[This post contains spoilers on “Mad Men” Season 6]
“Mad Men” has never been a show about feminism, and that might be the most feminist thing about it.
Just like how the show doesn’t try to pass off as historical fiction, the characters of “Mad Men,” both men and women, are completely absorbed in their fictional world. This world is based off the reality of the changing decade of the 1960s, but revelations of the era come subtly through a mise en scene of characters, just like us, witnessing change through the TV.
That being said, “Mad Men” never really portrayed the second wave of feminism in the ‘60s with much fervor, because these were housewives, career women and kids living their lives with their 1950s customs set in place. Although, it’s irrefutable that the women of “Mad Men,” who have been with us since the beginning (mostly), have transformed with the slow burn of the passing seasons. Change has been vast albeit a subtle growth. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when Peggy Olsen went from being a meek, apologizing secretary to Don Draper 2.0 or when Joan Holloway went from Queen Bee status at Sterling Cooper to “just a secretary” in the changing tides of the late ‘60s.
It really is about the minutest details that change a character or make her grow. With Season 6 of “Mad Men” neatly packaged with a bow and put away until the seventh and final season of the series returns in 2014, I take a look at where the “Mad Women” are at the cusp of 1969. Who had the most feminist season in “Mad Men” this year, you ask? The Mad Women Feminist Ranking Meter (or MWFRM!) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8xFbWLUDoQ) can answer that.
You know things have really gone downhill when Betty Francis tops you in the MWFRM. Aside from Megan being the most modern character on the show, she spent all season depressed in her apartment. She looked out longingly into the New York City skyline, on her plate of food, to the TV screen, at the wall. There were so much looks of longing and nothing done about it. Megan seemed to finally realize, after an entire indicating season of failure for her marriage, that the honeymoon period was over. She was advancing in her soap opera career, but she has always battled with Don over her success. Don has an image of the perfect wife, and Megan used to fill that role until she had DREAMS and went out and did something about it (with the help of her husband, but she’s already last on this list, let’s give her a break). Megan can only be happy if Don is happy with her performance, and for that she gets the last spot in terms of growth. Although, in the season finale, a stroke of wisdom finally hit her when she realized that the man she cares deeply for doesn’t quite reciprocate. Feminism doesn’t require you to choose your spouse over your career, but your spouse should be supportive of your ambitions. Megan, don’t put it off. You’ve done all you can, now go to California and redeem yourself. If Betty can do it, so can you.
Peggy, what happened? You were kicking everyone’s behind last season with the on-cue departure of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce to the sweet sound of “You Really Got Me,” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfXo7OTHpRw) by The Kinks.
Peggy’s season was all about her lack of choices. Amid the rise on the corporate ladder to copy chief at Cutler Gleason and Chaough, Peggy acted upon her simultaneous urges to be seen as more of a woman and not “one of the guys.” This meant taking charge of her male subordinates at CGC, which led them to think of her as a prude. She tried to be nicer, but it didn’t work as well as she thought. Still, those were minor concerns. She was making money and finally had the resources to buy her dream-home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Here comes social-activist/boyfriend Abe telling her that he envisions having kids with her, but certainly not in a place like this, so he convinces her to use her money and move into a sketchy neighborhood, and he eventually gets stabbed for it. Life’s tough. Peggy let her fantasies get the best of her. It’s normal for her to want romance and to start a family with her boyfriend, but she didn’t see that they were on different pages, philosophically, and he wasn’t willing to meet half way (considering she was the bread-winner). Peggy was forced to move into a neighborhood she hated, and ended up alone when Abe dumped her for ultimately being the enemy to his line of work. Things only got worse for Peggy when she fell in love with her boss, Ted Chaough, and did everything in her power to tell Don how much of a monster he was. Everyone saw through the affair, it cost her a potential CLIO nomination and at the end of the season, Ted abandoned their plans to be together in favor of moving to California with the wife and kids. At least she ended up in Don’s office. Peggy is still making career progress even if she didn’t choose it this season. Her work is all she has, and she’s not going to let anyone take that from her. I hope she kick’s Ted’s supervision from California to the curb and embraces her new position.
