While most people gathered around the water cooler are probably talking about Roger and Jane’s electric Kool-Aid acid trip on last night’s Mad Men, I am still thinking about Megan and Don’s more literal trip to Howard Johnson’s.
Megan is not so different from some of the women Don has surrounded himself with for the last five seasons. Peggy (with whom he’s never been romantically involved, but with whom he does have an intimate relationship of sorts), Midge, and Dr. Faye Miller are all independent, strong women whom Don has been drawn to in one way or another. However, Megan is a very different wife than Don is accustomed to. She enjoys work, has strong opinions and few problems asserting them. Betty was certainly not without sharp tongue at the end of her marriage to Don, but Megan and Don are newlyweds, yet she stands up to him in ways few women in his life have before, and I’m not sure he’s caught up emotionally. While only 10 years Betty’s junior, Megan seems to be of an entirely different generation, and in a way she is. Betty may not have been cut out for life as a housewife, either, but the key difference between her and Megan is that Megan had options after marriage that Betty never felt she did. The problem, however, is that Don has certain expectations of marriage that I’m not even sure he realizes he has.
It will be interesting to see if Don adjusts to the situation of a wife who has opinions and a career, but the prognosis after the knock-down drag out fight they had isn’t great.
As he chased Megan around their apartment, we saw the literal manifestation of a violence that before only played out in Don’s fever dreams and sex games. This scene was more terrifying than the dream last episode where he killed Andrea, because this was real. I think I may spend this entire season bracing myself for the inevitable moment Don strikes Megan, and to see whether she leaves or is literally beaten into submission.
Meanwhile, back at the office, Peggy channels Don Draper in a meeting with the terrible Heinz client (seriously, he’s already turned down two fantastic ideas. He does realize we’re talking about baked beans here, right?) Peggy has been struggling a lot with the feeling that she must “act like a man” in order to be successful in her career, and here is one case where “acting like a man” was to her disadvantage, because of the expectations of and attitudes toward women in the workplace during the 1960s. Whereas the Heinz rep probably would have reacted very differently had Don delivered the same attack Peggy did, Heinz dude stopped just short of telling her he ought to take her over his knee, seeing her as a petulant “little girl” (to borrow Bert Cooper’s words), rather than a professional frustrated with a client. The entire situation reflected a problem women continue to struggle with in the workplace: when a man speaks the way Peggy did, he’s assertive; when a woman does it she’s a crazy bitch.
Despite not wanting to act like a man, Peggy mirrored one man in particular throughout this episode – Don. Oh, Peggy, if you’re going to be a woman imitating a man, I can think of a thousand men who are better role models than Dick Whitman. After the Heinz fiasco, she takes off to the movies, smokes pot, gives a handie-jay to a stranger, gets drunk at work, and burns the midnight oil. But at the end of the day, after Ginsberg tells her his story of being born in a concentration camp, Peggy seems to cave into her feminine side, calling Abe to comfort her.
I can relate to Peggy, struggling to be taken seriously and treated as a peer in a man’s world, where standing up for her work is seen as a childish tantrum by both client and employer. I also relate to Megan’s situation, married to a man who’s not prepared to deal with a woman who values her career and independence. Up until this season of Mad Men, the struggles the women on the show have endured have been more likely to make me feel relief that we live in a vastly different time. Last night’s struggles, on the other hand, felt uncomfortably familiar.