August 25, 2009


I am starting a new feature. It's called "Dissecting Mad Men." Each week, I'm going to take a scene or theme or plotline from Sunday's episode and perform a feminist critique of it. So, warning: There be spoilers in these here blog waters!

This week's moment for episode 2 is Penny pretending to be Anne Margaret in the mirror. Now, what do we think? Penny, that same day, had decried Margaret to her male colleagues as a 25 year old who acts likes she's 14 and insisted she wasn't the right type of girl to sell a "pepsi patio", a new pepsi diet product. At the time, I was like, "Yeah! Go, go feminist Peggy! We're selling this product to women, so let's not sell it using an infantilised woman!" Then, Peggy did her impression of Anne in the mirror. To me, it didn't read like Peggy trying to get what the guys thought would sell about the opening number from "Bye,Bye Birdie" retooled for a Pepsi ad. It didn't look like she was mocking Anne, either. This impression was done in earnest. Peggy was shimmying and bobbing and pursing her lips and pouty and singing in a breathy voice, and at the end, she looked into the mirror almost wistfully. She wished perhaps, that people would see her this was, was what the image implied to me. What happened to Peggy taking pride in being a grown-up woman? WTF?

Towards the end of the episode, Peggy tries to sell Don on the idea that Pepsi should go a different way from the "Bye, Bye Birdie!" idea. Don says of Ms. Margaret to Peggy, "Peggy, you know every man wants her and every woman wants to be her." Peggy accepts this assertion far too easily for me, and the men get their way, selling products to women using a sexy babe they find hot and Peggy initially found irritating. What makes me sad, however, is it seems that our Peggy, the girl who is a pioneer in a man's world, also really secretly wants to be Anne Margaret. It's like she's a career girl by default, and if she were as sexy as Anne, she would totally prefer to sing and shimmy in b-movies like her.

Peggy also problematically lies to the guy she meets at that bar by ommitting the truth about her job - he assumes she's a secretary, which isn't sexist, so much as reflective of the way shit went down back then, but she doesn't correct him. It's weird, because it's not even like the dude she's talking to isn't educated and successful himself (he's becoming an engineer). Her job is pretty much equal in prestige to his, but Peggy can't seem to assert her equality. She doesn't seem to want it in parts of this episode. She disavows it. The way Peggy's character is constructed resists my desire to read her as a feminist figure, or at least a pro-feminist one. Is Mad Men attacking feminism, or is it just creating one isolated, conflicted character? This type of conflicted, confused and contradictory character would be okay to me if we had one regular character who really did seem to be more of a second-wave feminist, but Peggy's all we've got, and she seems to be going for an independent and professional life in this particular episode because she isn't super sexy.

All in all, Peggy

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