Sally had a bratty season, but let’s blame that on being an angst-ridden teen. She had the traumatizing season fans of the show had been expecting for a while now. She was kept low-key this season and ultimately used as a sharp contrast against her friends. She seemed more level headed than the boy-crazy girl she had over her dad’s house, even telling her “all the boys are going to think you’re dumb.”
Brains are better than beauty, Sals – good thing you have both, but the bad news is the hobo-code cycle of life is trickling down to you and this is the season we see you turn into Don Draper.
Fans predicted she would turn to the counterculture styles and attitudes, but she went towards the prep-school route, turning into her mother’s image (as far away from her father) but as Betty put it, “the good is not beating the bad” and Sally turns to her father’s vices for forgetting and moving on. Unfortunately, it’s not working for her. She really needs some sit-down family therapy with her parents.
Joan – still as clever with the comebacks as ever, but unfortunately with every season her confidence decays. Now a partner at SCDP, she expects to be treated like one. Instead, she’s still seen as the chief secretary, who sadly put it her self: “I’m in charge of thinking of things before people know they need them.”
However, Joan takes this spot because she actively did something about it. After being reminded that the office won’t entirely let go of how she obtained her partnership, she decides to handle the situation with pride and sheds the last of her secretarial duties by giving Dawn a promotion. She took her friend from Avon’s advice and turned her title into something more meaningful, effectively becoming the first account-woman in the office. When Pete and Ted basically explained her job to her as making the office look good and wheeling the clients around AFTER the important business meetings, she went ahead and formed her own meeting with the client she recruited sans Pete. It’s unclear whether she ever landed the Avon account, but series creator Matthew Weiner simply said in an interview for Hitfix.com: “That succeeded.”
I never though the day would come that Betty Francis actually grew up. Her one-night-stand with Don proved to be the best thing that happened to her all season, maybe even all time. She was able to acknowledge her affection for the father of her children, but she realized that her love for him was over. She made Don realize that she knows him better than anybody, and she really matured when she sympathized with Megan saying, “That poor girl, she doesn’t know that loving you is the worst way to get to you.” Betty is happy in her stable marriage with Henry and she seems like she’s become more grounded and confident (although the confidence comes from loosing all that weight). She seems at peace with herself. Her rendezvous with Don was the evidence she needed to restore her confidence and realize that some people never change, but that she had the power to correct herself. She did, and even repaired her relationship with her ex-husband; call it for the sake of the kids.
2. Creepy Violin Girl
Sandy, her name is Sandy. The 15-year-old violinist only graced our TV screens for one episode, but she left her mark on “Mad Men,” especially on Betty. Although she was a dark character for a child, her ominous tone was the result of recently having lost her mother and feeling the anxiety of time slipping away for her to do something with her life. Sandy is the only character who seemed to be aware of the very real fear of turning into a suburban housewife. She told Betty frankly “Sure, you go to college, you meet a boy, drop out, you get married, struggle in New York for a year while he learns to tie a tie and then move to the country and just start the whole disaster over.”
She would rather please herself than look good for a man, recalling that her mother always wore a girdle just so her dad would like her. Sandy is the one character, that while anxiety-ridden and in need of a mother figure, may not know what’s in store for her future, but she definitely knows what she wants to avoid.
Trudy never gets any attention on “Mad Men,” but this season proved otherwise. Weiner gave her a great storyline and possibly the greatest line in Trudy Campbell history: “I will destroy you.”
That line came after she found out that smarmy Pete was cheating on her and she realized she didn’t need him. In her words, she set up a 50 mile radius that Pete couldn’t even get near enough to open his fly and urinate without soul-burning, death-stare consequences. Trudy managed to stay away from Pete all season, finally putting an end to the relationship when she realized he hadn’t changed after giving him a change. When the season ended up in the dumps for Pete, she quietly reminded him that he got everything he wanted.
“It’s not the way I wanted it,” Pete says.
“Now you know that,” she replies.
Trudy Campbell, always coming out on top.