Warning: If you haven’t watched the Mad Men episode from Sept 19th, don’t read ahead!
Having just finished watching the latest episode of Mad Men, I can’t help but muse over the roles of women portrayed in the show. This episode focused explicitly on the different women characters: Joan, Faye, Peggy, Miss Blankenship, Meghan (the “hot” secretary”) and Joyce…the lesbian.
The duality of roles between two categories of women is striking: intelligent, career woman vs. secretary. I think it’s interesting to note that Miss Blankenship, who represents the older idea of women’s roles as secretaries, unexpectedly drops dead in the middle of the episode. As we are struggling to understand Peggy’s dilemma between the plight of the working woman and civil rights, maybe Miss Blankenship’s untimely death serves to disarm the viewer into believing that things may change for women. However, this idea is starkly contrasted by the warm, motherly-ness of Meghan when little Sally falls down…the pretty secretary comes to the rescue, bringing the office back to order.
Since Fay, or Dr. Miller, appeared on the scene, it was clear that she was to be a love interest of Don’s. I don’t know about you, but I so hoped that this would not happen. Why? Even though Don is somewhat egalitarian in the workplace, his attitude towards women is remarkably unhealthy. One hopes that a smart, savvy gal like Dr. Miller would be able to avoid his masculine prowess. Unfortunately she is not.
As is the case with the other characters. Joan, married to her dream man and exuding power and sexuality with every swagger, can’t help but succumb to Roger. Peggy, seemingly happy and getting over the idea that she needs a man to be truly content, still falls prey to the opinionated Abe, who influences her even as she rejects him.
The only unknown here is Betty, the one truly vapid and evil (arguable, I know) character on the show. Is she happy playing housewife to Henry Francis? Or does she experience the same existential angst she did with Don? I believe she is truly happy because status is so important to her. The only thing holding her back from achieving her picture perfect utopia is Sally’s irreverent behavior.
Though this episode had so much amazing material to analyze, the most striking scene was either the moment when all of the show’s women came to the reception area to see Sally out, or the last scene where they all are in the elevator.
The first scene plays at an emotional high, Sally has just thrown a temper tantrum and fallen running away from Don, when she is greeted by the motherly and beautiful Meghan. Then, all of the show’s women escort the young girl to meet her mother. This comes to represent all the different, confusing roles women played during that time…and the next generation’s further confusion in gender role. Sally will come to age in the 70s and I can already see her being either a hippie or a hardcore feminist…or both. The working women leave Sally at a physical point of transience, a reception area. Though she tries to run away and start a new life for herself, she is escorted by working women back to the hands of a stereotypical woman’s role.
The last scene is also striking, one where Fay and Joan get into the elevator to leave the office, when they have to hold the door for Peggy to hop in. It’s almost as if Joan and Fay, the older generation, are opening doors for the likes of Peggy…who herself has quite a struggle ahead of her. It’s pretty sad that I can sympathize with Peggy’s plight of not being able to join men’s business meetings, when I briefly interned in consulting, I found out that one client’s preferred meeting venue was a strip club. That was 2009. Though all women are trying to move forward, the elevator takes them straight down to where they began.
One last notable morsel is Joyce’s speech…calling men “vegetable soup.” It can’t be eaten from a plate of the counter…only a pot (a woman) can hold it, and who wants to be a pot?
Strong men. Strong women. The best part of Mad Men is that we get to see the weaknesses and drives of each character, and try to understand how these drives coincide with societal movements and stereotypes of the time.