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Aug 04 2010

Spinster aunt casts jaundiced eye at popular television show

Hollywood has long been recognized by the Global Cabal of Spinster Aunts as Ground Zero for American misogyny. Like everything that gurgles forth from that foul city, this Mad Men sensation that’s sweeping the nation has many sicko antifeminist repercussions.

Never heard of Mad Men? It’s a “critically acclaimed” — which means that edgy dudes like it — American TV show set in the early pre-feminist 60′s, about handsome dudes in an ad agency and the hot women they screw. Its chief appeal is the sex they have in painstakingly authentic sets and period costumes.

Aside from the obvious thrill of enjoying without compunction a throwback fantasy Man’s World untainted by the unseemly Women’s Lib movement, Mad Men is problematic for another reason. Unsurprisingly, actual women are now being encouraged to emulate the “lovely ladies” of the show, on the subject of whose “kicking silhouettes” much ink has been spilled. From sheknows.com:

“January Jones told the British magazine Tatler, ‘[Series creator Matthew Weiner] would prefer we didn’t work out and that we eat really well, so we look like healthy women.’

Mad Men producers allegedly felt January Jones was too thin last year and it helped her embrace the healthy side of being fit. ‘It’s okay to have curves and be a woman,’ Jones advocated. ‘I wish more women would realize that’s what men like.’

Because what men like should always be at the heart of a woman’s personal health regimen. Particularly when those men are Hollywood producers.

And this:

“Kudos to Matthew Weiner for using the rocking bodies of January Jones, Christina Hendricks and Elisabeth Moss as an example for looking good the right way.”

Whoa there, Trigger. Did the author just say “kudos to some dude for using the bodies of some women”? Hey, author! The 60′s just called and they want their moron misogynist copywriter back!

How charming, this menacing admonition:

“Weiner isn’t suggesting the vivacious beauties go hog wild, so don’t get any ideas.”

Yes, ladies. Don’t get any ideas. The Flying Fickle Finger of Fashion will fuck you up. It may be “okay to be a woman,” but January Jones neglects to emphasize that this is true only if you stay within strict parameters of horndog dude prongability as described by the male creator of a Hollywood TV show. That’s right, the standards have shifted again! You can gain 15 pounds, but not an ounce more, and you must now find a way to be hot and healthy but without muscle tone. Good luck!

Horribly, women who are not walking skeletons will hail this as some kind of victory for “real” women, now that a meatier body shape is putatively in style, and the holy grail of femininity — sexaliciousity — is within their reach. But see, it doesn’t matter whether the fashion is thin or “curvy”; the horror is that the beauty standard, whatever it is, is so fleeting as to be unattainable, period.

Why, in 2010, is a woman’s body is considered a fashion accessory at all? Men’s bodies don’t go in and out of fashion. Nobody is telling the dudes of Mad Men to eat more ice cream and stop working out so their kicking silhouettes will be more curvy. As if!

80 comments

1 ping

  1. jagosaurus

    Bonus points for being named Weiner. It’s really almost too excellent a coincidence to be believed.

  2. Katherine

    I like it. I think the point of the show is that it doesn’t sugar-coat the era, which tv usually does.

    It doesn’t pull any punches – you see all the sexual harassment, the lies, the abuse. It brings what is normally ignored into clear view.

    I suppose it is possible to watch it and think it is glamorizing, but it has never struck me that way.

  3. Bushfire

    I got bored after two sentences of Jeremy’s crap, but your post was so full of laughs I’m expecting tour dates for your travelling Blamin’ and Shamin’ comedy tour.

  4. Bushfire

    Crap. I meant to put that comment on the post about Jeremy Dude, and I put it on the Mad Men for some reason. Would you be able to delete it?

  5. Rice

    Damn, I actually really enjoy this show. But to hear what the writers/producers/etc. are saying behind the scenes really detracts from what I thought made this show so great. So far it really has been a very pro-feminist show. The female characters are fantastic, and it’s very hard to interpret the sexism they face with anything but scorn. It’s also very difficult to relate to many of the male characters, including the main character, because of his misogyny.

    It’s also one of the only shows that has shown how rape within marriage was treated in those times, and it invoked all the right reactions in the viewer. I still find it hard to believe that the show doesn’t want to break down barriers – especially off two quotes from one of the actors. Two quotes that were heavily padded out by the rest of the article, which is the disgusting part.

  6. Lovepug

    I just recently had this argument with someone. The dude in question was trying to point out that men don’t like skinny women – after all, the Sports Illustrated women have “curves.” When I tried to argue that the Sports Illustrated women probably top out at a size four, the argument about “curves” was made again as if I had not just said that. Strange.

    Apparently men like women with some “meat” on them, but somehow that does not include fat women. There seems to be a very narrow window of dude acceptability. That comment “don’t get any ideas” really hammers home just how small that window can be.

    Curves, dear Blamers, is just code for “big boobs” so don’t fall for that claptrap. The whole real women have curves shit just means that horny dudes approve of young women with big tits whose bodies have not yet dealt with the ravages of time, hormones and childbirth. Yes, real women do have curves, but generally not in dude -approved places. I have very curvy calves, for example, and I’m pretty sure that represents me having some “ideas.”

