It’s a Mad Mad Mad Men World

Posted on August 17, 2011 by


Since we’ve recently taken the opportunity to critique the physique of Christina Hendricks (I mean, isn’t that what we trads supposedly do in our spare time, criticize others?)  the (arguably?) beautiful actress who plays Joan Holloway Harris on the television series Mad Men, it is worth pointing out that a good bit of her allure can be attributed to Joan’s mystique,  which is almost as intriguing as her curves.

What a man can overlook is a lot, if a woman knows what she’s doing.

The best thing about her character is her grace in handling all things. She moves gracefully. She speaks gracefully. She handles rudeness gracefully. Beautiful.   — TC Super Commenter

Joan, for the record,  is a formerly loose woman, sometimes tragically back-sliding, yet consistently unapologetic.  She has few regrets.  She considers herself not necessarily happily married, but satisfied that she is well-married, as she was thirty (very old for the setting of the show, the early sixties world of Manhattan advertising) when she met her husband to be, Greg, a doctor, and became engaged.  Greg is something of a hack, flopped out of a surgical rotation and unable to secure another placement.  She is supportive and encouraging mostly, though it’s unclear whether she’s doing so out of duty or self preservation (“what’s wrong with either?” the trad asks, “these are redeeming qualities.”.).  So, for the purposes of plot point, Greg joins the military and is deployed to Vietnam.  This keeps him out of the way so we can appreciate the ball of contradiction who is Joan, cuckoldry and all.

Until, of course, the last season.   – TCSC understandably course-corrects

(you’ll have to watch for yourself, it’s available on Netflix streaming).

Joan is hardly a beacon for traditionally-minded women, or men, for that matter, but she knows the score regarding women in the workplace.  And lets face it, most women will work outside their homes, either until they marry, or have children, and often beyond, depending on her own cultural understanding.   Ultimately, Joan is competing with men for respect, if not for money, and jumps out early to define that for herself.  She’s the curious bridge between wisdom and raw intellect – irreproachable work product, self-possession, very quiet yet flawlessly executed politics, up to and including the occasional necessary pissing contest, all while wearing really flattering clothes.  It’s about expertly maximizing what she does have, rather than whining about what she doesn’t.    She does not have to default to feminism to get what she wants, because she’s decided to trade on her intellect rather than her body parts  (think about that before you disagree with me).

This series of exchanges  portrays her sensibilities perfectly:

(Context from the Mad Men show synopsis, parenthetical add-ons mine)

*Joan notices Joey’s pornographic cartoon (of Joan with the agency owner) taped to her office window. No one in the creative lounge will own up to drawing it. Joan tells them she can’t wait until they’ll be fighting in Vietnam:

“I can’t wait until next year when all of you are in Vietnam. You will be pining for the day when someone was trying to make your life easier. When you’re over there, and you’re in the jungle and they’re shooting at you, remember you’re not dying for me because I never liked you. ”

(Matter of fact, mean spirited even,  but she’s handled it – they don’t much take her seriously, she takes them even less seriously, though, as they’re prone to behave like cads, but she’s said what she cared to.  She has the ability to choose her battles and not allow things to escalate beyond her control)

*Peggy shows Don the drawing, assuming he’ll yell at Joey. “You want some respect?” Don asks. “Go out there and get it for yourself.”

(crucial – Don is no feminist, something of a PUA, actually, but he respects Peggy’s work and knows if she’s going to choose a career over a conventional housewife role, she’ll have to take a lot of crap and learn to deal with it on her own – he’s an excellent mentor, and doesn’t acknowledge her sexually)

*Peggy orders Joey to apologize, but he refuses, saying that women have no sense of humor. Peggy fires him, holding her ground even after he agrees to apologize.

(Peggy plays her cards wrong – shaming, annoying, nothing gained, losing all credibility with the balance of the male creative team she oversees)

Peggy relates Joey’s firing to Joan, who snaps back:

Joan is not a “good girl”, expecting that to buy her something, Joan is a smart woman.  There’s a missing line in the video that eludes to the fact she could have herself invited to lunch with any one of the players on the client list and have any untoward situation snuffed.  She doesn’t relinquish those chips easily, however. Though I can’t endorse her ongoing carousel ride, she has what is missing in most of us – intuition, creativity, cleverness.   Women would be well advised to aspire to a convert/repentant version of Joan.  Somewhere in there is a Good Woman, and she’s not bad to look at.

Posted in: Relationships