She has a husband in Vietnam and a baby at home

 Posted by on January 14, 2013 at 7:00 am  Season 5
Jan 142013

In the Mad Men Season 5 episode The Other Woman, Don Draper is horrified at the proposition the partners want to present to Joan. He protests, “she has a husband in Vietnam and a baby at home!”

Because otherwise it’s okay?

This is a standard sort of protest, and on the surface there’s nothing wrong with it. You’re meant to understand he’s reminding you of Joan’s goodness, decency, and virtue. Oh, yeah, virtue. “She’s not a slut,” he’s saying, “she’s worth protecting.” The underlying message is patriarchal: Joan has value because she’s a mother: in other words, the Madonna side of the Madonna/whore complex, Apple Pie Motherhood, an idealized creature whose role is biologically determined. Joan has value because she’s a wife, the possession of a man, and not just any man, but that manliest of men: A soldier.

The protest isn’t, “She’s a human being and human beings shouldn’t be bought and sold.” The protest isn’t, “She has more value as a person and as an employee than simply her body.” The protest is entirely about her body. The protest treats her body as a commodity every bit as much as the original offer does.

The reason this matters is simply that the offer didn’t take place in a vacuum. It occurred in a society that commodifies women, and as horrified as Don is, his knee-jerk protest is a product of that same society.

At some level, Joan understands this. She is a commodity no matter what; it’s part of why she confronts Peggy in the elevator in Season 4’s The Summer Man: “No matter how powerful we get around here, they can still just draw a cartoon.” Joan didn’t decide that being an object was worth a partnership; Joan knew that she was already an object. And Don knew it too: The object “mother” and the object “wife” are still objects.


  24 Responses to “She has a husband in Vietnam and a baby at home”

  1. Don knows the shame of being a whore-child, and doesn’t want that to happen to Kevin. It won’t be as blatent, but he doesn’t want to see it happen. Don has very strong feelings about the proper role of mothers. Remember how upset he was when Betty wanted to wear the bikini?

    I’m curious how Peggy fits into this. Don knows she had sex before marriage, and still thought she was worth protecting and had value. Does Don draw a line between consentual sex (no exchange of money/favors) between two adults and prostitution?

  2. I have never seen Joan as a victim in this situation. She would never have had that initial conversation with Pete if she weren’t willing to consider it. “You couldn’t afford it” is almost a challenge

  3. This is thought provoking Deb. It’s true that Don does not at all object to the literal or figurative commoditization of women (he has partaken more than once). He is a 60s ad man – everything is a commodity.

    It is classic Don that his immediate reaction is to protect the abstract idea of motherhood and family without invoking the specific person or dissecting the circumstances involved. As you say, Deb it is the ideal that he is initially concerned with – not the person. Don likes the idea of family a lot more than the messy reality and even with all Don has seen that ideal is worth protecting.

    So Deb’s question is still there: Is it otherwise ok? If we go back a few years and subtract Joan as a wife (possession) and mother (with soldier dad in Vietnam) does that change anything?

    In that hypothetical I personally still picture Don objecting but not necessarily to protect Joan as a person. I could see him invoking the reputation of the firm and Joan’s functional importance to the firm.

    • I agree d davies, but what about Don’s ego? He felt that HE had the winning formula and presentation…I think that he certainly would have objected, regardless of Joan’s “status”, as he wants to be the one who closes the deal – so to speak.

      • When I watched that episode, I remember thinking he was being hit by two things at once – first his ego took a beating because he realized his great presentation was not the only reason or a reason at all that they won the campaign and two – his actions to protect Joan from herself and from the partners did not work. I wondered in the end which of the two was harder for him to handle. He has a huge ego but clearly he has a bond with Joan.

  4. What’s really the extra whammy here is that Don knows Joan is getting divorced (per their conversation in the prior episode) and none of the other partners do. So what this means is that he’s not making the argument out of his own belief that it’s not okay because Joan is an Army man’s property, he’s doing it because he thinks the other partners would respond to that as an argument against it.

    Furthermore, of the five of them, only Roger knows that Joan’s baby is his and not Greg’s, and that Joan told him to go pound sand when he offered child support, so Don wouldn’t know that Roger wouldn’t buy that as an argument. Also, Lane is carrying a torch for her. So both he and Roger were more reading the argument as “I don’t want her to do it because she’s mine,” rather than, “I don’t want her to do it because she’s the noble wife of an Army captain risking his life in Vietnam.”

    So really, the only person of that group who would respond to Don’s statement at face value is Bert (since Pete has already decided it’s a great idea), and I have a feeling even the old man knows what’s really going on. Bert has ears like a cat.

    • The line about her husband made me wonder what Don would have said if Miss Holloway had been asked instead of Mrs. Harris. Since he likes Joan and his vanity about the pitch was mixed in he would probably have stuck up for her…but making it about her husband instead of her was weird. Don does stick up for underdogs though, with Sal being a notable exception.