    And January Jones is just towing the company line so she can keep her job. As Megan Fox found out, if you’re a dude designated hot chick and you make the mistake of actually speaking your mind, you will find yourself shit-canned from the next Transformers movie. Dudely Hollywood does not mess around with unruly hot chicks.

    This post made me recall an artist I knew years ago who had a sculptural piece of an emaciated woman with ginormous boobs that she entitled “The Only Acceptable Fat On A Woman.”

  7. sargassosea

    There is no by-line on the linked “article” so naturally the question arises: who (or what) generated that collection of words?

  8. humanbein

    The show shows how far we’ve come, true, but it’s a little smug about it. Dudes love this show because there’s plenty of blaming the victim going on. They love to hate that super-hot January Jones for divorcing the cheating sleazebag hero. They love to ogle the curves of Christina Hendricks because they are finally allowed to ogle some big bazooms on regular TV just like in their beloved porn. And she’s so down with her subordinate position!

    I watch it anyway. I admit, I love the sixties and advertising.

  9. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Does the article make any mention of the formidable foundation garments necessary to create those “kickin’ silhouettes”? Anyone who remembers late-50s-early-60s fashion with fondness or admiration never had to endure the discomfort of a gunshell bra or Iron Maiden girdle.

    So far, I enjoy this show. Its female characters are just beginning to cast a dissatisfied eye on their limited options. The writers handled the miserable situation of a closeted gay character and his sad, confused wife accurately.

  10. nails

    Mad Men crushed any hope of writing fiction that would transform the world. You have to be orwell blatant for anyone to get it, and even then the readers manage to fuck it all up anyway.

    The first two seasons of that show were way more about the women on the show and all the shit they put up with from men, and dudes were unable to understand any of it as a show about oppression. A lot of women didn’t either. There were comments on feministe about how “hot” it was when Don sexually assaulted a woman in order to intimidate her. To me it meant he is a god damned monster despite looking all normal (a rarity in television).

    It is like they don’t understand that people from the 60′s are still alive or something. It wasn’t that long ago, this shit still matters. Ugh.

  11. sonia

    OH MY GAAAWWWWWDD!

    Sorry. This has been driving me nuts for MONTHS! And you totally nailed it.

    “you must now find a way to be hot and healthy but without muscle tone.”

    Absolutely. You know what I felt when this 15-more-lbs-and-not-an-ounce-more happened? Fucking great, now the margin is even smaller. Was that even possible? I’d have said no before Mad Men.

    And furthermore, now girdles are back.

    Gaaaaaaah.

  12. EmilyBites

    I hate this show. It’s all shiny and sexy and nostalgic about an even more backwards racist and misogynist time than we live in now. And even if the writers and producers don’t mean it to be (hah), so many liberal dudes I know love to watch and positively GLORY in the sexism. They they chuckle, they ogle, they high-five each other.

    I tried to tell one liberal dood how sexist this show is but I don’t think he got my point owing to me being fairly inebriated. Shut him up though, because I could not be reasoned with!

    There is a good article in the Graun by Susie Orbach on the subject of fashions in womens’ bodies.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jul/31/susie-orbach-ad-men-wrong-on-body-size

  13. sonia

    p.s. and yeah, his name is some kind of joke from the Big Feminist in The Sky.

  14. Katherine

    How is the show shiny and nostalgic? I think it paints a pretty bleak picture of what life was like for women at that time.

  15. dandelion

    I can’t watch that show at all — I lived through it, not in the 1950s but in the 1980s — really, all that crap portrayed in that show isn’t that far away in time, if it’s even far away at all, really. Watching that show is like purposefully revelling in PTSD. I imagine it’s sort of like why Vietnam vets (at least the ones I know) don’t really enjoy Hollywood war porn.

  16. acm

    yeah, honestly, nearly every episode fills me with a bleak mix of sympathy for all the ways in which people’s personalities and life courses were compressed and restricted on all sides + repulsion at those who enjoyed the fruits of that constriction and/or managed not to acknowledge it at all. really well done, evocative, and just twisted.

    somebody found that scene “hot”?!? spouse and I found our stomachs turned… ew.

  17. Dr. Sarah Tonin

    How is the show shiny and nostalgic? I think it paints a pretty bleak picture of what life was like for women at that time.

    As does all mainstream media, now as well as then.

  18. Dr. Sarah Tonin

    (How the frak does one do block quotes? Sorry Kathleen, didn’t mean to quote you without attribution.)

  19. MarilynJean

    Totally right about breast being the only acceptable fat. I was reading some internet drivel and this woman advised another woman to just gain some weight so that she didn’t need to get an invasive breast augmentation procedure.

    Anyway, I don’t need a television show to tell me how shitty those times were. I find no merit or entertainment value in watching a show about a time when the only thing I could be doing is having babies and cleaning some white woman’s house. I wasn’t even alive back then, but I sure as hell know that I don’t need to experience it with the help of Hollywood now. If you want to look at how awful it was back then look at Eyes on the Prize or something.

  20. tinfoil hattie

    Coincidentally, I just read a piece in the Atlantic online by Sady Doyle, wherein she nails another problem with this show:

    “We’re encouraged to shake our heads at these men and their outdated attitudes, but by presenting discrimination as a shocking feature of a past era, Mad Men lets us imagine that it’s just one more of those things that We Don’t Do Any More.”

