Joan Harris, Peggy Olson, and Faye Miller
In last night's Mad Men episode "The Beautiful Girls," we get to watch as the men of 1965 reveal how clueless they are about the lives and strife of the women in their lives. And yet, being clueless doesn't seem to backfire for any of them because they all seem to get what they want in the end anyway.
Let's talk about how this worked in the episode.
When Peggy and Abe, the radical journalist she met (and kissed) at that counterculture party months back, meet up again at a bar, they both seem pleased. However, things quickly turn sour when Abe starts touting his activist agenda, putting down the corporate "man," and reveals that Fillmore Auto Parts, a client of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, is being boycotted for refusing to hire blacks at its stores in the south.
On the defense, Peggy pushes off Abe's notion that SCDP, or more importantly she personally, should choose not to work for the company because of its racist hiring practices. In a truthful and yet also almost unsympathetic way, she responds that she, a woman, can't do most of the same things blacks can't do. Abe mocks her with a suggestion for a “civil rights march for women" and Peggy leaves obviously offended by his insensitivity.
While Abe seems to be clueless about the hard road Peggy has traveled to become the only female copywriting on staff -- as if she'd throw it all away to try to make some point about just ONE MORE of the "old boy's club's" closed-minded shenanigans -- Peggy does end up stepping up to protest in their creative meeting. She first throws out black singer Harry Belafonte as an idea for spokes-singer and asks Don and the guys why they dare represent a company with racist policies. She doesn't get very far with the men; however, it seems Abe has stoked the activism fire in her.
Roger rudely and cluelessly makes verbal sexual advances to Joan on a couple occasions. That's what women want, right? To be openly horn-dogged at work? When Joan snaps at him, another secretary explains that Joan's husband is being shipped out to Vietnam. Roger offers Joan a no-strings-attached dinner as a peace offering. The outing goes along platonically until the two are robbed at gunpoint out on the street and in the heat of the near-death aftermath, they end up doing it in a dark corner. Roger had no idea how to seal the deal with Joan again, and yet he got what he wanted in the end. Well, that is, until the next day when Joan reveals that she doesn't regret the escapade and yet, "I'm still married and so are you."
No big shocker here, but Don's probably the most out of touch with what's going on with the women in his life. Heck, he doesn't even notice his secretary, the kooky Mrs. Blankenship, is sitting dead at her desk right on the other side of the glass from where he's meeting with the Fillmore brothers about their campaign slogan.
Later he's a blatant idiot with Dr. Faye Miller, his colleague and the latest notch on his bedpost, when, in a crisis with Sally, he pushes for Faye's help, treating her like a secretary and then a wife/mother (because all women -- even non-moms -- automatically know how to deal with messes with children, right?). She has to explain what she gave up to have the career she has and he apologizes without really seeming to listen and gets a nice smile and hug from Faye before she leaves his office.
And then there's Sally, who has Don wrapped around her finger and plays him like a fiddle. Sally arrives unexpectedly at SDCP, found alone on a train by a concerned woman who delivers her to her intended destination, Don's office. The woman chides Don: "Men never know what's going on," and Sally gets to stay when Betty refuses to run to Don's rescue after Sally's latest rebellion. Later, Sally cuddles up to her father and smiles with delight at having gotten what she wanted, time with her dad. She asks him to order her pizza, makes him pancakes in the morning, and bats her eyes at him until he takes the morning off to spend time with her.
However, in the end, Don wins again when he forces Sally, unwilling, kicking, and screaming, to go back to Betty's house. In the most memorable scene from the episode, Sally runs away from Don down the hallway, falls, and is picked up by secretary Megan. Sally clenches Megan in such a deep embrace like, oh, like a girl who has a mother who's an unaffectionate withholding cold fish, and we ache for her as she loses her fight. Megan is brought to tears. The women in the office gather around for the commotion, witness Sally's pain (and seem to feel it themselves), and see her off to her mother who lies, "I was worried about you."
The moral of the story? I suppose it's just one of those small defining nuggets in one of the overarching themes of Mad Men. Men pretty much get what they want from women in 1965, and they don't have to do any emotional work to get there. It's a given. There's really no need to know what's going on. And women must give up their power and their fight, even if only from time to time, in order to survive.
What'd you think of the episode?
Image via AMC