Don Draper and Women

madmen

At the end of last season of Mad Men, Don Draper showed remorse as to the disrespect he showed his wife Betty on the many ocassions in which he cheated on her. This season began with Don going out of town on a business trip and spending the night with the stewardess at the head of the table.

We often root for characters on television who exhibit conduct we normally wouldn’t condone. Even Don Draper is a boy scout compared to J.R. Ewing or Tony Soprano. Nurse Jackie even extends such behavior to a female lead. Katie Baker considers why women love Don Draper:

Why are we so wild for Draper? By any measure, the character’s a cad. He constantly cheats on his wife. He skips town for weeks and won’t write or call. He doesn’t talk much, and anesthetizes any feelings with copious amounts of booze. He’s an enigma, a locked box of a man who resists, maddeningly, easy explanation. And yet he excites an attraction among women—particularly ones my age, women in their late ’20s and ’30s who were born after the era that Mad Men portrays—that seems unmatched by any leading man on television today, with the possible exception of Lost‘s con artist, Saywer (another strapping scoundrel with a deeply troubled soul). We describe our obsession in words that, like the show itself, are somewhat retro. “He is a straight-up man. He makes me feel like a woman via the TV.” “He’s a throwback to a time when men were men. “It’s the thickness of his body.” “Shoulders to cry on and a jaw that causes women to swoon.”

A man’s man. A virile man. A masculine man. Strong terms. And ones that would make our postmodern gender-studies professors blush. After all, we’re the generation of women who grew up beating the boys in math class, reading Judith Butler (by choice or by force), celebrating “Grrl” power. Traditional male-female roles were going out the window while we were still toddlers. And maybe that’s why we feel a little guilty when we stop to admit to ourselves why Draper excites us. Because we’re not supposed to be using those terms anymore to describe our desires. Those words threaten a backsliding—they hint at some deep, unspoken turbulence; that, as if by saying we want a “real man,” we threaten to erase all the gains our mothers made in terms of equality in the workplace and the home. After all, we don’t believe in that evolutionary “me Tarzan, you Jane” nonsense anymore. We’re supposed to want men who are sensitive and respectful; men who emote and help around the house, and talk openly about their feelings. And we do want these things. Don’t we? So then why are we fantasizing about Draper rather than Jim from The Office?

“Would I want to marry him?” one acquaintance—an executive assistant at a high-end financial firm, and the dictionary definition of “independent”—asked rhetorically. “No. But he has that whole ‘strap a sword to me, I’ll cut down men and then ravish you’ thing.” We have to clarify this matter, you see, lest men misunderstand us (or, worse, lest we misunderstand ourselves). So we lay it out very clearly: we don’t want to wed Don Draper. We know madness that way lies. We see how Betty Draper is drowning in loneliness, one more beautiful woman trapped in her suburban prison, desperately trying to pull devotion out of Don. We see how she’s had to resort to silent fury to make him come around again. And we’re cynical about this next season, for Betty’s sake—sure, Don wrote her a letter saying he can’t live without her. Sure, she let him back in the house. But a baby’s on the way, and nothing says ball and chain like a newborn. And men like Don Draper don’t change their spots. Already in this season’s first episode, he’s undressing a stewardess. My mother’s generation—who had to live with such men, whose hearts were broken by such men, and whose careers were stymied by such men—don’t seem to have much interest in Don Draper. They know all too well the downside of a man’s man. And they made sure as hell to raise us differently.

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1 Comment

  1. 1
    Eclectic Radical says:

    This is a long-running issue as well. In the original British production of ‘Life on Mars’ it was not the somewhat haplessly out-of-time hero Sam Hunt who was beloved on English housewives, but the far darker ‘old time cop’ Gene Hunt.
    Roger Howarth, who originated the even darker and outright villainous role of Todd Manning on One Life To Live, actually spoke to his therapist about how disturbed he was by the attraction many soap fans felt for his character… who was not only a genuinely evil villain but also an unrepentant rapist and abusive toward his various romantic partners. He finally refused to even come back to the show to reprise the role, because of his discomfort with the popularity of his character with fans, and the role was recast several years back now.
     
    I think the characterization of the fantasy aspects of this attraction in the quoted piece is very important to remember.
     

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