  21. Amos

    People keep saying I should watch this. Thankfully, my disdain for advertising has saved me from needing to calculate the feminism to misogyny ratio of this show. Or am I wrong? Is the point of the ad agency not a clever way to avoid having to contrive a plot around their product placement?

  22. Schnee

    Interesting to think on. Sexism, racism and homophobia were overt then, and utterly normalised.
    Now, the unholy trinity can be challenged when it is that overt, because so much of it is now covert, hidden in sexist language, in the arrogance of a people being asked whether same sex couples should have the same rights as opposite sex ones whilst yes, paying the same taxes, and in the million subtle ways that support and maintain the gender and colour gaps.

    And the response is the same. Women accepted being called by their husband’s first name because it was so much easier to be part of the respectable establishment than to stick their necks out and say, ‘hey, hang on a minute…’ just as the previous generation demonised those women who suffered prison and humiliation for fighting for the vote, and just as now, women like Palin can claim to be ‘feminists’ because they have behaved like men and stepped on everyone else to gain power.

    I do like Mad Men because it shows the eponymous Ad Men as utter shits, and it shows the way women collaborate to survive, it’s a shame that the vacuous comments of some of the actors detract from that.
    Television as the opium of the people.

  23. Paula

    As always, Jill, you hit it dead on. I actually love watching Mad Men, it is one of the few shows I watch, but I don’t get how people could look at that period of time as anything but suffocating for women. Some women look at the clothing and the restrictive girdles and wish they could dress like that now. That’s only because they have something of a choice in what they can wear. If they HAD to wear a rubber girdle every day, ALL day, they’d realize how much it sucked. My mother told me how she would have red welts all over her body from the girdle and how she would sweat buckets during the summer.

    I watch Mad Men and only think, “Thank Christ I don’t have to deal with that degree of sexual harrassment or the career restrictions.”

  24. Bushfire

    Interesting to think on. Sexism, racism and homophobia were overt then, and utterly normalised.

    You couldn’t be implying that they are no longer overt or normalized!

  25. Ashley

    I don’t understand the appeal of this show, well i guess i do, since so many people are obsessed with a television show confirming their privilege. I know a lot of young women who idolize the characters of the show – they better stay semi-thin, and curvy, but not too curvy, i mean men LIKE it. It saddens me that this “men like it, so you should change your lifestyle around their preferences” is still popular…

  26. ew_nc

    “Because what men like should always be at the heart of a woman’s personal health regimen.”

    That certainly nails it on the head. Which is why I pretty much reject all so-called women’s health information out-of-hand.

  27. Veraswami

    Much of the praise for Mad Men on other blogs, including feminist ones, seems to be reserved for the “gorgeous” clothes. The relatively stifling (and more overt) misogyny of the era is either ignored, or more dangerously, sugarcoated, all to encourage the sales of sexxay nostalgic clothes that are virtually always made by obscenely underpaid women in the developing world.
    Patriarchy loves capitalism.

  28. humanbein

    I find no merit or entertainment value in watching a show about a time when the only thing I could be doing is having babies and cleaning some white woman’s house. I wasn’t even alive back then, but I sure as hell know that I don’t need to experience it with the help of Hollywood now.

    Same goes with TCM, which I also love anyway. Whenever I congratulate myself on my relative lack of racism, I remind myself that I obviously enjoy my privilege too much to be entirely free of it.

    You make a block quote by using the tags blockquote and /blockquote in the html brackets.

  29. Jill

    dandelion
    August 4, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    I can’t watch that show at all — I lived through it, not in the 1950s but in the 1980s — really, all that crap portrayed in that show isn’t that far away in time, if it’s even far away at all, really. Watching that show is like purposefully revelling in PTSD. I imagine it’s sort of like why Vietnam vets (at least the ones I know) don’t really enjoy Hollywood war porn.

    Amen to that, sister.

  30. ivyleaves

    Yes, I am gobsmacked that people would think that those days are long gone or something. Not much has changed at all, really, and all of the changes are at risk right now. You haven’t come THAT long of a way, baby!

  31. nails

    I did learn stuff from madmen about that period of time. The birth sequence with twilight drugs was something I was unaware of.

    I watched it with my mom. We saw the scene where a stranger at a party stopped someone else’s kid and smacked him in the face, for running in the house. The kids parents made him say he was sorry to the slapper dude. That was foreign to me. She said that is exactly how it worked.

  32. AileenWuornos

    Mad Men is pretty shitty anyway.

  33. ElizaN

    When a man tells a woman not to exercise, it’s because he wants it to be easier to rape her.

  34. vinoveritas

    Oh wow, a show about the 60′s. How original.

  35. Hedgepig

    nails, the family friend disciplining the host’s child is one of the most memorable bits from the first series. You may remember that the kid broke something while running around the house and after he’d been made to apologise to the man who’d slapped him, his father said: “Now go and tell your mother to clean it up.”

  36. Kelsey B.

    Oh, gawd. I hate this “real women have curves” bullshit. Take it from someone that knows, scrawny girls loathe themselves as much as anyone. No one can really meet these beauty standards whether they’re curvy or skinny.

    Oh, wait, I take it back, you can measure up if you have a small army of makeup artists, skin care professionals, personal trainers, hairstylists, and fashion designers whose sole job is to make you look good. See, we do get an opportunity to be beautiful after all. Gag.

