Mad Men returns to television this weekend-let the blanket coverage begin! Slate 's excellent Mad Men TV club has already begun , the New York Times (allegedly) spoiled some of Season 4's upcoming plot points ( and was pilloried ), and today, Salon has an essay with the provocative title, " Why 'Mad Men' Is Bad for Women ."
Nelle Engoron argues that Mad Men doesn't do right by its female characters because the men "get off scot-free (if not scotch-free) while the women are subjected to repeated humiliation and misfortune, which is invariably attributed to their own flaws and poor choices." This doesn't feel right to me. Hasn't Don lost his family and his wife through his poor decision-making? According to Alessandra Stanley's preview in the Times (potential spoilers ahead) , ladies' man Draper is having a tough and lonely time on his own, rebuffed by his blind dates and living solo in New York. Meanwhile, Roger Sterling has made a hash of his own personal life-his daughter and wife sort of hate him, and his new marriage to former secretary Jane is abysmal. Certainly, the women experience misfortune and perhaps are punished more than the men are-but isn't that faithful to the way the world worked in the 1960s? Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner is such a stickler for period accuracy that he'd be hard-pressed to create an unrealistic plot that elevated women just to satisfy today's mores. Weiner's aim, it seems, is to show the viewer the injustice of the system that Betty, Joan, and Peggy had to navigate.
Which brings me to Engoron's other thread of argument, which is that the young female viewers of Mad Men aren't savvy enough to understand that what happens to the female characters in the series is meant to be a critique of sexism, not an endorsement of it. Here's her evidence:
The message that many women, especially those under 40, seem to have taken from the show is not relief or gratitude at what’s changed, nor an understanding of the past, but something quite different: Those fashions are cool! God, Don’s hot! Are you a Joan or a Peggy? Let’s dress up like them, have a "Mad Men" party and drink martinis!
Let us not rehash this tired saw, about how young women who fancy themselves feminists are just vapid party girls. From what I've seen, my cohort's admiration for the female characters on Mad Men is not purely stylistic. We may enjoy the period fashion, sure, but our adoration of Joan and Peggy is for their fortitude and their nascent feminism -not just the fact that they get to gaze at Don Draper all day.