Friends, readers, loves of my life, let’s talk about Mad Men.
I decided to take the plunge and re-cap all the juicy gender issues this show serves up as a way to ease the pain caused by the show’s impending end. I started binge watching this show with Claire Bear back on 96th street, and it continues to be the best show on TV (in my humble opinion). I love that watching it is more like the experience of reading a novel than a short story, and I love that the details make the show feel historic while the writing makes it accessible and contemporary. I think it perfectly reflects how much progress we have made, and how little, often in the same exact scene.
Alright, enough love professions, let’s talk about this premiere. I want to talk about Joan, which won’t shock you if you’ve ever engaged me in a conversation about Mad Men before. I think Christina Hendricks is one of the most beautiful women in the world, and her character and her beauty stand out in a show full of beautiful and complex women. This episode was fun because seeing her spread her account wings is truly thrilling for me. Back in the day, Joan was a secretary waiting for a husband. She first advises Peggy that the right moves will land her in the country, and also to stop dressing like a little girl if she wants to be taken seriously. Oh season 1, you were so retro! She eventually found a doctor to marry, but he was a bum, and she started to realize that the things she’d thought she wanted weren’t making her happy.
So she kicked him out, confident she could raise her son on her own. Of course that is Roger’s kid and not Greg’s, but as far as she is concerned Roger is unreliable and she is a single parent. She knows she will need to focus on work to keep her family afloat. One of my favorite moments on the show is when her and Peggy chat after Don announces his engagement. Both women have traveled a pretty windy road to get to where they are, but being focused on their careers allows them a unique bond. They understand that their accomplishments are overshadowed by the men they work for, even when those men are recklessly getting engaged to their secretaries. Second marriage cliches not withstanding, they get each other.
And Joan get’s herself a partnership, in an episode that truly showcases this actress’s talents. But she still isn’t satisfied, and last season we watch her land her first account: Avon. She was ruthless, and frankly insubordinate, but she got it. This episode Ken sends her on a meeting with the head of marketing at a shoe account. Right away their meeting is awkward, due in large part to his not subtle condescension. He doesn’t bother to hide the fact that he’s disappointed, but makes it a point to imply that this is silly because any man would be an idiot to be disappointed to be meeting with her. He also references her perceived availability by commenting that ‘It must have been hard for you to keep this seat empty.’ He basically dismisses her, leaving after only a few moments without allowing her to engage with him.
Not one to give up, Joan heads to a university to get some help from a professor in what I assume is business. She has a weird moment in the professor’s office, because she is always very guarded about perceived advances (especially with business associates, especially since Jaguar.) Which is totally understandable since she spent most of her life being coached to believe that her desirability was her most valuable trait. Moments like this stem from her own insecurities, indicating that she still believes that other people don’t take her seriously. And who can blame her, when schmucks like the shoe guy are so dismissive! But she rebounds, impresses the professor, and buys the company more time with the shoe account.
And the reason we should all be rooting for Joanie? Because her struggle is still happening today, every day, for women everywhere. I can site multiple instances of being dismissed or not taken seriously by someone while at work, usually by customers. In fact, I’ve had customers specifically ask if a man is available (while working at a store that sells technology, FYI.) And women still aren’t getting paid as much as men, and the Senate just blocked passage of The Fair Pay Act, because some folks don’t think equal pay is a real issue. Balancing a family and a career continues to be an issue and a discussion mostly centered around women, because women continue to complete the majority of household and child care tasks. Joan breaks my heart a little because she had to face extreme and total disappointment before realizing how great she was at her job. She truly came from a time and place where college and/or work were just stepping stones to your real life. I admire her so because instead of staying unhappy and clinging to the vision of the life she’d wanted, she kicked out her no-good husband and kept right on moving. She accepted that work made her happy, and she changed courses. Her ascension, for me, is even more riveting than Peggy’s because Peggy was always a little weird and I don’t think she was ever truly hoping to marry quick. Joan is strong but vulnerable, she is hard working and even ruthless, she is gorgeous and ethereal and I just can’t wait to watch her wiggle her way into accounts.