  37. awhirlinlondon

    Dandelion – Oh god, so did I. Yay 80s and early 90s, which is why I abandoned corporate America and could never go back. A couple of my favourite memories, plucked from thousands:

    1. Mid 80s: Being (literally) chased around a desk by my boss for a hug and a kiss at age 17 when working as a “Kelly Girl” for minimum wage. When I started working there full time: the married VP who kept on upping the dinner offer because surely I’d go out with him once he finally offered the most expensive restaurant in Boston? The other VP, my boss, who was “worried” about me because of the state of my shoes but couldn’t see his way clear to anything above minimum wage. So that I could, you know, eat, which along with the roof-over-my-head-thing took precedence over new shoes. (My Christmas bonus? A plate of his wife’s home-made cookies, because yes, that’s really what I needed.) Bastards all.

    2. Late 80s: Walking through an office in the company for which I would work for the next five years to my interview for my first job out of college. Realizing that the majority of the men in the giant bay were holding up large score-cards rating my looks. Taking the job anyway, because my interview with Microsoft had produced the bizarre, mid-interview non-sequitur: “I hope that you know that this is not the place to come trolling for men.” (Whaaaa?)

    3. Early 90s: Being cornered at a party by my very drunk boss and chastised for having “a hard-on for that women’s-lib shit.” Being left shitty anonymous notes about a woman’s place being in the home and about not being welcome there. Or my personal favourite: “The only reason that they’ve not fired you is because they want to fuck you or you’d be out of here.” Or the guy who wanted to tell me about the fascinating (pornographic) dreams he’d been having about me. Or being transferred to another department into another Finance Analyst/Negotiator job, having the transfer delayed and being made a secretary for 2 months. (They did find commensurate jobs for the boys in my situation.) Listening, on the other hand, to my colleagues’ mewling and pewling about the total unfairness of women being promoted just because they were women. This was a 5-story building, mind you, in which the only place you were 100% sure of not running into a manager was in the women’s bathroom, but you know, they MIGHT promote one and where would that leave them? The VP of Finance keeping a pair of binoculars on his desk so that he and any fellows in the office could check out the women in bikinis on the roof of the neighbouring hotel. I asked for them once so that I could take a gander as well. It embarrassed them only slightly.

    4. Realizing that in this company’s very, very long misogynist history, not a single woman had won a sexual-harassment suit because, you know, they had sexual-harassment training (snort) and Procedures In Place, so it couldn’t be their fault!

    The above? Tip-of-the-iceberg, mang.

    When my (early-80s) high-school physics teacher asked his top student “What does a pretty girl like you want with physics?” and was required to let me into his advanced class anyway, I got to sit through an entire class devoted to warnings about guarding against women’s wiles. Did you know, for example, that you have to watch out for women in high heels because it’s false advertising? Not because they’re going to stop wearing them once they’ve caught you (although of course they might and they’ll probably get fat, too, so keep that in mind) but because standing in high-heels bunches up a woman’s calf muscles so that you can’t really tell if they’ve actually got good legs. (Can you believe this nails? And yet it’s entirely true.) I thought at the time – things will be different after high-school.

    Was I fucking stupid.

  38. Comrade Svilova

    I struggle with whether to watch shows that I interpret as having proto-feminist messages, when I know that a good section of the rest of the world sees them and chortles at the misogyny. “Castle” is one of my favorite shows, and I love watching Detective Beckett verbally flay the sexist men she has to work with. She’s such a strong female character in many ways, and the show gives her a lot of her own voice. She’s still objectified and humiliated on a regular basis, though, which makes me cringe to see it. Luckily, Comrade Dziga sees such behavior on the part of the male characters as being critiqued by the show (I’m not so convinced myself) so we watch it together. I wouldn’t want to watch it with anyone else for fear they’d be in sympathy when the guys catcall Beckett or treat her poorly. The show is constructed in such a way that it probably won’t disturb someone’s ingrained misogyny. But it’s certainly more feminist than “Desperate Housewives.”

  39. tinfoil hattie

    Yeah, I’m thinkin’ this show would enrage me too much. I wouldn’t enjoy reveling in the PTSD either. PTSD that is really CTSD (Current), come to think of it.

  40. Triste

    To some extent, I feel like a lot of people are inclined to jump to the defense of Mad Men because it is an improvement over spiteful misogynist garbage like CSI or whatever. And sure, I’ll agree that it is an improvement, as I think most people (including Twisty?) will. I will even agree that I think it’s important to celebrate small steps forward.

    But what is distinctly UN-important is to act as though a show is beyond reproach because it happens to be slightly less awful than the worst shit ever. Let’s not decide that feminism is over and we don’t have to criticize anymore just because a show has some positive feminist elements alongside the usual tripe.

  41. Vibes01

    Lovepug…great post haha

    OP – post made me chuckle even though I have never seen this programme ..dont think its in the UK???

  42. pheenobarbidoll

    Haven’t watched it. Have no plans to.

  43. allhellsloose

    I like this show as well. I think that all the dood characters are portrayed horribly from creepy Pete to er well creepy Don. I don’t find any of the male characters attractive from a 21st century perspective. This could be non intentional but I can’t believe it is. I like that the women strain against convention, like caged animals trying to break free. All the noise about it now is just media posturing. Thankfully I’m in the UK so the hype will have dissipated by the time I get to watch it.

