Those are Two Different Stories (Mad Men)

One story: The Sheik of Araby

The other story: Helen of Troy

But both stories are about using money to degrade women.

I’m the Sheik of Araby. Your love belongs to me.
At night, when you’re asleep, into your tent I’ll creep.
And then the stars that shine above will light our way to love.

Um, Sheik? Where I’m from, that’s not called love.

And this is not what one’s “champion” does:

Thanks to From Toronto, With Love, for this! I totally stole it.

Much of the Internet seems to have concurred that Joan was trapped in an impossible situation, and that Peggy kicked tuchus.

That both had money thrown at them, but that Peggy could not be bought. (But that Joan can’t be blamed for her decision bc, you know, being a woman.)

But the thing is, Peggy did have a price.

So here’s what gets to me about the two stories, Peggy and Joan:

Peggy wrote down LESS THAN CHAOUGH PLANNED TO PAY. She seriously undersold herself. I fear that she is walking into the same situation as she is leaving, angelic elevator light notwithstanding. An office where everyone can congratulate themselves on being enlightened enough to put a woman in charge (of what, by the way?). But no one, including the Copy Chief herself, really takes her seriously enough.

Peggy has been struggling heroically for a modicum of respect at SCDP and has earned, from her beneficent free-thinking boss, mentor, and “champion” nothing but contempt.

Peggy, you want to take credit for winning this new business? You want to maintain creative control over the idea that you made up and sold on the spot? Here’s a few bucks. Go buy yourself something pretty. It’ll help you feel better.

And then she says you throw money in my face? I’ll throw your own precious ethics back in yours.

But then his apparent sorrow makes her cry. I almost thought she’d lose resolve when faced with Don’s Big Sad Daddy face.

So while it was nice that she proved to Don that she couldn’t be bought, I can’t quite agree that she is the hero of this story.

Nor can I agree that Don’s kiss on her hand was as lovely as the Internet seems to think it was.

If I had the tech skills, which I don’t have time to learn for free, I’d do my own slideshow of Don’s face after she gave her notice. And I’d call it “Three Ways of Trying to Control a Smart Woman.”

1: Denial. No, you can’t be serious. I’ll just pay you more. What? How did self-interest enter your pretty little head? Wasn’t it filled with laxatives and pantyhose and worshipping and supporting me?

2: Anger. This one was fleeting, but definitely there. HOW DARE YOU BETRAY ME. AND WITH TED CHAOUGH. THAT’S JUST PERFECT. I expected it to take over, but it was quickly replaced by its insidious second cousin:

3. Outdated sexist condescension. Kissing her hand. Treating her like a, a what? A princess that you’re bringing a lion’s heart to, that her life may be saved and the fertility of the kingdom restored? Or like, maybe, an older lady? A daughter? I seriously have no idea what it might mean other than You are a nonsexual woman, maybe a little childlike, who will accept this meaningless gesture in lieu of actual respect because that’s what you’re used to, and if I act sad about it all that’s close enough to respect to let us all get by with our pants on. All I’m saying is that he wouldn’t kiss the hand of a dude who left his firm for a job with more management responsibilities.

I’m sure Don was actually sad. I am skeptical that he realizes that when she said “There is no price,” she meant he systematically failed to take her seriously. And that little glimpses of this failure–like when Ginzo’s name was nearly the only one in his gimme-an-award book, were quickly squelched by his own professional insecurities.

So I’m happy that Peggy got to sock it to ’em. I hope that it turns out better for her than I suspect it will. Because despite it all, she still cried when he got sad. And she still called him her champion.

And then there’s Joan.

All I’ll say about Joan is this: Every time she strides into a partners’ meeting—as a partner, not as an executive assistant—she knows that everyone knows how she got there.

That’s how much the stake and the vote were worth to her. And that’s how hopeless her prospects were of getting a stake and a vote any other way.

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7 thoughts on “Those are Two Different Stories (Mad Men)

  1. Bluestocking says:

    “All I’ll say about Joan is this: Every time she strides into a partners’ meeting—as a partner, not as an executive assistant—she knows that everyone knows how she got there.”

