Joyce: He doesn’t own your vagina.
Peggy: No, but he’s renting it.
I’m getting the feeling that prostitution is a theme of Season 4. No, there were no call girls in The Rejected, but, in addition to the above quote, everything seemed to point to the price that women pay for male attention, and the way we sell ourselves in the marketplace for that attention. The goal, as Dr. Miller concluded, is matrimony, and feminists have been saying for decades that marriage and prostitution are not that far apart. I’m a believer in marriage—I’ve done it more than once—but a traditional, old-fashioned marriage is a cultural exchange: feminine services, including sex, for male financial support. That’s why a certain era of women were told to silently tolerate sex as part of the cost of having a husband.
We look at a lot of women at a lot of different points along the scale; Peggy and Allison primarily, but also Dotty, and then there’s Joyce, Joan, and Trudy; all part of the marketplace as well (Dr. Miller explicitly excludes herself; she is only pretending to be part of the market, as we see when she theatrically takes off her engagement ring for Peggy to keep hidden). We also look at men, and how they engage in the commodities market of finding a woman: At Pete, Ken (welcome back, dude!), and Don.
I know this is a sideways angle; I should be talking about rejection, right? But, perhaps perversely, this aspect of the episode stands out for me. It’s the focus group; the women desperately trying to market themselves so that men will buy; Allison finally breaking down because her goodness and her beauty are simply not enough—she offered the finest goods available and Don still didn’t buy. Dotty, too, has been rejected. She’s not a beauty, and no amount of cold cream is going to change that. Cold cream, of course, is another purchase-for-matrimony, as Freddy knew.
Peggy was infuriated at Freddy’s campaign idea, nonetheless, Peggy wants to get married. She toys with the ring. But she’s very clear with Allison: “Your problem is not my problem.” And then in floats her problem, in the form of Pete’s stork card. In between, she declares her vagina rented; the problem is comodification as well as rejection. And longing. Wanting to play the matrimonial game and also NOT wanting to play it. Don spells this out explicitly to Dr. Miller: How can anyone know a new idea until it’s presented to them? This isn’t 1925, he says: Just because women want marriage now doesn’t mean we can’t change that.
Peggy wants to be of the generation trying to change that.
Pete bangs his head on his pillar. Later, Peggy bangs her head on her desk (and I laughed aloud). Their stories run parallel. I’m sure some want to say, ‘oh, another “new generation” story, as heavy-handed as the introduction of Stephanie.’ This time I would disagree. It’s pretty organic for Peggy to meet people in the building, and she has a long history of being willing to experiment, of trying out new things and new modes of being.
But the real reason it’s not heavy-handed is the experience itself. It’s not just a time capsule of youth culture circa 1965. Peggy continues to explore the sexual conundrum; she’s hit on by a lesbian (which she handles deftly and without a bunch of fuss), and she experiments a little with a man (who would make a much more appropriate partner than Mark McBland). She’s trying not to sacrifice herself to the matrimonial marketplace while still wanting to be married. Trying not to sell her soul, just like the obnoxious photographer.
Meanwhile, Pete is fully invested in the matrimonial marketplace, finally achieving the goal Trudy had set for them years ago (I was just wondering the other day if this was the next storyline for Pete & Trudy). Trudy’s pregnancy is all tied up with Pete’s business relationship with his father-in-law: Coincidence? HA!
The two stories come together outside the elevator. Pete waiting with a bunch of middle aged men in neutral-colored suits; Peggy waiting with younger, more diverse, more colorful people. Peggy and Pete’s eyes meet, music swells. We’re hearing not romance, but loss. They’ve both banged their heads. Peggy hears Pete’s news and lays down on her own office couch. Before she had an office of her own, she slept with Pete on his office couch. Once, Peggy and Pete sat on his office couch together and she told him she gave up his baby for adoption. Now, Pete sits alone on his office couch and she remains standing to congratulate him about his baby. Now, they both reap the rewards of their choices; Pete is rewarded with the business lunch, the big account, the accouterments of the successful life of a successful married man. Peggy is rewarded for choosing her independence by going out with an experimental group; being free to discover herself and work creatively. Both are dealing with a cost-benefit analysis of marriage and child-rearing, very different for men than for women.
Marriage isn’t just a marketplace, it’s a bargain. You hope for it, you gain it, maybe you lose it. But in the end, fifty years later, you’re still saying “Did you get pears?” to the point where your spouse is really pissed off. Is that what they’re all working for? You’ve got to wonder.