  5. “It would depend on the girl, and what I knew about her”.
    Otherwise, it IS ok.

    • tilden, dead on. I initially intended to include that quote but it took the essay into a tangent that would have taken another 500 words!

  6. Joan has done the wild thing before. Now she is negotiating with a middle man. Joey referred to her as some kind of madame walking around trying to get raped. Those days were wicked tough for a woman in the office with any power.

    I don’t think anybody thought less of Joanie for making a deal to improve her financial situation. I think that’s how it was done and in some cases is still being done in business.

    She knew what she was doing. I understand her motivation. Joanie understands power.

  7. A follow up thought.
    Could Don see Joan as untapped territory and he has an office crush on her. He would never be like Lane in this area, but maybe when he was drinking with her at Christmas we saw a glimpse of his admiration. I think he goes for her. He did send her roses the next day. Peggy and Joan are on a shelf in his mind.

    • Peggy’s the ONE, nuff said. She alone can provide the appropriate to DD mixture of worship, worthy sparring partner who’ll call him on his crap, and complete fealty to the point of following him straight to hell.

      But, alas, this is MM, where the excellence of the program, would never allow it to degenerate into a Friends or Grey’s Anatomy bottomless pit of all the characters sleeping with all the other characters shriekiness. If only Pegs were hot enough, and Don could just SEE.
      I can always dream.

      • A Peggy/Don tryst would be fraught with angst – at least for Peggy.

        Joan/Don would be far more “zipless” (to appropriate the Erica Jong term).

        You are right, though. Cute is not “hot” (“you’re cute as hell, you know”). Cute is accessible, however.

        In Peggy’s case, cute is even assertive in certain circumstances.

  8. You two gentlemen have explained that Peggy/Joan/Don idea like only guys can. I guess if it was put in front of Don he wouldn’t refuse Joan but Peggy is another story. He is not attracted to her but because he is so damaged in the attachment part of his life he feels pretty safe with Peggy. Don would never play the white rug game with Peggy like he does with Megan.

    Considering Don has had a variety of playmates, I predict he will drift away from Megan, their age difference will become a factor as the 60’s gets wilder. She will be off doing her thing and he will start to feel something’s missing. He will like staying home and watching Lawrence Welk before you tknow it.

    • They may never walj down the aisle together, but beloved Pegs is ‘his girl’. Why else would the story begin on Peggy’s first day? Her work birth. I yearn for the last shot of the series to be DD and Pegs walking into the office of their new agency, Ben and Elaine on the bus expressions of glee, consternation, and wonder. Don sits at his desk, Pegs in front of it listening to his outline for the business. Shot from behind Don’s head. We end as we begun. Perfecto.
      That would be more than heaven allows.

  9. Tilden, you are too hip for me.
    Are you referring to The Graduate “Ben and Elaine on the bus expressins of glee, consternation, and wonder”? or the tv show Glee?

    I keep thinking we see the end with the opening of Don’s image falling from an office building because the Feds show up to bring him to justice.

    It will be spectacular because thats how Mr. Weiner writes.

    • I’ve never seen Glee. Never will, either.

      • Keeping an open mind brings many rewards. Is it not possible that if Glee is good enough for Angelica Houston it is worthy of you to take a peak and then rank it?

        Also, were you referring to the Graduate or some other Ben and Elaine? Or is that Ben Afflack the insurance duck and Elaine Bennetts Jerry’s friend?

        • “Elaine, its too late, its too late”. “NOT FOR ME!!!”
          Beloved Pegs is 28, that’s STILL young. Snark.

          • Moderator note: This post is removed because it contained only a single link to a highly questionable looking URL, with no identification of what the link was to. PD, I (Meowser) think someone might have hacked you.

  10. I saw in interview with Jon Hamm on the red carpet of the GG’s, and he said in so many words that Don will be back to his unhappy self again S6. I think the arc of Season 6 will be Don’s disenchantment with SCDP, and this will bleed heavily into his relationship with Megan. SCDP, in one year, has driven away the two closest women in his life, Megan and Peggy, and rendered a woman that he respected, Joan, into another disappointment, all in the name of business. He’s losing control of everything. I.e. – Don’s personal hell. I agree with TK – the end of the show will be as he described. The arc is in motion – separate Don and Peggy, have them come back together over the next 2 seasons. Hence the final episode can be Don’s first day at work – whether at his own new company, or working with Pegs somewhere.

    I didn’t take what Don said about Joan being a wife and mother as that serious. It was like he was just speaking in platitudes to easily convey why she shouldn’t be put up as collateral for the Jaguar account in a way these men could easily understand. If he had to make that explanation to Peggy, I think it would have been an entirely different conversation.

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