode shows that if it seemed that things were getting better for women, it was mostly superficial. Are we seeing an early backlash of the kind we see now? To Pete especially but also to the partners in general, Lane included, Joan isn't even a second-class citizen. She has ceased to be a real human being at all. She is a thing to be manipulated, like a Jaguar automobile. Her body belongs to the company, not to her.

The real horror, of course, is when Joan decides to go along with it. She extracts a very high price from the company, but could it ever be as high as what she herself pays? She might have been a woman for whom it didn't matter, and then she truly would have held all the cards. But it does matter to her. And when we see that if she had known that Don had not approved she might not have gone through with it, I was just wrung out. Joan will be a voting partner from now on. But to the other partners, that is not all that she will always be. I'm not going to condemn sex work, but Joan's choice was not freely made.

I really liked Peggy's story in this episode, overshadowed as it was (deliberately). I'm glad she made a decision for her own good. I'm glad she stood up to Don, thanking him for all that he had done but being firm in telling him that it was time for her to move on. It was interesting to see that when Don realized he wasn't going to be able to manipulate the situation, he turned hostile. And then pleading. The hand kiss was a bit weird. I'm not sure I bought that. But I love how Peggy, while acknowledging that she owed something to Don, also showed that she had earned her position.

And really, this was the man who earlier in the episode had thrown money in her face. He has helped Peggy, he has relied on her, but he has also mistreated her, repeatedly.

The real tragedy is that Don doesn't even realize it. All he sees is the good he has done for Peggy. He seems unaware that he treats her poorly. More than once, she has asserted their equality. But he's really no good at that kind of relationship.

When Joan says that Don is one of the good ones, that's really rather pathetic. In the context of the time and particularly that firm, Don is one of the good ones. But that's not saying much. Ken is one of the good ones as well, but we don't expect much, because he has little power. Don has the power to make things different, and he doesn't. He expresses his disgust at the meeting of the partners, but he doesn't stay to fight. He leaves. That's not good enough.

The men have no clue what it's like not to be a man, and indeed for many of them a man with power. They seem to have no conception that there is anything wrong with the world they have made. They can own a Jaguar. They try to own women. When they can't, they get angry. They wield enormous power, and somehow it's never enough, and when it's not enough, they seethe. Like Don. Like Pete, who seems to be constantly angry. And that kind of anger is dangerous.

Good on Peggy for escaping, even though she will face the same kind of male problem wherever she goes. Good on Megan for escaping, maybe, although clearly she is stuck in a man's world as well, as we saw at her callback. But Joan's story breaks my heart. She said to Don that her mother brought her up to be admired. Within the company, at least, she has lost even that.

Maybe Joan will have a breakthrough. Maybe she will learn to assert power without using sex. If she is going to stay at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (Campbell Harris), she is going to have to. In fact, she might need to become ruthless. I hope she has it in her.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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