In the final episode of Mad Men, Donald Draper spends a good portion of his time wandering around a retreat for ‘alternative therapies’. His facial expressions and lingering stares at ‘young and free’ types, tell us that he is in a reflective mood. We can only assume that amidst all the peace and love, Don has experienced some kind of revelation; that actually, he is sorry for being such a womanising shithead, a bad husband and a ‘barely there’ father. When he hugs the stranger and bursts into sorrowful tears, we know FOR SURE that he has seen the light, and despite all his lies and deception (did I mention he was an identity thief?) he is a good, solid, decent man – honourable even.
The beloved, moody, charismatic Donald Draper. Definitely attractive, definitely a prick.
I, like the majority of Mad Men fans, really quite liked Donald Draper. I was on his side from day one – when he came home to his wife and children in the suburbs, after having sex with an attractive bohemian women. I liked him then, and I liked him in the dying moments of the final episode, when I realised all that deep ‘reflection’ was actually just a man conceiving the next Coke commercial.
But something changed in me this morning during a typical text convo with my sister. She happened to mention an old acquaintance of ours, whose husband has just left her and their children for another woman.
“That’s awful,” I wrote.
“What an arsehole,” I continued.
“Yep, I know…” she closed.
And with that, the topic was done and she was free to delight me in the ins and outs of the new recipe she had tried the night before.
The reality is that this kind of ‘sad story’ is not really a big deal anymore.
As I’ve got older, the ‘He left her for another woman’ narrative has become almost a weekly conversation. But for some reason, on this particular day that one ‘sad story’, happened to hit a nerve with me. Perhaps it was just the straw that broke this housewife’s back, or maybe it was a culmination of everything that’s been clogging our airways recently. Whatever it is, I felt suddenly enlightened by a crystalised thought and I didn’t even need to go to a hippy retreat to figure it out…
I HATE you DON DRAPER and everything that you represent.
Part of what made Mad Men such a success and a delight to watch, was its beautifully crafted attention to contextual detail. The music, the costume, the staging – it was arguably the catalyst for a spate of young hip home reno enthusiasts decorating their lounge rooms with a mid-century modern vibe. But more than that, there was a very deliberate attempt by producers to bring to light the stark contrast in attitudes, most notably towards women, from the early ’60s to now. We all marvelled in disbelief as Joan was treated so openly like a sex object, and Peggy as a silly little girl trying to hang with the big Ad men. The producers were banking, and rightly so, that their mainly female audience would exhale a very loaded sigh of relief. “Thank God things have changed!” we would proclaim, and sit back comforted by the knowledge that those times were gone. We were no longer deemed ‘lesser than’ by our male counterparts. We weren’t just considered sex objects or the homemakers and child bearers anymore? But in the wake of another New York ‘mad man’, rising to (apparent) sudden power we are left pondering, with jaws dropped, whether the joke was actually on us all along?
For the US Presidential Election, after years and years of campaigning, Secretary Hillary Clinton booked what she thought was a particularly symbolic and meaningful location, The Jarvis centre in Manhattan. An impressive 1,800.000 sq. ft. convention centre with an even more impressive glass ceiling. The Democratic Party had so much confidence in their first female candidate, they couldn’t imagine a better place to be when Clinton, after 30 years of experience in politics, would become the first female US President. But as we are all too well aware – the story didn’t end so happily. It turned out the only thing that ‘shattered’ on that historic day, was the heart of Hillary Clinton, and her bevy of loyal supporters (and those that just hate Trump). No one could have predicted (besides Michael Moore and those pesky Simpsons, that is) that a billionaire reality TV star with no political experience would become President. But perhaps we were all overestimating how far women have actually come in proving their worth as you know, EQUALS…. and all that.
Turns out the glassed ceiling convention centre served its purpose beautifully; a tremendous ‘thump’ could be heard the world over.
Hillary Clinton was particularly unpopular, there’s no denying that. Some of the most common criticisms had nothing to do with her qualifications; she wasn’t ‘warm’ or ‘personable’, like a woman should be, she wasn’t particularly ‘attractive’, she had a ‘male instinct’ and ‘that’s not natural’. She also stayed with her cheating husband and how could we respect a leader WHO DID THAT?
“When you’re a star you can do anything, you can grab them (women) by the pussy if you want.”
And then there’s the US President Trump.
No one loves women more than Trump does – just ask him. He’s very in touch with the plight of modern day women. He believes in equal pay, he just reasons that women perhaps need to do a better job in order to get it “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” He thinks breasts are great, but they just shouldn’t be used for feeding infants, “It’s disgusting!” And who can forget his stance on women who have abortions, “They should be punished”.
