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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

a few thoughts on ‘Mad Men’: “The Beautiful Girls”

What a fantastic exploration of all the ways women worked to make themselves heard in a time when they were ignored and dismissed and expected to be nothing but pretty and silent. What a beautifully subtle and beautifully pointed episode.

Poor Sally, so desperate to see her father — and probably so eager to have him to herself for a little while — that she runs away and takes herself by train into the city to see him. What an unexpected bonus for her that Betty refuses to come and get her until the next day! (I don’t like Betty, but she wasn’t wrong in her little smackdown of Don on the phone, letting him know that a life raising children isn’t easy. And the woman who found Sally on the train may have been a tad rude to Don, but she wasn’t wrong either about how some men — and Don in particular — never seem to know what’s going on in their own lives… or with the women in their lives.)

Poor Joan, who clearly has so much to say, and would say, to Roger, but respects her husband’s wishes by not talking to others about herself. We already know what a miserable rat her husband is, and obviously he’s right to feel threatened, because Joan and Roger have a real connection, and the moment they reconnect — just by talking and then by sharing the scary experience of being mugged — they reconnect all the way.
Poor Peggy, also insecure (and not without reason, in her work environment), afraid to hire new copywriters who might threaten her position… and then, inspired by Abe (though he didn’t really seem to hear what she had to say, either, about what she thinks about civil rights), she tentatively tries to speak up about their bigoted client.

Perhaps the death of Miss Blankenship says it all: She’s hardly useless or quiet around the office, and yet she has been dead at her desk for at least a little while before anyone even notices. And then the men she has worked with for years are at a total loss as to how to properly honor her in her obituary. They need Joan for that.

I wonder if Peggy realizes that her notion that negroes should fight their way into places they’re barred from, like she did with her work, isn’t quite doable: a black person cannot be “invisible” in, say, a corporate environment in the same way that women can be. I wonder if any of these women realize that they all basically in the same place as Sally, who doesn’t have sophisticated enough language or thought processes yet to express how she’s feeling except in the simplest terms. Because all of these women are so used to molding themselves to a man’s world — even Joyce the lesbian, who describes men as soup and women as soup pots! — that they haven’t yet seen that maybe it’s okay to be consciously angry that that has been what’s required of them…

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