Mad Men: Joan Would Like To Burn Shit Down, & Other Feminist Concerns


The primary goal of the miniskirt was never about tempting men: designer Mary Quant, mother of the mini, always said its construction was meant for woman’s lib, literally. “I liked my skirts short because I wanted to run and catch the bus to get to work,” she told the Scotland Herald last year. “It was that feeling of freedom and liberation.”

Last night’s midseason premiere of Mad Men opened in mid-1970, with all its tiny skirts and go-go boots and chill-ass workwear. (Stan, in jeans and post-hippie cravat, now dresses like New York’s answer to Gram Parsons.) It concerned itself with material things even more than usual, and in particular how those things—miniskirts, chinchillas, pantyhose—relate to women, underscoring the tension between what we desire and our desirability. As the episode progressed, you could feel that tension about to snap, as the series marches diligently towards feminism (or, at least, the point in which feminism makes it uptown to the SC&P offices).

And snap it almost did with Joan Holloway, the series’ most-consistently desired woman and the one who had to use her own body to procure a partnership in the company. When a fratty trio of McCann Erickson bros ogled her breasts à la 1962 during a business meeting, she and Peggy tried to keep everyone on the topic at hand—rebranding for Topaz pantyhose, their longtime client. But as powerful as Joan has become—a boss-ass, very rich working single mother—she still can’t bring herself to put the smackdown on these assholes.

Instead, she saves it for the safe space alone with Peggy, where she can speak freely: “I want to burn this place down” was .gif’d on twitter within four or five minutes, its resonance showing how little things have changed for women in the workplace. The horror on her face was sickeningly familiar. The argument she had with Peggy—about whether she is asking for it, about whether Peggy would dress like a frump if she were as pretty as Joan—is full of the patriarchy’s tools, and it’s a fight they wouldn’t have had if they’d just spoken up in the meeting.

Peggy has her own problems in this area. When she tries speaking up on her blind date with Brian Krakow when he won’t do so—he’s such a wuss he won’t send back the veal when he ordered lasagna, for god’s sakes—he gives her one compliment and suddenly she’s eating his veal for him. Women’s lib is so close, yet so far: a point the episode seems to make from its beginning with Don ogling a glamorous, gorgeous young model in chinchilla (she was auditioning for an ad, but with Don, who can tell). The chinchilla was a symbol of power—monetary, sexual—as much as the drugstore pantyhose from Leggs, purchasable by working girls for a little over a dollar. But class and gender is still topsy-turvy in Mad Men‘s 1970—a woman with money is assumed to have procured it through a man. Rachel Menken Katz, one of Mad Men‘s OG rich women and the first one with her own business, is now dead, and when richass Joan tries to buy an Oscar de la Renta on a retail therapy run, the shopgirl basically asks her if she needs a discount. She looks at her the same way she looked at the dude who asked her why she’s not in the brassiere business. I imagined her in the streets at her first feminist march, out there with a mean mug in ostrich feathers and rhinestone’d cocktail dresses.

The Rachel Katz plotline is on the surface about Don’s mortality—”she was younger than me,” he tells his oblivious secretary—but moreso it’s about transactions, more evidence that the old world in which he thrived is falling away, and he’s paying in tiny comeuppances. “I know who you are,” Rachel’s sister tells him; she’s sitting shiva, so who needs to pretend. Rachel’s ghost, a downtrodden lookalike named Diana who waits tables at a diner, mistook pornstache’d, super-flush Roger Sterling’s $100 tip as a down payment on her pussy. Don wants emotional connection, but as always, he fucks her in the back alley anyway, cause men in his generation never learned how to talk. Homie: feminism will liberate you, too, dude, if you make it that far. Later, he’s discussing business with a very pleased Ted Cheough, who says, “Apparently, hemlines are going up.” Unfortunately for Ted, he doesn’t yet know that it’s really, really not about him.

Image via AMC/screenshot.

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