I only recently finished watching season 2 of Mad Men (plot spoilers ahead) and I have to say that the season finale has left me feeling profoundly disturbed on a feminist level. For those that don’t know the show there are 3 main female characters: Peggy, the quiet working girl; Joan, the sex kitten secretary; and Betty, the depressed 50s housewife.
In the last half of the season we see the female characters go through some amazing transitions. Betty kicks Don out (temporarily) and seems to start asserting herself (in that she finally starts talking). Peggy fully claims her status within the male work place, tells Campbell about the baby, and ultimately rejects him. She’s really coming into her own, despite all of her silent, meek ways. As Elizabeth Moss states, she really is a profoundly intriguing character. She really plays out the evolution of women in the work place and her character development is absolutely fascinating.
The character that really disturbs me is Joan. She’s the shows’ Marilyn Monroe with the sexy clothes, the killer curves, and independent sexual mores that you just want to love despite all of her hard edges. In this season however, she’s taking a step backwards in order to get married. As much as that step kills me, what really upsets me is the way she is being punished for her past independence. It just makes you want to scream at the screen: Wake the f*** up Joan. A man who rapes you on your boss’ office floor in order to reassert his sexual prowess and territory is not a man to marry. Yet she’ll go through with it just to have the socially acceptable safety of marriage.
To be honest, the way all the women are punished in the show is downright upsetting. Once again the virgin/whore dichotomy is being fully played out, albeit in intriguing ways. Now I realize that the show is set in the 50s and that gender equality then was not what it is now. That said, I don’t know that the sexual politics being depicted in Mad Men are really all that different than some of the ones being drooled over in the latest pop culture phenomenon: the Twilight series. As this article so nicely illustrates, the politics of abstinence and the vamp fetish in the novel/movie are just as perverse as what is represented in the re-imagined 1950s TV show. To be fair, I haven’t read the books (I saw the movie) but as a former vampire novel junkie, the article really made me think about the power dynamics at work in terms of gender, sexuality, and much of the throwback conservatism that seems to be resurfacing in our pop culture society these days.
My post-Women’s Day blog post ends with the following thoughts: How far ahead are we really and why are we so fixated on re-fetishizing our own victimization?