I barely know what time it is, as I just got back from a memorial service in Paris for a very dear friend. But I was greeted with an urgent message from my daughter that I immediately had to catch up with the latest episode of Mad Men, titled "The Other Woman."
So I did ASAP, and so I write ASAP... because if any person on this planet ever wondered why the Women's Movement was necessary or why it was originally called the Women's Liberation Movement, this episode shows and tells them, loud and clear. Bravo to the writers! Bravo to the entire ensemble cast!
In the brilliantly captured 1960s world of episode 11 we saw Peggy, Joan and Megan completely dominated and insulted by men as they endured varying insults and indignities that young women today can barely imagine. Until change was insisted upon, and we saw the beginning of this insistence before our very eyes during this episode, even those men who loved their wives usually viewed them as possessions whose purpose was to serve, entertain, nurture and amuse, as well as provide children. Even educated husbands, unless they were raised in highly unusual families or somehow developed into the finest and most compassionate of human beings, saw marriage as ownership as they came and went as they pleased. Things got very ugly for women who said "no" to this accepted and ingrained societal way of life.
In the office, regardless of brainpower or innate ability, manipulation and condescension were the order of the day. This was true even when what was expected or demanded was the deepest possible insult to dignity and self esteem.
Therefore, more often than not, it was necessary for women to get what they desired or needed through sex. All of this occurred, of course, during a time when abortion was illegal. This and former episodes showed the deep struggle and shame of a single woman with child, as well as the shame of being divorced by your husband after having a child, and the economic terror tied to raising a child alone.
The burgeoning changes clearly shown involved all of the three women this segment concentrated on:
Peggy, a true genius at what she could produce professionally, earlier had been impregnated (her mom is raising her child -- family put downs are her diet) by Pete, whose moral compass is where the sun cannot shine (more about that later). Don had seen her early abilities and given her the chance to leave the secretarial pool, but the culture of the time and his own blindness, caused one too many insults. Peggy resigns, a very hard decision as she is a deeply loyal and decent human being. Her parting with Don, who is left with disbelief, is done with enormous dignity and courage. Peggy, looking radiant, breaks into an enormous smile as the elevator, her exit, is before her.
Megan, devoted to Don and his children, always wanted both marriage and family, and an acting career. She is very smart, as well as beautiful, sensual and ambitious. Her professional detour at Don's firm showed her seducing him and then, with a serious nudge from a dad where there were strong oedipal bonds, decide that having been given every advantage at Don's firm, she wanted to leave to pursue her acting dreams. Don struggled but supported her until he realized that her success would mean periods of separation. Rather than discuss this maturely, he withdrew, and she demanded something more of him. He heard her. Later, she came to his office for what men usually came to women for -- a purely sexual experience that left her feeling fulfilled and powerful for her audition. Don did not refuse her. (Concurrently, Megan brought a skilled actress with her, who used her sensual talents to help the male team know precisely how to approach the Jaguar account -- and pitch to male desire for ownership of an exquisite woman.) Subsequently, those auditioning Megan treated her like a pound of flesh.
The most deeply unsettling focus of this episode was on Joan, who refused Roger's offer to help support a child born of their earlier affair. Above all, Joan wanted marriage and the protection and legitimacy her generation of women depended on exclusively to provide. It was during this scene that Joan's good-for-nothing husband, who we saw rape her before their marriage, sent her divorce papers. It was also during this scene we saw Pete (who may be ducking tomatoes on the street as I write) ask Joan, in his true-to-life sickeningly passive aggressive manner (the same one he used to distance himself from his wife) to spend a night with a disgusting major owner of a car dealership in order to receive a Jaguar account. This was something Don was adamantly against; but after he left the room where Pete presented the idea the other partners, even Roger, aquiesce with varying degrees of distaste. By the time Don visited Joan at home to tell her it was not necessary for her to prostitute herself (he does not use these words) -- that the presentation could win on its strengths, or the account was not worth having -- it was too late. Don's presentation was masterful, and the account was won. However, he now is not sure if it was won because of his abilities, Joan's one night stand, or a combination (thus a foreshadowing of male resistance to the Woman's Movement, and its perceived threats). Joan is no longer a mere employee. She has insisted upon and has received a modest percentage of the partnership, which frees her from dependence on Roger, her good-for-nothing husband, or her whining, frustrated, and inappropriate mother.
For one who saw a young friend die following an illegal abortion, and another friend commit suicide under cruel divorce laws that offered neither alimony, no fault divorce nor equitable division of marital property, the truths of this segment are stunning reminders of the 1950s and '60s: Women saw that to survive and raise our daughters and sons to understand how essential self and mutual respect are, it was essential to become another woman.
This article was originally published at
. Reprinted with permission from the author.