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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Joans, Peggys, and Christine O'Donnell: Is this what feminism has come to?
Posted by Jill | 7:59 PM
I'd never been able to much get into Mad Men, but this season I started watching and found myself getting sucked into it. Part of it is that we're in familiar territory this season, since I was about the same age in 1964-65, when the season takes place, as Don's daughter Sally. But I think much of it is that this season is more about the women than about a bunch of Guys Behaving Badly.

Part of what's fascinating this season is watching the interplay between the women and the men, as the early glimmerings of change start to take hold. Joan, the whispery-voiced somewhat aging sexpot who's the office manager, seems stuck in the previous decade, while Peggy, the secretary-turned-copywriter, sees a glimpse of a new way of being at a boho party, starts to find her own voice and begins to assert herself. I'm not sure that Peggy actually existed in 1965; her rise seems somewhat unlikely until a couple of decades later. But in this week's episode, when Peggy fires a freelance copywriter whose filthy drawing about Joan truly IS beyond the pale, Girl Solidarity backfires right in Peggy's face:

Note: video may expire

Peggy and Joan are in their own ways trying to find a way in a world that's still very much controlled by men and the rules (or lack of same) that men make.

The feminism for which Joan and Peggy are just a few years too early gave a lot of lop service to being about toughness. It had to. Look at the world that women who were trying to fight their way out of being baby-making appendages lived in. It's no wonder that the Rogers and the Dons and the Joeys of the world laughed at the women who dared to challenge the established order and called them ugly...and they still do.

The rise of Victim Feminists like Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell is perhaps a natural consequence of the fatal mistake that the 1960's feminists made -- of not realizing that "the system" that they felt enslaved them in the 1950's also enslaved men. As massive jerks as Don Draper and Roger Sterling and Henry Francis are on Mad Men, it's hard to argue that they're kings of the world. Roger and Henry have young pretty trophy wives, but they're still unhappy. Roger and Don are clearly alcoholics (though Don, being the show's protagonist, is starting to show signs of getting his shit together). These guys, like Leonardo DiCaprio's character in Revolutionary Road, have lives of mind-numbing sameness that were only marginally better than the stifling lives of 1950's housewives in the suburbs. EVERYONE was oppressed by the budding culture of consumerism that was given life after World War II. But the minute early feminism claimed the mantle of oppression, it lost any semblance to an empowerment movement and paved the way for Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell. That's why I was so disturbed last night to hear Howard Fineman opine that part of the reason for O'Donnell's victory last night was that Mike Castle, known in Delaware as a Really Nice Guy, hammered at O'Donnell too hard and that made women voters upset.

Of course Joan and Peggy don't know about feminism yet, but in the exchange in the elevator, Joan seems to be aware that in firing Joey, Peggy has succumbed to this kind of victimology. I don't know if pornographic drawings of the office manager were a commonplace pastime among the creative department in 1960's ad agencies, but I do know that when I was a secretary in an ad agency as late as 1980, I arrived every morning to find one of the bosses standing by the coffeemaker, mug in hand, waiting for me to make the coffee, and then expecting me to break into meetings any time his girlfriend was on the phone for him (but not if it was his wife). Peggy may think she's sending a message that this sort of behavior will no longer be tolerated as of today, but I suspect that the remaining assholes in SCDP's creative department are going to be testing their limits, asserting their dominance over Joan (who rightly knows that they see her as a "meaningless secretary" and treating Peggy like a "humorless bitch."

Fast-forward forty years and you have Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell, two mind-bogglingly stupid and unqualified women, wrapping themselves in the mantle of poor, put-upon fragile flowers being picked on by mean old men like Mike Castle and others who dare mention the obvious -- that if one is to participate in government, one is at least supposed to be coherent and not sound like the early boot on Survivor, kicked off for being useless in challenges AND around camp. Because for all that Sarah Palin talks about Mama Grizzlies, what stares us in the face is the smoking ruin of feminism -- and it looks a lot like corseted Victorians fanning themselves on fainting couches.

Sarah Palin came into the public eye with her guns and her talk about field dressing a moose and shooting wolves out of a helicopter and her aura of dominatrix. But it quickly became about the imagery of the soccer mom tied to her minivan, the Downs Syndrome mom, the poor widdew goilie being bullied by the "lamestream media." Any scrutiny of Sarah Palin was just mean old media men being mean to a girl. Palin appropriated the mantle of feminism as her own, but she's twisted it into a gargoyle of victimology. Palin feminism isn't about toughing it out in a man's world, and it isn't even about changing that man's world. It's about playing the victim card every time someone dares ask you to play on the same field as the guys. Christine O'Donnell has clearly studied her Sarah Palin very carefully. She looks like Palin (only without the psychopathic eyes), she dresses like Palin, and she won just like Palin -- by playing to victimhood. This is a woman who thinks masturbation is adultery, who checks the bushes outside her house for her political enemies, hasn't held a real job in years, pays her living expenses off her campaign donations, rails against people sucking at the government teat, but is running to collect a taxpayer-funded paycheck herself.

This is what feminism has come to? Last night in her victory speech, O'Donnell threw down the gauntlet when she talked about ordinary people being able to run for office without fear of "character assassination." This is a worthy goal regardless of party, but somehow I get the feeling that this goal is not going to apply to her Democratic opponent, who is a man and is no doubt already wondering how he's going to run against her when any criticism, no matter how minor, is going to be be met with cries of "character assassination." Because in the feminism of conservatism, women are just little fragile flowers, wilting under the slightest breeze.

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