Saturday, April 16, 2011

Do feminists secretly want to be Betty Draper?

Uh, shouldn't he have a desk or something?
It’s no secret that lots of women love Mad Men, and not just because Don Draper is such a handsome devil. Sure, the show focuses mostly on the swaggering Don. But it also depicts the struggles of numerous female characters as they bump up against the obstacles and issues faced by women at the time, most notably those of secretary-turned-copywriter Peggy Olson as she tries to make it in the boys club that was the advertising world of the 50s and 60s. Meanwhile, the show’s happy homemaker, Betty Draper (now Betty Francis), is about as far from happy as you can get, her life a perfect illustration of Betty Friedan’s critique of the emptiness at the heart of the lives of many middle-class stay-at-home moms of the time. 

It’s no wonder that historian Stephanie Coontz  has described Mad Men as “TV’s most feminist show,” and no wonder why the show is so popular with the feminist women in my life.(Not to mention with me.)
Just don’t tell any of this to Uncle Elmer, a regular commenter over on The Spearhead. He’s evidently never seen the show, but feels confident he knows why feminists love it so much: 

Feminists ... have a huge forbidden woodie for the “50s”. They simply cannot get enough 50s imagery and its thinly veiled implication that women should stay at home, know how to run a household, and lavishly support their man so he can go out and bring back the bacon.

I’m betting a lot of lez-couples have a secret “50s room” in their McMansion (or remodeled Brownstone) where they can act out these suppressed urges. The props must be breathtaking.

Uh, yeah. As Amanda Marcotte recently observed,“[w]hen you believe that we live in a female-dominated world where straight men are the most oppressed class, it tends to make you wrong about pretty much everything.”


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32 comments:

  1. ROFLMAO. This is the most hilarious MRA speculation on the mysterious workings of our ladybrains so far, IMO.

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  2. I have to admit, lesbians doing the deed surrounded by kitschy 60's decor sounds awesome to me. Somebody needs to email that idea to the ladies at Crash Pad.

    (Also, I am the worst feminist ever. Not only have I never watched this show, but the only Joss Whedon material I've seen is Dr. Horrible.)

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  4. Lesbians have all the coolest stuff. I am so jealous.

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  5. He actually used the word breathtaking? I thought to Spearheaders that meant choking a bitch.

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  6. well, Mr Spearhead has one thing right. there was A LOT of bacon in the "50s".

    and i second johnnykaye's crash pad suggestion. i would watch the hell out of that.

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  7. It seems he's had passing exposure to the strain of indie-punk culture that relishes the aesthetics of the 50s. It's true that some people into that (cough) are feminists, but not all. You know, like vintage clothes, straight bangs, leather jackets, Buddy Holly glasses. It's really more a rock thing. It's worth noting that the aspects of the 50s that are revived with Gen X hipsters are the ones that were in direct opposition to the mainstream culture. Hip sorts tend to be interested mainly in cultural markers that were threatening to the dominant adult culture at the time, and/or exposed the hypocrisies of the era. So yeah, you see an interest in cheeky pin-ups, rockabilly, stuff like that. But 100% of that stuff is stuff that would not have been part of Betty Draper's existence.

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  8. I have a guess that Uncle Elmer himself likes the idea of a 1950's housewife that dotes on her breadwinner husband. I also think it's telling that he has been giving so much thought to lesbian couples in a 50's retro style room. If that's what he's into, whatever, but he should stop trying to talk on behalf of feminists.

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  9. A secret 1950s room? Really? Is that right next to the soundstage where they filmed the moon landing?

    (Also, I am the worst feminist ever. Not only have I never watched this show, but the only Joss Whedon material I've seen is Dr. Horrible.)

    Meh. Whedon's feminism is highly overstated, especially by him. Now I love Buffy - it's one of my favorite shows ever. But still.

    Dr. Horrible's great, too.

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  10. I watched my mom be a housewife for the first eleven years of my life and she was miserable. No pay, no thanks, no respect, and endless drudgery? Sign me up! Ugh.

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  11. Apparantly, Uncle Elmer and Co can't get it through their heads that plenty of those feminist lesbians from the 50s and 60s are still around. I know a number of older feminists and a number of older lesbians, who *gasp* actually were around then (including a few who did a stint as a housewife). Not to mention black feminists, who certainly do not have 50s nostalgia. Ditto for poor women. I grew up in an area where not everyone had electricity and fewer had running water in the 50s. People sometimes starved to death and died fairly often because they had absolutely no medical care. 50s Appalachia, oh joy and prosperity! Trust me, even the anti-feminist women don't want to go back to that. 50s nostalgia is an activity of rich, cis hetero white folks (primarily men).

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  12. Oh, and to have been an adult in the 50s would have meant that one certainly grew up without electricity and running water, as the first electricity was put in during the New Deal.

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  13. Forget Betty Draper. I want to be whoever gets to rest his or her head on Joan Holloway's amazing breasts.

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  14. the only thing from the fifties that I idealize is the clothing. Everything from the dresses, to the aprons (Okay I so totally collect aprons, no one said that I wasn't a fruit), to the pin up just all of it. The rest of the fifties? puke.