    The slaping incident was horrific but I loved the divorced woman storyline – all the married women felt threatened by her, clutching their husbands close to their chests. Hah! Actually nothing has changed in that department I can tell you. And thankfully divorced women now get a far better deal than Betty could ever hope to get.

  44. awhirlinlondon

    Should my diatribe survive the spamulator (which it probably shouldn’t), may I hasten to add that I’m not claiming to have had it particularly hard? At all? Pretty much standard for the late 80s/early 90s, particularly in male fields.

    Jennifer? Ma’Whis’Ki? Wow! Thank you both so very, very much!

  45. ivyleaves

    Spend some time watching Nip/Tuck. I fail to see how it is any different. Same absolutely horrific men treating women like crap and getting away with it, while the women struggle with their various bondages. The rich men literally get away with murder, tons of punches in the face and other physical assaults. No one calls the police, for the most part. It’s all normalized.

  46. SelinaK

    This is from an interview with Madmen actor Jon Hamm:

    What qualities do you think men lack today that were present in those from the Mad Men era?
    “There’s a cordialness that men had when dealing with the opposite sex, even when they were being blatantly sexist. It’s a weird conundrum. But that’s been replaced with men treating women like absolute garbage and not even being polite about it, which is too bad.”

    It’s funny that antifeminist women complain that the women’s movement ruined that golden age when men were chivalrous and opened doors for us, because of course I’d like someone to at least be *polite* about it when they’re treating me like garbage!

  47. Saphire

    ‘When a man tells a woman not to exercise, it’s because he wants it to be easier to rape her.’

    Ain’t it the truth. Everything a man tells a woman, everything a man tells us he *adores* about our figures is so it’s easier to rape us. They hate muscles (healthy fit women?); they hate us genuinely being able to beat the crap out of them. The less able to defend, the better.

    The most powerful I’ve felt wasn’t when I wore a low- cut top and high heels. It’s when i learnt how my body could be used to damage a man. If you want confidence the way women are supposed to get confidence you’ll fail. Because there’s just another standard set after the Loreal one. True confidence comes from being able to kick the crap out of potential rapists. I might try boxing, a lot of high- powered women are taking that up to battle misogynist dicks in the workplace, giving them the confidence to deal with the every day bullshit. Plus I seem to be angry 24/7. IBTP.

  48. nails

    I did try watching Nip/tuck back in the day. The difference is that one show is realistic and the other isn’t. I can believe Mad Men, reading The Feminine Mystique was part of the research for the writers. Nip/tuck has some of the most ridiculous story lines ever, and got all softcore porn around the time I quit watching. Nip/tuck was always out to try and shock everyone, like a bratty middle school kid.

  49. ivyleaves

    I agree about Nip/Tuck being all about the shock value. But, the family life, and the bratty middle school kid feel, personified by the 2 male doctors – Sean=”family man”, Christian=”immature brat” still personify 2 types of acceptable masculinity. Pretty sure both of them are considered cool role models by most.

    I haven’t seen a single show of Mad Men, yet. So to compare I’m only going by descriptions and a few clips. I would say for sure that we are, once again, viewing the lifestyles of the rich, not the one I lived out in my childhood. (I was 13 when JFK was assassinated.)

  50. Stella

    I think Mad Men is brilliant, and the actors’ personal sound-byte views have no bearing on that whatsoever for me.

    I’m interested to see where the writers/producers take it, because so far, it has been a very flash-yet-depressing peek into a privileged and sophisticated, yet morally bleak and meaningless, world. I agree with Katherine. And, up till now at least, I assumed the reason a lot of Americans don’t “get” the show is because it’s too slow, too subtle, and expects too much of its viewers. I enjoy watching each episode twice to catch all the callbacks to previous seasons’ dialogue, cultural references, and clues to character development.

    I think we’re meant to feel conflicted about the characters, for one thing. They are mostly likable (especially the women, who are all obviously limited by social expectations and abused routinely by men and therefore sympathetic to the modern viewer), but also deeply flawed; therefore, more realistic than most prime time TV shows. I also think we’re meant to recoil at the sexism, racism, and classicism. I’m sure some segment of Middle America would find that it “glamorizes” those attitudes; but, because the show is so plodding and unconventionally plotted (many seeds are planted never to sprout, and many others bloom many seasons late, with shocking results), I also assume that most of Middle America has too short of an attention span to even watch.

    This show is about a small, specific group of admittedly privileged people (well, most of them – there’s working class Peggy, for instance, who is a nascent feminist and all-around unconventional woman) grappling through a time of social and moral upheaval. Because we, the audience, know what’s coming, the show has a built-in sense of anxiety and pathos. It’s also beautifully *filmed*. Draper is an anti-hero. I am utterly fascinated, and am very curious as to where they take him, and whether we can ultimately take any judgments, philosophical or personal, from his story. Will he be redeemed? Is he just a dinosaur? Is he totally hollow? How much can we blame our childhoods for our adult transgressions? Does Don Draper represent anything at all, or is he just a hologram of the ad age?

