Mad Men, sex, and sexual harassment kind of go together. Don Draper, as Mad Men‘s lead character, is the quintessential “alcoholic, philandering impostor,” the man who women want and men want to be; one of those men who gets away with it over and over again. The more things change, the more things stay the same. But sometimes, things do change.
“If ‘Mad Men’ is a series about how people — particularly Don, the protagonist — often fail to change, it’s also a show about how the long accumulation of insults and life experience can lead to someone becoming radicalized.”
Joan and Peggy are front and center of the Mad Men harassment stage, and the final season premiere, “The Severance,” ups the ante for both of them. While Don Draper and the boys are treating the Mad Men audience to their usual inappropriateness during a during “a bizarre is-he-dreaming-or-not casting session” in his office, Joan and Penny are struggling to pitch a new product to men at partner firm McCann Erickson; men who are only interesting in all the ways they can sexualize the two women.
— Safe Space (@SafeSpaceRC) February 19, 2014
— Alyssa Rosenberg (@AlyssaRosenberg) April 6, 2015
While Joan and Peggy try to do their jobs, the men make it all about sex. It doesn’t help that the product under discussion is a new pantyhose line.
“He loves redheads. Would you be able to tell him what’s so special about your panties? So you can pull them down over and over? Do you wear them, Joan? Why aren’t you in the brassiere business?…You should be in the bra business. You’re a work of art. Warm him up first. Send a basket of pears to Marshall Field’s. The one thing Dan likes is a nice pear.”
Peggy keeps on smiling through it all, but Joan is infuriated and frustrated with this reminder that men are not required to respect her, however good she is at her job; that the way she dresses is more important than what she has to say.
The world might not yet be ready for her, but she sees no virtue in changing her wardrobe to make herself less attractive.
— Monica Kurlemann (@MonicaKurlemann) April 8, 2014
She’s getting closer to her breaking point, closer to a readiness for real change.
The Washington Post points out that Mad Men is a reminder of how the mad sixties moved more slowly towards a newer way of thinking than we might want to remember. The tension between men and women in the workplace may not be completely resolved, but there’s been progress.
Logan Hill, writing for the New York Times, thinks there’s some hope in the change department.
“Has anyone learned anything? Maybe just a very little.”