Don’s Nuanced Misogyny
August 9, 2009
Misogyny and sexism take center stage throughout the first two seasons of Mad Men. The upstanding men of Sterling-Cooper treat women as little more than sex objects, belittling their independence and assuming their inferiority. The booze-fueled “boys club” atmosphere of the firm only emboldens and legitimizes their disrespect.
That said, Don is written as having an oddly progressive stance on women. On the one hand, he readily accepts Betty’s status as cook and cleaner, typically watching TV while she does the dishes or makes dinner. In Season 1, he initially refuses to work for a female client when she speaks out of turn. “I won’t sit here and let a woman talk to me like that,” he exclaimed. Yet he is also the only man at Sterling-Cooper that wholeheartedly respects Peggy and her work as a copywriter. There’s also the scene in Season 2 in which he is visibly upset on the elevator as two men speak about sexual acts in front of a woman. It’s like the seeds of chivalry that may grow to become a progressive tree. Or at least semi-respectable bush.
While the other men at Sterling-Cooper are, for the most part, pretty uniformly despicable in regards to their treatment of women (save, of course, for Paul–the guy dating the black supermarket employee), Don is written in a much more nuanced light. He cheats on Betty, sure, but he has an abnormally high level of respect for women. I’m left wondering, though, if developments beginning with Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in 1963 might prompt a reactionary stance from Don, alienating someone that could have been a powerful ally for women’s rights.