    And, while I agree with Twisty re: false declarations of “progress” regarding the acceptable “types” of female body, and I would never want to return to the era of girdles and cone bras, I admit I love the fashion. I never wear high heels or wiggle skirts, but I love some of the silhouettes, fabrics, and hats on this show, and I think the loss of the sense of formality people had back then is, in *some* ways, a bad thing.

    I am also a Gen-Xer, and spent my formative feminist years pouring over my parents’ old yearbooks and photos from this era. I freely admit to some nostalgia and my tendency to try to “work myself out” through my parents’ life stories.

    In other words: come for the style, stay for the story.

    (Sorry this was so long; I read a *lot* about Mad Men on the Internet.)

  51. wiggles

    I’m with nails on Mad Men. The show is much better and more nuanced and layered than any commentary on it makes it sound. Most of the viewers, and apparently the director and at least some of the actors, don’t get it.
    There’s an article about it in this quarter’s Ms., which states that 7 of the 9 writers of the show for season 3 were female. Apparently that’s where the feminism happens. In the writing room.
    The writer of the Ms. article didn’t entirely get it either, asserting that the character Betty Draper, a portrait of the evils of the marriage and beauty mandates, “begins to come into her own” in season 3, when all she does is transfer her trophy brideness from one dick husband to another.

  52. Lidon Achava

    Are there any shows with pro-feminist messages in today’s era? I’m not being rhetorical; I don’t watch TV. Too offensive. I’ve never seen Mad Men, but I think it’s easy enough to criticize what went on in the past because, well, that era is over so who really gives a shit? I’d like to see critiques of what goes on NOW, not then.

  53. Jezebella

    ivyleaves, the show actually shows (white) people at a range of incomes and origins, from inherited wealth (Betty & Pete’s families) to Peggy’s working class Brooklyn roots to Don’s lost-the-farm-in-the-Depression dirt-poor background. The clothes even reflect their income level. I’m not saying it’s not sanitized – because, oh yes, it’s TV, and it’s sanitized – but it’s not like Friends or any other sitcom on network TV, where everybody had giant apartments in Manhattan, endless supplies of money and new fashionable clothes, and endless time to dick around in the coffee shop instead of working for a living.

  54. nails

    Lidon- Daria just came out on DVD. It totally counts. The step spawn is currently hooked on it, at the moment.

    King of the Hill is very pro-feminist, for the most part. I can only think of one episode that was defied that.

  55. rubysecret

    I agree with Stella that the opinions of media and the actors have nothing to do with the show. What I like about the writing is that it holds a magnifying glass to the sexism without apologizing, moralizing, or trying to infer that things are any different today. As with Seinfeld, there’s “no hugging, no learning,” only this is a drama so the uncomfortable feeling you’re left with at the end is impossible to laugh off. The male characters are all entitled @ssholes, the women are for the most part programmed Stepford Wives, and even the character who seems the most likely to learn something (Peggy) has already gone through a litany on cringe-worthy choices. It’s wonderfully uncomfortable to watch because we as tv drama viewers have been trained to expect tidy endings. Just when you think “hooray, (female character) is totally calling (male character) on his sh*t,” she ends up apologizing and deferring in some way in order to get by. Which is exactly the way it was when I have conversations with my mother and grandmother who lived through it. Which is why I do like the show.

  56. Lidon Achava

    Daria just came out on DVD. It totally counts. The step spawn is currently hooked on it, at the moment.

    I haven’t seen Daria in years! I should watch that again.

  57. joy

    rubysecret, a lot of people just plain don’t get it. They revel in the misogyny and racism and view this bit of television as a celebration rather than a condemnation of everything disgusting.

    Do you feel that this means the show actually does more harm than good?

  58. nails

    Lidon- totally. I watched it a lot back in the day, but there are episodes on dvd that were not aired very often. Like when a teen magazine editor shows up at school, and when sandy gets fat. Those episodes were too feministy for MTV back then.

    Do you guys think Aeon Flux counts? I am leaning towards yes.

  59. Larkspur

    I watch the show like it’s a horror flick. I don’t read too much about it. But last week, the commercial breaks were nauseating. I forget the product, but one commercial played off of the show by having a subordinate female employee gently but cleverly suggest a brilliant idea. Zounds!

    And Bridgestone tires resurrected their stupid tire commercial: it’s night, the road is ominously deserted, a sleek car is stopped by a vicious-looking gang of Road Warrior types. The gang leader snarls “Your tires or your…wife!” Then the sleek car makes a screechy three point turn and zooms off, but first depositing a beautiful young woman, barely dressed, blinking and bewildered at what her husband has just done. But Bridgestone’s tires are just so great that the Road Warrior guys trudge away in disgust. End of commercial. Beginning of me setting out to pick up abandoned woman, get her some clothes, refer her to a divorce lawyer, and then go out hunting.

    Huh. Got carried away. The thing is, the ad men hawking Mad Men don’t seem to realize that it is a horror story.

  60. nails

    I find the advertising frenzy around this show semi hilarious. I walked by a store trying to emulate the style, saying that you could maybe get on the show if you entered some raffle or something.

    The show portrays advertisers as evil manipulative people. I mean, the dudes on that show do political campaigns and such. It is telling that real advertisers today cannot seem to get that message, but instead see an opportunity to huck more crappy merchandise. The show is probably pretty accurate. The pr machine is practically yelling “YES, WE REALLY ARE SCUM” with every themed ad they toss our way.