    True, but who really has the power here?

  2. Matthew says:

    Terrific post, as usual. You have a tendency of pointing things out that are obvious to me as soon as you mention them, but not before. This time around, it’s the condescension behind Don’s kiss on the hand. I was touched when I saw it, without thinking, but in my defense I would be even more touched if he kissed a guy’s hand who was leaving the firm. Only who would that be? Roger? It probably says something about Don that he’s not close to men and women in a similar way at all. Closer to the women, and meaner to the women. I guess that’s a common story of its own.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thanks to both of you for commenting! I love it!

      Bluestocking: I’d love to believe so, but I’m having a hard time getting there myself. Can you explain?

      Matthew: Thanks so much. And also, to be fair about Don and condescension, my understanding is that condescension was the norm in many cases. And hah, if he kissed Roger’s hand, I’d be more than touched. That’s an awesome thought.

      I don’t think Don’s close to anyone, really. Except a handful–literally–of people that aren’t around anymore. Anna Draper. Um, Rachel Mencken? Megan at first. Dr. Faye. They were all women, as you point out.

  3. Bluestocking says:

    No conclusions, but:

    I’m thinking about how much power Joan has always had. And how much agency (not the advertising kind) she has. She made an empowering decision. She chose to use her body, a man — Don — gave her “permission” not to (!), she had her documents delivered to her by close of business, she kept her end of the contract and now she’s a partner. I’m not sure what she did was so ugly and I don’t think it makes her a victim. Consider Don’s duplicitous life, what he’s done to make partner. Consider how much intel she has on all the other partners!

    I kind of think Peggy is the the less empowered woman at this point in the series. She’s not 1/2 as smart, and certainly not as realistic/pragmatic, as Joan.

    • Elizabeth says:

      That’s true! I agree with much of this. But the thing is that we, from our 21st century social advancement, can say that Joan was empowered by her ability to use her strongest resources to attain a voting stake in her company. But in her world, she slept her way to the top. Which is just about the worst thing a woman can do, right?

      Don’s ego smarts because he thinks Joan’s boobs got the account instead of his selling (Ginsberg’s) creative work.

      And everyone else will judge her. Even now, most people think prostitution is a tragedy under all circumstances. And a blight on the woman’s character.

      And I agree about Peggy. Her level of denial is astonishing. That whole baby narrative from Season 2 (1?) is the founding story of her character. I see every subsequent move in light of it. However, it also speaks to her lack of empowerment–outside her control. Her lack of sex & body education and lack of awareness of her own ability to ask for what she wants (like the thing about Abe’s misaligned proposal). She’s doing really well for herself, considering the circumstances. And despite her lack of empowerment, she seems to have more choices in her world than Joan. Most likely due to that pregnancy taking her out of the realm of sexual objectification when she started her career.

      • Bluestocking says:

        I guess I’m questioning (though it smarts to do so) whether or not sleeping one’s way to the top *is* the worst thing within the context of the times. Could Joan be making a truly free, responsible choice to buy her way in. Do we judge her for this? Is her brand of female power, well, legitimate power? Or do we realize that we live in a patriarchy that leaves someone like Joan no other option? And, if so, do we bemoan that or celebrate Joan’s resourcefulness. She’s now in a position to take that agency d o w n!

        Oh yes, Peggy and the pregnancy and her subsequent attempts to quash any identification with the archetypal female. Just look at that outfit above!

        I’m surprised MM hasn’t yet integrated the publication of The Feminine Mystique into the show. (In the very first episode/s there was a neighborhood woman was divorced *and* who’d been the Paris, remember? (Quelle horreur!) She was written out pdq.)

        I think it would be fascinating to cite how many times men give or deny women permission to use their bodies in this series. Remember what happened when Peggy went to get birth control?! When Megan had to “turn around” for the producers of the play she auditioned for? When Betty got “fat”?

  4. cindyokeeffe says:

    Don’t even watch this show and enjoyed the commentary.

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