Sunday, April 10, 2011

Gender Alert: Mad Men

In the fourth season of Mad Men, the second episode "Christmas Comes But Once a Year" has a mini-arc involving Peggy in which she must decide whether she wants to accept or reject the advances of her current boyfriend, who wishes to have sex with her.

He says to her that he wants to be her first--and she does not correct his assumption that she is a virgin (though the first season established her fling with Pete and the subsequent child, along with exploring tensions between her choice as a career woman vs. a mother).

The reason I mention it is because my human sexuality class recently had a superficial discussion regarding virginity (superficial because the class is one hundred plus people and we were already behind). Needless to say, the topic was rather hot and controversial, but it came about that it is still popular for women to be less than truthful about how many people they've slept with or simply outright saying they are still virgins, even if it's not so.

I find it sad that we are in such similar circumstances where women are forced to censure themselves simply because of how they will subsequently be viewed by society (indeed, I find even the idea of "virginity" to be a relic of an ignorant past and best to be abandoned entirely).

There is, in fact, no winning in this kind of situation. For Peggy, she is objectified no matter what she chooses. Because the boyfriend wants to be her first--whether as a status claim or "to take her" is not entirely clear through the course of the episode, but I can't help but think it's one or both of those motivations--he objectifies her from a person to a thing of conquest.

If she corrects his assumptions (assumptions which limit her sexuality is an individual), then she will be labeled a slut or a whore--denigrating terms in and of themselves.

Obviously the issues aren't so strong today, but they are still present.

That's really one of the reasons I like Peggy so much--it's fascinating to watch her (and Joan) navigate these power structures so deftly.

Speaking of Joan, I rather loved her scene in "The Good News" when, after she receives flowers from Lane, she storms into his office, confronting him about he has infantalized her, making her feel like a "helpless little girl." Of course, it was a result of a mix-up in flowers, but that her beliefs regarding Lane's motivations were even an option reveal the sort of disrespect she has to navigate on a daily basis.

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