    The faux vintage clorox ad decided to include that “maybe even some men” did laundry over the years. I am not sure how to take it, since it is the first time such a thing has even been suggested, but it still lays on thick the idea that women were doing the laundry 99% of the time.

  61. delphyne

    I watch Mad Men in order to hate Don Draper.

    Also there’s no way that the writers are writing this show without an eye to the fact that feminism came along straight afterwards. It’s screaming out in virtually every scene. Just because viewers are stupid enough not to realise that this show is about now set then, doesn’t mean that the writers have got it wrong. We’ve currently returned to pre-feminism, which is why we’re due for a feminist revolution, probably in about a week’s time.

    The incredible period detail, including the clothes and props are just a way of pulling people in.

    (Marilyn Monroe used to got running and lift weights – January hasn’t got a clue)

  62. Larkspur

    Sometimes the show makes me think of a Shawn Colvin song called “The Story” – not so much in terms of Draper specifically, although Betty, for sure.

    Colvin’s talking about childhood memories (I don’t know if they’re hers), bleak and abusive, and since she’s just a little younger than me, (born in 1956), she’s writing about a Mad Men-era world:

    “…Well our father married our mother too young
    And he took on a world like a fortunate son
    But in the cellar downstairs
    waiting for the bomb scare
    He would hide from us under the kitchen

    “Where she simmered so soft with her weapons of tin
    And like so many suppers she just gave us to him
    And he never did guess
    in her cast iron dress
    She was burning beyond recognition….”

    I watch the show and I feel the temperature rising.

  63. sonia

    January doesn’t have a clue in sooo many ways. I barely think she even acts. Don’t get me started! The only good female actor or role on the show is Peggy, but there are plenty of scenes that are sickeningly pouring it on about Don being her mentor, being extra hard on her because he supposedly cares slightly about her career underneath all that dickery, and how we’re sposed to be endeared by their relationship. Whatev.

  64. Larkspur

    January Jones is whoever she is, personally. Professionally, she is employed by the machine that presents the TV show “Mad Men”. So she’s going to recite the party line. Look at what happens when you don’t. As lovepug noted above, you get whacked pretty hard, like Meghan Fox, and especially Katherine Heigl, who apparently everyone hates because she’s such a bitch, and so ungrateful: she actually suggested that her hit movie “Knocked Up” was kinda sexist!

    (Also, January Jones plays a very unsympathetic role. Dislike of “Betty” can bleed over onto January, which I suspect she’s well aware of.)

    So I’m inclined to cut her some slack. Sonia, I get what you’re saying, but here’s the thing: I don’t care what “they” expect me to feel about any particular scene or plot twist or relationship. Peggy and Don have an unusual relationship, for sure. They’ve seen each other at some pretty bad times, and neither has tattled on the other. Peggy’s on her way up, and she’s blazing her own trail when every signpost tells her she should be husband-hunting, or somebody’s arm-candy, or – more generally – working (if she must – and she must because she’s a working class woman) at something more appropriate, like nursing or teaching.

    Not that many people are going to help her. The decent ones simply avoid messing her up. The typical ones don’t see her as a colleague, can’t look at her without thinking about having sex with her, resent her for any success, deride her for missteps, and ultimately despise her for taking a job away from a good family man who needs it.

    Draper recognizes, however dimly, that she’s an outsider like he is, though his cover is still in place, plus there’s the penis-having, which is an automatic win. I’m not sure that qualifies as warmth or caring or even mentoring. He’s mostly just failing to make an effort to fuck up her career. In 1964, on Madison Avenue, that’s about as supportive as it gets.

    Sometimes he almost sort of helps her. She may remind him of his pre-Don Draper self, so when he stays out of her way, he’s thumbing his nose at all of his colleagues who’d disown him in a minute if they knew about his miserable, coarse origins and his subsequent life of lies.

  65. Josquin

    Thanks as always, Jill, for this post. I have been circling warily around “Mad Men” for some time now, drawn by the critical acclaim, and repelled by the apparent misogyny-without-apology. After reading this post, which affirms all the crap I thought I was detecting, I can now walk away from the show without a look back. Thanks for saving me from wasting even an hour of my time on it.
    A question: have you by any chance read any of the “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” books? My misogyny-radar is beeping on those, also, in spite of the fact that everyone is telling me I MUST read them.
    You might wonder why I just don’t read the damned things and find out for myself. The problem is, I barely have time to read good books or watch good TV as it is!

  66. Josquin

    Just read a few more comments. I am quite through with the excuse that we are meant to recoil at the depiction of how woman are treated. This justification gets tossed around a lot it seems. It’s mere scintillation disguised as edgy eye-opening social commentary. Just another tired excuse to show hot, compliant women bowing, in the end, to the Patriarchy. There may be skill, talent, and worthy narrative involved in the production of the show, but because it toots the same stupid woman-hating tune underneath it all, it’s worthy only of being flushed.

  67. joy

    “You might wonder why I just don’t read the damned things and find out for myself. ”

    You have the correct approach. Why waste brain space on something if it’s going to be shit?

    If you don’t know if it’s going to be shit, asking around is the only way to find out. I have saved many a blown lobe myself with this strategy.

