Mad Feminist News #4

 Posted by on October 6, 2009 at 7:08 pm  Media-Web-News
Oct 062009

Double X has some back-and-forth about Mad Men. Emily Bazelon calls Roger out for wolfish behavior, and Matt Labash responds with what I find to be an annoying trope; feminism has somehow damaged masculinity, hence the love for Mad Men’s “real men.” Feh.

Basketcase and lawyer Francesk examines the issue of Peggy’s Equal Pay in her blog Void for Vagueness.

I really like Radioactive Quill, even though I now learn she doesn’t watch Mad Men. Anyway, she is interested in the feminist blogosphere discussion of Twilight Sleep, sparked by The Fog.

Ta Nehisi-Coates is short and sweet and chilling about Souvenir. (Thanks to the Basketcase who led me here, sorry for forgetting who it was.)

Jezebel addresses rape as a Mad Men motif.

And now, two feminist blogs that I link to often, but not always. Souvenir had a lot of feminist meat to it, and both Pandagon and Feministing had smart things to say.


  22 Responses to “Mad Feminist News #4”

  1. Deb,

    The Basketcase who led you to Ta Nehisi-Coates' blog is Dark Peggy.

    I am something of a fan of hers. 🙂

  2. great post, in case I forget to say it. 🙂

    when I watch Mad Men, I know I'm watching with a world view from this century. I know I'm going to see things that would be and are considered disgusting behavior in the context of my time.

    however, I really find historical pieces, whether from tv or books or other forms of storytelling, that try to force current views onto past times incredibly annoying. They lose the opportunity to look at how people are really not simply constructs of their hormonal cocktails but are, instead, able to change culture. Pretending to a past that doesn't exist misses the opportunity to recognize that changes in culture depend upon who has or doesn't have power, as well as upon the power and interpretation given to various texts and upon the "common knowledge" used to define culture.

    A culture isn't a monolith, either. We see, in our time, the way that one group gives power to one text defines culture for them in a way that is foreign and abhorrent to someone else within the same culture that doesn't share that view.

    In our own culture, we commonly (and mistakenly, imo) say women want romance and men want sex. Well, maybe women want sex, too, but they enjoy foreplay because, unlike men, they can have multiple orgasms. Maybe women want sex that is more than one position/act but because sex in so often defined by one act, the cultural assumption becomes women don't want sex.

    Maybe women are tired of the many hours they work and, while they might want sex in different circumstances, after they just washed the projectile vomit that came from little Suzie, maybe that's not exactly the moment.

    Maybe women assume they don't want sex because they're bored with sex with the partner they have but, based upon our culture, they don't want to find it elsewhere because of the possible consequences. Maybe if males and females had more economic parity, men would be more image conscious (which has, in fact, happened) and women would be willing to pay for sex (which has to from what I've heard but not experienced.)

    So, yes. If Pete had sex with Gundar it was rape in our modern context, even if he wasn't particularly violent about it. In his time, it was coercion to females and a "go for it" for many males … a contextual way of looking at rape based upon the culture of the 1960s.

    At the same time, in every era there are people who are able, somewhat, to rise above the fence of ideology within their culture and see what's out there, what's also possible.

    I suppose this is just sort of a general rant about the ongoing discussion about Pete and rape, or whoever else in the show might decide it's an opportune time to try to get some on the side if only they're "persuasive."

    I like Pete's character (as in story character, not mettle) because he is slimy and earnest and self-seeking and unaware and gaining awareness and refusing to see another ways of being all at the same time.

    I could say the same about Peggy or Joan or Betty or Don.

  3. I don't know where to post this but I thought it would be cool to share:

  4. I too am a fan of Dark Peggy, and that T-Nehisi Coates piece. He's always a valuable read, and really hits the mark here. Good comments section, too.

  5. Regarding that Feministing post: Betty's "I hate this town, I hate our friends" outburst reminded me of the greatest scene in my favorite movie, "Billy Liar" (from 1963, don't you know), where Julie Christie's character Liz says in frustration:

    LIZ: Sometimes I want to go away. It’s not you, Billy. It’s this town, it’s the people we know. I—I don’t like knowing everybody, I don’t like becoming a part of things—d’you know what I mean?

    BILLY: Yes, I do, Liz, I do—

    LIZ: What I’d like to be is invisible. I’d like to be able to move around with having to explain anything.

    Betty doesn't remind me of Liz very much in other ways (and Bradford, Yorkshire doesn't resemble Ossining in any way, shape or form) but the emotion is mirrored there. A restlessness, a longing. I think we (or I) may sometimes get too wrapped up in the textbook political upheavals of the sixties ("and THIS calls to mind Betty Friedan") and forget the plain restlessness of spirit there was then. I'm not very sympathetic to Betty's plight (you signed up for this, girl) but I can identify with the feelings that are starting to flutter in her breast.