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  15. I totally agree with briget. I'm an amateur costume seamstress and have an interest in retro and historical fashion. I absolutely love the lines and styles of older-era clothes. Part of my pleasure in watching Mad Men is seeing what amazing outfit Joan or Betty is wearing. I currently have a 1940s era women's suit and a 1950s style dress hanging in my closet that I made myself (to say nothing of the Renaissance Venetian, Victorian or classical Grecian gowns hanging next to them). Oh, and the pirate coat hanging on the chair behind me that still needs the buttons added.

    It's totally fine, I think, to appreciate the aesthetic of a given era without having to embrace its values as well. True, part of what fed into Victorian or Elizabethan fashion was the cultural belief that a woman's body should be tightly constrained and covered from neck to ankle - but that doesn't make the gowns any less gorgeous.

    And even if there is a random lesbian couple who enjoys 1950s roleplay in their bedroom... so what? It's a private power exchange scenario, and couples (or triples or quadruples) across all demographics enjoy sexually charged power exchange fantasy play.

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  16. 50s nostalgia is an activity of rich, cis hetero white folks (primarily men).

    As I was reading your comment I was preparing to say this. Then you said it. So there it is.

    Forget Betty Draper. I want to be whoever gets to rest his or her head on Joan Holloway's amazing breasts.

    Oh my god, Christina Hendricks' body, oh my god. That is all.

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  17. goldberg, I could have sworn that the first season was set in the late 50s but you are correct; it starts in 1960.

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  18. I thought Mad Men took place in NYC-they have had electrical power since 1881. Or are some of the characters from the south?

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  19. Don Draper grew up on a poor farm in the Midwest, I'm pretty sure he grew up without electricity or running water. Peggy came from upstate New York, but I think she's young enough to have grown up with electricity. Betty and Roger were both fairly privileged, so they might have been rich enough to grow up with electricity. Many of the other characters, though, don't reveal much about their childhoods or where they grew up.

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  20. Peggy is actually from Brooklyn. Sorry everyone, I'm a huge Mad Men fan and just emerging from lurkdom. I thought that I could finally chime in on something.

    I really respect the way you lot handle yourselves when dealing with the Misogynistic Raging Assholes. I love MAN BOOBZ.

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  21. Even the clothes-- they're pretty, but they don't look particularly comfortable. No pockets, poofy, probably corseted and itchy. Oh, and those pointy-toed shoes would be so painful. Nope, no Mad Men envy here. (Unless we're talking about the men's suits, but somehow I don't think crossdressing enters into most hypothetical retro fantasies.)

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  22. Yeah, you don't get a silhouette like Joan's or Betty's without some serious undergarment support. It would drive me batshit if I had to wear girdles, corsets or hosiery every single day just to leave the house - but it's loads of fun to dress up for an evening or special event.

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  23. I can't imagine thinking of Betty Draper's life as anything but a cautionary tale and indicative of the reason that feminism flourished in the 60s and 70s.

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  24. 40s, 50s, 60s style dresses, yes.

    Girdles, no.

    I've noticed in a lot of 50s era movies, when women are wearing little clothing for some/any reason, their bodies have an odd, "sucked in" wasp waist. I always wonder if that's the result of years and years of girdles or what. It certainly doesn't seem normal. More like the result of slightly less-extreme corseting. Unless ... women in the 50s just learned how to hold their breath for entire dance numbers.

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  25. Probably the result of years and years of girdles. There's skeletal proof of this from ye olden tymes, and if you've ever read the "Little House" books Laura talks about how her sister always slept in her girdle and her mother's waist was so small that her father could span it with two hands and how she was denigrated for not wanting to sleep in her girdle every night.

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  26. aydan, I have an hourglass figure and 50's vintage as well as 50's inspired dresses and skirts are very figure flattering on me. Because my waist is so naturally tiny (if I was dressing just on waist size I would wear a size 2, but in reality I actually wear an 8) I don't have to wear girdles in order to wear fifties fashion. I will say however that I do wear corsets because for me they are less uncomfortable than bras because bras just do not fit my breasts properly

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  27. “When you believe that we live in a female-dominated world where straight men are the most oppressed class, it tends to make you wrong about pretty much everything.”

    Win comment is fucking win. I would add "white" and "Christian" to "straight men".

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  28. Probably the result of years and years of girdles. There's skeletal proof of this from ye olden tymes

    There's contemporary proof of it.

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  29. A few years back British television did one of those reality TV experiments where they had a modern family live in a middle-class Edwardian house, circa 1900, with Edwardian food, dress and entertainment. It was eye-opening stuff, particularly the need for a maid to keep a gaslit home, with all the particulates that entails, clean.

    The women (the mother and older daughter) both had to cope with corsets, about which they had little good to say. And it was fascinating to see, by the end of the experiment, how much their waists had shrunk from wearing the garments.

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  30. And how much their internal organs had been shifted around or deformed.

    The heading on the Snopes article, "Blah blah Those silly women and their pursuit of beauty," acts like this is something those stupid shallow chicks do for shits and giggles and maybe out of catty competition. It's not like men demand that women be attractive...or else.

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  31. Oh my god, Christina Hendricks' body, oh my god. That is all.

    Seconded, thirded, and fourthed.

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