  68. iiii

    Josquin – the review you seek is here: http://tigerbeatdown.com/2010/07/29/the-girl-with-the-lots-of-creepy-disturbing-torture-that-pissed-me-off-on-stieg-larsson/

  69. Josquin

    Thank you, iiii!!

    It’s as I suspected! Nope, will not be spending my very limited time reading those books.

  70. SelinaK

    There’s a “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” film playing at the local indie theatre here in Salt Lake City. I was planning to go see it based on a glowing review by a feminist who links this site. Is anyone aware of this film? I can’t imagine it’s not related to the books, but I just read that they just //recently// cast the lead for The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo, and that the actress from the Harry Potter films even chopped off her hair in hopes of nabbing the role, so now I’m completely confused.

  71. SelinaK

    OK, read the tigerbeatdown link. There is a Swedish film based on the book out, which includes a full 10-15 minute rape scene. Which I’m sure was totally necessary for the plot. Very, VERY glad I didn’t go see it. They’re making a U.S. version of it now starring forty-something Daniel Craig paired up with “fresh-faced” twenty-something Rooney Mara “bringing an end to the mounting suspense surrounding one of the biggest talent hunts in years.”

    Josquin, I completely agree with you on Mad Men. The idea that movies and books like TGWTDT and shows like Mad Men depicting sexist abuse are things we need to see in order to understand or appreciate sexism is a complete crock.

    Has anyone read or even heard of The Dirty Weekend by Helen Zahavi? Ditch Mad Men and hot damaged girls with boob jobs and tattoos who “look fourteen” and “kick ass” and get your hands on this book ASAP.

  72. Comrade Svilova

    I have my problems with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” but given how rare it is to have rape represented as completely horrifying and non-erotic (in films that make it to the US), I feel that the film is doing something necessary by showing the general public how rape isn’t a random psychopathic stranger in the dark. The rape scene in the film is all about power, not sex. It might open a few people’s eyes to the reality that Blamers already know.

  73. nails

    Selina- SLC, eh? Utah kinda forces women to either comply or get super radical it seems. There should be some kind of get together for radfems here, I know of like 4 online now through only a few sites.

    We should go protest how the relief society building is small and off to the side or something. That bugs the hell out of me.

  74. SelinaK

    Comrade Svilova, you’ve seen the film? I haven’t so the idea of over 10 min. of a rape scene just sounded very unnecessary and over the top to me and more for the purpose of men’s titillation. I mean ten minutes is a pretty huge chunk in movie time. But if it’s like you described I could be wrong. The books they’re based on, howevery, sound completely revolting. The link provided from tigerbeatdown gave plenty of examples why.

    Nails, I wasn’t raised LDS or from Utah originally so it was major culture shock when I first arrived. I was already radfem before moving here. I have met some pretty cool liberal/progressive types, though. I’ve been to the Atheists Of Zion meetings a few times. But I haven’t met any open radical feminists. Atheists of Zion have a lot of libertarians in their group, but never heard any mention of feminism. It would be great to start an SLC radfem group and organize protests. Count me in!

    One of the funniest thing I discovered when I first ventured out to explore the city was the Hooters restaurant on State St. in Midvale. Yes, even the goody-goody Mormons like them some Hooters.

  75. Saphire

    I’m contemplating reading Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, if only because it was originally ‘men who hate women’. Stieg Larsson apparently said:

    ‘… the fact is that there’s no such thing as soft or hard oppression of women: men want to own women, they want to control women, they are afraid of women. Men hate women. The oppression of women has nothing to do with religion or ethnicity.’

    Maybe I’m overestimating the quote because men don’t usually say stuff like this. Naturally I’m curious about this guy and his book. Where else do you hear a male with access to any audience confess men hate women?

  76. Saphire

    I’ve been reading the archives the past few hours and loving every minute. Feminism would be lost without people like Twisty who just say it like it is.

    Meanwhile don’t I get my comments come up automatic yet? They’ve been in the moderation queue since the science debate :/ Argh.

  77. sanantonerose

    The character Brenda Leigh on The Closer is a strong lead. I enjoy seeing Brenda’s husband Fritz play the “wife” role. Plenty of misogyny to go around in the LAPD, but Brenda always triumphs in the end. Her colleagues respect her, too.

    Can’t stand the idea of Mad Men. All my gay friends love it, though.

  78. Xena

    I now have no desire to watch Mad Men. And people who try to tell us how our bodies should look should be shackled and stuffed into Tuareg inspired fattening huts :-P

  79. Nancy

    That’s irritating the hell out of me is that January Jones, the woman that the show portrays as the most slender and stylish (a Grace Kelly clone) is increasingly shown as shallow, manipulative, and a bad mother. So, the producers can have their cake and eat it too – let the lower classes flaunt their boobs and asses – and get put down by the sexism of the time AND the show’s writers and producers. Let the upper class swish around in stylish gowns (and get put down in the name of the show by the sexist writers and producers. They always win. Women always lose.

  80. ptittle

    What I find interesting, in a boring sort of way, is that even with all those stupid, impossible, body standards men supposedly have for women, how many turn down an offer of sex from a less than perfect female body? Men are such sluts. Really, they’ll fuck anything. So what’s all the ruckus about re what we have to look like?

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