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September 13, 2010


Grow a pair, Joanie

Joan and Peggy in the elevator, Mad Men

Has "Mad Men" felt a little bit like a Joan take-down lately? Things haven't always gone so great for Joan, but this season she's been back on top of her game, running the office and holding a position of authority that she clearly loves.

But then a few episodes ago, Lane busted her for trying to manipulate him into getting some vacation time: "I understand that all men are dizzy and powerless to refuse you, but consider me the incorruptible exception!"

Then this week, Joey the snotty-nosed creative guy really let her have it, with a whole posse of young upstarts openly ridiculing her. The things Joey said about her lording over the office and telling everyone what to do, wearing tight dresses that make her look like, what was it? A madam at a Shanghai brothel? It was all rude and mean and totally disrespectful, but it wasn't too far off base. The part about "looking like you're trying to get raped" was awful, but it's true that Joan basically invites men to take advantage of her or use her in lots of non-rapey ways, and sometimes depends on it to get what she wants.

The real story here is that Joan doesn't know how to use her power in any way other than to manipulate. She wheedles and cajoles and backstabs and manipulates. To confront the assholes in the office who treat her disrespectfully, she tells them all she hopes they go to Vietnam and get killed. What they did to her was inappropriate and awful, but then she stoops to their level.

Peggy, burgeoning feminist prototype, has legitimate power, and uses it legitimately. As Don advises her, "You want some respect? Go out there and get it for yourself." So she fires Joey, which is exactly what the audience would expect to happen in such a blatant case of sexual harassment.

Joan has legitimate power, for sure, but when it comes down to it, she can't use it to stand up for herself. She lets herself get passed over for the job she wants, she marries the jerk that raped her, she backstabs the guys who harass her at the office instead of sending them packing, then she calls Peggy a "humorless bitch" because she used her authority and did the right thing. In the Times recap of the episode, Ginia Bellafante says, "Joan is unmoored now in a world where a woman's currency in corporate life is no longer exclusively sexual."

It seems like the show is encouraging us to be a little more like Lane in how we feel about Joanie. I still love her, but I don't think we're going to see the feminist awakening in her that I've been hoping for.

categories: TV, Women
posted by amy at 5:30 PM | #

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Having finally watched the episode, I can say that I agree with you. However, I think it's a micro-generational thing. Even the difference of +/- 10 years in their ages has made a huge difference. Joan was already invested in the patriarchy, had already found a way in which to have some kind of power within that structure, at the point when Peggy joined the workforce. I don't blame Joan for her viewpoint - in fact, what she says to Peggy in the elevator (I think) is very much what people invested in the patriarchy would see: a powerless secretary and a humorless bitch. Not people.

Last night's episode helped me to understand why (for example) my mother and my friends' mothers (mine being about 10 years older) had such different views on gender-related issues.

Posted by: Pam at September 17, 2010 6:40 AM

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