But to get a really fair assessment on where Trump stands on women’s issues, you only have to look as far as his numerous enterprises. He owns the Miss Universe Pageant; an event designed to rank women according to their appearance; ability to walk well, waist to hip ratio, the colour of one’s teeth – you know the important stuff. And then there’s his modelling agency, Trump Modelling Management; a company where women are hired based on their appearance; ability to walk well, waist to hip ratio and….oh. But perhaps his intentions are honourable? Perhaps he sees the global significance of showcasing women of the world in their swim wear and stilettoes? Maybe he’s trying to somehow empower them? Or maybe, these enterprises are just an elaborate ruse to find himself a new and improved wife – oh hi there, Melania, former Trump Modelling Management model.
Nobody loves women more than Donald Trump.
Mad Men, in its depiction of 1960s New York, was slightly more optimistic about the collective path women were carving out for themselves. When credits rolled after seven seasons, it’s fair to say there was an attempt by producers to highlight some positive social changes for women, and with it, a couple of happy endings. Peggy, who had reached notable success in the corporate world, finally found love in the arms of the open minded Stan, a man who clearly didn’t mind a successful woman. And then there was Joan, the office bombshell, who after years of sexual harassment and mistreatment, finally decided to go out and start her own company, even if she did have to have sex with a particularly unsavoury fat, fat cat to get there.
Oh and then there’s Betty.
Betty, the faithful first wife and mother of Don’s three children. As a character she was largely criticised for her ‘cold demeanour’, poor parenting and lack of good judgement, flaws that would see her flirt with a cocky horse riding enthusiast, crash a car, and give an 11 year old boy a lock of her luscious hair. In the final episodes we see a happy, secure Betty go back to college in an attempt to better herself. But whilst climbing an oh-so-symbolic stair case to her next class, she falls and hurts her ribs. She later discovers its terminal lung cancer. Yep, no happily ever after for Betty. But perhaps if she just had better judgement, if she just smiled more, if she wasn’t such a ‘nasty woman’…
Ok ok, so the injustice is brutal. Don escapes all responsibility for his womanising, cheating and moral deficiencies and instead moves on and up to bigger and better things. He prospers, despite his abhorrent actions and seeming lack of remorse.
Oh, and that’s Donald Draper in case you were wondering…
But let’s be frank, there’s nothing accidental in Don Draper’s narrative. The producers knew and respected their audience enough to know they could have very likely been the Betty in their domestic life; cheated on and left to be a single parent. Or a Peggy or a Joan in the corporate world; treated as sex objects or as possessing a sub-standard intellect. They knew that the women that watched their show, who had themselves experienced their own ‘bad men’, would not be placated with a Don Draper that saw his wrong doings, and was filled with a deep, soul-changing remorse. They were too smart and too bruised for that.
But what they perhaps could not foresee, in their recreation of the 1960s America, is that where once its audience would sit back and marvel at the degradation of its female characters; there would, only a year after its completion, be a new lense through which it would be viewed. Trump’s election win, would leave many women wondering whether anything has really changed at all? When leaders of the ‘free world’ can grab the genitals of attractive women and compare others to dogs. When the term ‘politically correct’, is demonised and others like ‘boys will be boys’, are given credence. What are women to think? That there has been a throwback to 1960’s attitudes? Or that perhaps this era of equality we thought we were living in, has really been an illusion all along? Did Trump’s win just make that glass ceiling, suddenly opaque? Give a louder voice to cat calls and greater force to domestic violence? And given that we look back at the Mad Men era with such glassy-eyed nostalgia, is this really all an attempt to ‘Make America Great Again’?
“If you don’t like what’s being said, then change the conversation.” Donald Draper
I don’t like what’s being said.
I don’t like what’s being said about men leaving their wives and children with no apparent consequences.
I don’t like what’s being said about our nation’s sky rocketing domestic violence rates.
I don’t like what’s being said by men in power like Trump, who refer to sexual assault like it’s just something that ‘men do’.
I don’t like what’s being said, but I don’t know how to ‘change the conversation’ either. What is there to say that hasn’t already been said? We’ll raise our sons better? We’ll make those that do wrong take responsibility? We’ll put in new laws and higher penalties? These are the conversations we are already having.
We may not be able to change what’s being said, but I think it’s important that we keep having conversations. Let our voices be heard. Let’s walk tall and know our value and worth in the workplace and at home. Surround ourselves with the ‘good men’, and let the bad ones go. Let us always support and empower one another, so that the next time we encounter a ‘sad story’, we act with compassion not complacency. And who knows , hopefully one day we can make our world ‘great’, not again, but perhaps for the first time.
By Brooke Klaassen
Images sourced from:
‘Bad Men’ image created by Scott Murphy.