  6. So, yes. If Pete had sex with Gundar it was rape in our modern context, even if he wasn’t particularly violent about it. In his time, it was coercion to females and a “go for itâ€Â for many males … a contextual way of looking at rape based upon the culture of the 1960s.

    I think this is so important, esme. Pete has been raised in a culture that not only told men that women were possessions to conquer and own (and who would, out of mere fickleness, resist your advances so you had to try harder), but also told him, as a member of the upper class, that he was better than mere servants.

    When it was revealed that Strom Thurmond had impregnated one of the African-American maids in his parent's home, a 15-year-old, (when he was in his early 20s, IIRC), much was made about the interracial aspect, but much less about the possibility of coercion in the relationship. Even if Thurmond did not physically force anyone to have sex, the very power that comes from being the employer's son, in Thurmond's case, or the rich next-door neighbor who has done you a favor and knows a secret about you, makes their actions almost inherently coercive.

    When we discussed Joan's rape, I think we were pretty much in agreement that she would never call it what it was. Similarly, Pete cannot see what he has done as being anywhere near rape, and that is where MM really soars above the vast majority of TV dramas. Even with Dr. Rapist, who I think is pretty much universally hated in the MM fan world, we see a character who can be sympathetic, who has a child-like need for the management Joan can provide (and after managing his crises all day, Bonwit's must be a breeze). With Pete there's much more history, both good and bad, not to mention a brilliant actor, that all conspire to make him sympathetic to the fans. Well, MW just had a sympathetic character rape his next-door neighbor's au pair, how many series would even consider that? Without a soap-operatic plot twist of an evil twin or a brain tumor, I mean.

    It is far too easy in story-telling to create cardboard villains and heroes. What I love about MM is that we get flawed human characters, who like all humans are capable of great love and great hate, good behavior and horrible mistakes.

  7. Don't know if this has been discussed before, but standing in for the hotel lobby and fountain cafe in "Rome" was actually, as I suspected, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

    (Built circa 1964, ya go to see the opera there, so it has that La Dolce Vita, grandiose "Rome in the '60s" feel to it.)

  8. Hmmm, the above info about the Dorothy Chandler Opera/Theater complex standing in for the Rome hotel lobby and fountain cafe, would probably have been better comment in the "theater" post.

    So Don and Betty are playing the parts of strangers on the pickup at what is actually the cafe and fountains of a theater complex.

    Or, am I reading too much into this.

  9. I agree with CPT_Doom

    "It is far too easy in story telling to create cardboard villains and heroes. What I love about MM is that we get flawed human characters, who like all humans are capable of great love and great hate. good behavior and horrible mistakes"

    "What a piece of work is a man….."
    Bill S.

  10. @ CPT_Doom – totally agree, this is one of the reasons I really like this show. I don't hate or love any of the characters, I see aspects of myself in all of them, I see their motivations, I feel like I know people like them – they're totally real seeming to me. Can't say that about a lot of other TV shows.

  11. Even if Thurmond did not physically force anyone to have sex, the very power that comes from being the employer’s son, in Thurmond’s case, or the rich next-door neighbor who has done you a favor and knows a secret about you, makes their actions almost inherently coercive.

    Since it's in the news, what about David Letterman and his female staffers?

  12. Aww shucks, fnarf, Anne B, I'm blushing. 🙂 Thanks! I admire you both too. Here is a link to another interesting Mad Men post, not as deep but kind of funny, especially the comments on Betty's hair, and it has a great picture of her too.

  13. CPT_Doom, you are right on the money, especially about Strom Thurmond. That went on a lot in the Jim Crow south and even more so during slavery, which is why the scientists estimate that nearly every African-American who is the descendent of US slaves has some European ancestry. You can't say no when that person is your boss or your master, or in this case your neighbor. I think this is something that has occured a lot throughout history and we are fortunate to live in a time when we can see this for what it is, or at least some of us do. It is disappointing though the extent to which women and girls still get taken advantage of by more powerful men.

    I also agree with you about making people multi-layered and sometimes liking the character and some times not b/c you see many sides of them. ER used to be one of my favorite shows and Dr. Carter was both my favorite and least favorite character b/c sometimes they'd show him nice, sometimes not so nice, sometimes selfless, sometimes selfish and obnoxious. It is always good to see characters who you kind of go back and forth with, sort of like you do with people in your own life.

  14. great points, CPT Doom.

    and, yes, with Letterman, too, the issue is about power differentials in positions.

    Most women I know have had a moment or two when male bosses tried to use their position to make sexual passes. This puts a women in a terrible position because, either way, she's f#&ked.

    It's not fun to work for a man you have rejected, sexually. They generally try to find a way to get rid of you or "put you in your place" because you don't respond to their (in my experience) waaaay out of line actions. If you did respond, others wouldn't think your work was the reason for any promotions, etc. and you would have to deal with the end of a relationship too – which would also likely mean a boss trying to find a way to get rid of you.

    Don is smart to keep his affairs out of the office – tho putting them just one step beyond, with clients, had negative consequences too. Peggy needs to learn this but she has so few social contacts, it seems she's just going with the opportunity. Roger's hook up with Jane has had terrible repercussions for the entire S-C biz – he sold them, fer cryin' out loud, to legally bang a girl barely older than his daughter.

    At this Mad Men point in time, Trudy tells Pete, after he forced himself on someone else, that his happiness is her happiness. sigh. They looked so happy, didn't they? /snark

    international relations are easy compared to intimate ones. all the power issues, self-determination, proximity and lasting resentments…

  15. It came up on several websites that the speed with which Trudy forgives Pete is pretty shocking. Perhaps that too has something to do with "power differentials." If Pete had sex with one of their neighbors, would Trudy have forgiven that as easily as sex with their neighbor's servant?

  16. Michelle Dean over at Bitch is unequivocal that Pete Campbell is a rapist.

  17. Estellia- yes, I think it absolutely has to do with power and with the things that Trudy was taught to think are the proper emotions and attitudes for a female in her position.

    If you've ever been in a job in which you supervise men, it's funny how they are suddenly not slaves to their hormones and will not mess with their female boss. What's really fun is to supervise a male who is an outspoken misogynist (of the religious variety, in my experience) who finds his beliefs don't work when there's no patriarch on high telling women to defer to men, as in, don't take that job because a man needs the money (tho this is a lie) or it's not "natural" for a man to have a woman in a leadership position, even when she does a better job. It's also hard to be the boss of such a person because of their simmering resentment.

    thankfully, that was a while ago. hopefully those types have died off by now. younger men have had the benefit of working mothers who disabused people of a lot of sexist nonsense. maybe that's why some women like younger men. not as much b.s. baggage.

  18. esme,

    Have you ever had to work for a male boss who suspected you were smarter than he was? And feared it?

    Sweet fancy Jesus. That's like a black comedy every day.

    As for Trudy's forgiveness of Pete: there is something in that scene that is so … what is the word for it? His telling her something is more important than her knowing anything. She listens to what he says, and watches his face, and lets him touch her hand, and says, "Good."

    He does not say, "That girl across the hall? Au pair? Raped her."

    He does not even say, "I'm sorry, dear, but I can't talk about it."

    He tells her that he doesn't want her to go away without him anymore. Trudy accepts that. It's a cover story — Pete is telling her something and nothing at the same time — and she says, just, "Good."

    But I bet she'd deny that her "little bachelor" could ever be a rapist. She's hung her life on a bet that he is nothing of the kind. Hasn't she?

  19. Anne B. oh, yes, Trudy's reactions in that scene were heartbreaking.

    Bosses come in all flavors, don't they? I'm surprised when people are jerks as bosses. To me, it's like being a waitress. Those of us who have done time in the trenches tend to over tip b/c we know how much b.s. those folks take.

    In the same way, if you ever had a bad boss, how can you be one?

    Getting somewhat ot, but have to share one classic moment when I went back to grad school in the not-too-distant past and was working a crappy student job when I already had experience doing x or y. But that's the way students get exploited. Cheap, cheap labor.

    I came up with a (very simple) way to save a lot of money by doing something one way versus another. I had one credit left to graduate before I was doing the job I was doing and actually getting paid something for it. I was written up because I had gone directly to the people I was working with rather than get permission from the hierarchy… that knew nothing about, and most probably cared nothing about what was going on except that they wanted it done.

    my boss was afraid of her boss. when that fearful boss left, I was told to do exactly what I had done originally… and I continued to edit my boss's work as a "freebie." (please don't let my typos mislead, I can sometimes spell and match verb/subject.) I really detest the corporate world (including academia) but little things like having health insurance or a living wage sort of make you bite the bullet, huh?

    I'm biting that bullet so hard my teeth hurt.

  20. Hazel, I thought I linked to that already, but now I can't find it.

  21. #17 I agree with what she's saying here in a way (although given her point, it would make more sense to say "Pete is a person who has committed rape" but I'm picking nits). But I wonder if she watches the show, because Pete is the closest thing MM has to a villian. He's never been particularly sympathetic. If Ken, or Harry, or pretty much anyone else had been the rapist, then they would be making the point that someone you like & trust could be a rapist. But it was Pete, the most entitled, juvenile and impulsive character on the show. I have no trouble believing that he would do such a thing. I might have a harder time being convinced if it were anyone else on the show, even Don, actually.

    I do like that Greg has shown no more violent tendencies towards Joan, that goes more toward showing what she's trying to say. But he's still a weak and nasty character as well. If MM is trying to "humanize" rapists, or convince me that any random man can commit it, they've got a long way to go.

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