Mad Men: mid-season 7 finale, “Waterloo”

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(photo: tv.com, AMC TV)

SPOILERS THROUGH SEASON 7, AHOY!

Okay, so let me first say that if you read Tom and Lorenzo this week, they nailed that the boy Sally kissed was named Neil, like the astronaut, but they missed that Sally’s name is also like a famous astronaut, one that was just a few years older than Sally in 1969. This scene for me was probably my favorite and the heart of the finale. 

Sally finds Neil not looking at the moon, but at Polaris – the North Star, the fixed point for navigation and a pole by which one orients himself. They are the two gazing at this, the young people trying to navigate where they are going. They’re not limited to the moon in their thinking, like the previous generation. Neil urges twice that there is so much more to see than just the moon.  

So when Sally kisses him (a bold move from a young woman of a different generation, much like Meredith with Don — young women are empowered here, not just reacting to the actions of men) and he asks ‘What’s next?’ or ‘What do we do now?’, this is both about the moon landing and them as young people. We all know what comes next for them and if Sally doesn’t have sex next season, I’ll be very surprised. I think the show has been so much about getting Sally to a sense of womanhood since the very start, in light of the women around her and the waning of previous generations (Victorianism and pre-Baby Boom) after their apex, which we are witnessing along with Sally. 

It’s also interesting that it’s her Dad that urges her away from cynicism, a tool which has often kept Don Draper thriving within his career and his fabricated persona, and which her mother has sewn to herself as an armor against society’s (and her family and Don’s) attempt to stunt, contain, and minimize her. It’s also notable that Sally takes the advice. Sally’s options are much broader than Betty’s, Peggy’s, or even Megan’s. I can’t help but think of Murphy Brown when I think of Sally in 15-20 years.

My history of feminism is way too rusty and atrophied to be able to cite and attribute all of the work that Mad Men has done within the context, but it’s easy to see where things are headed and how this season was very much about (the then) burgeoning new feminism (third wave, right dudes?). The use of pink all season was almost a threat. As were flowers – feminism flourishing and occupying space it has not previously. Pink became a power color for women this season and the fact that mankind landed on the moon, the apex of feminine symbolism, in the last episode which fleshed these themes out beautifully. The feminine has been arrived at; the action of landing on the moon can’t be undone. 

 If this season saw women acting upon their desires and voicing their internal thoughts, it saw men realizing, in all fear and requirement, that the future is now. In so many ways, male characters had to confront what they had left in them and choose a path forward. This was obviously Ginsberg’s stopping point and almost Ted’s as well. It has to be noted that these two men fell out this season. Not women, but two relatively young men. For Ginsberg it’s easy to see why. As a holocaust survivor, believing for much of his early life he might have no future and being told he wasn’t even worthy of one, the appearance of being phased out (which in essence is very much Jim Cutler’s vision) became a reality. Ginsberg’s Holden Caulfield hat (the hunted trying to half-heartedly pass off as a hunter) and coat belong to another time. 

(Aside: and this directly gets into the most irritating of mis-readings I often see attributed to The Catcher in the Rye, that HC was just an emo spoiled brat with ennui that bitched about stuff. Yes, if you ignore untreated mental illness and the reality of being Jewish in America post-WWII and trying to, on some level, “pass” in that regard, I can see how that thin reading might hold up for novice readers. But that’s another story, In fact Ginsberg / The Catcher in the Rye is a whole term paper and possibly thesis in itself.)

Ted is more of an enigma in this regard and I need to go back and spot exactly how his breakdown happened. The removal to California was obviously problematic and his disinterest and going-through-the-motions was obvious. Where Pete found ways to thrive and be nourished by change, Ted faded. The sun almost withered him. Ted reminds me of a boy that was born and told life would unfold for him, and it did. That he would get a good job or career that he would retire from, that he would live a life not unlike his Dad’s but with more success. In a way, he is a mirror for Betty. He was told he would have these things and that they would fulfill him, but they didn’t. The difference between Ted and Don is huge. Don must create; he thrives on it. But Ted is a company guy. And that’s it. Ted doesn’t know who he is and while Don sold him on believing that they are alike, creators, it’s obvious Ted doesn’t believe it, but he really wants to. 

What does Don have left in him? Well, it took him a long time, but the answer has always been, Dick Whitman. Finally Don has realized that while he can fake being Don, he can’t fake being good at business; business was always best left to Roger, Bert, and Joan. Dick is creative. Dick makes something from nothing. Dick never got to mature, grow wise, choose his own wife or path, and so Dick exists within him, the boy staring up at the moon at night and dreaming. 

Don finally realized that the best Don Draper he can be is by being Dick. Dick has the vision, the adventurer’s heart, the ability to create from nothing. Don has the swagger and sheen to command needed attention, but the world has changed. Swagger and sheen are out of fashion. Stan’s earnestness, even Bob’s admittance and parceled honesty are in fashion. Men and their behavior are starting to look more like the men at Marigold’s compound, accepting their limits and vulnerabilities, and less like the height of machismo on Mad Men: Lee Garner Jr. The world has shifted and thankfully Don still has the ability to navigate those changes, through a young-at-heart Dick Whitman. It’s a nod to just how important his relationship with Anna Draper was that Dick was preserved within Don enough that he is able to use his true vulnerabilities and persona as a strength instead of a liability to be denied at all cost.

And let’s just note that twice, *twice* this season, Don has turned down women: Neve Campbell on the airplane and Meredith last night. Even in light of his marriage being emotionally over for some time, (really, from the moment Don walked off Megan’s set at the end of season 5), and with the exception of Sylvia with whom Don had to figure out if he was “good or evil,” Don or Dick, Don isn’t falling back into Don-like ways. His epiphany about Peggy and his brand of love for her (I’m not entirely sure he’s not going to confuse it again, as he almost did during their Sinatra dance where for a second you can see him consider going in for the kiss before he realizes what he feels for her is much bigger) has re-framed much for him. Don, Pete, and Peggy all sitting down to “family supper” at Burger Chef, was not only them claiming their “family,” it was a much broader statement about how those who know your secrets, the deepest ones, and who don’t manipulate and exploit them, are family. Those three people could ruin each other emotionally if not professionally and personally and yet they have instead all created a loose understanding, and a deep respect that can’t be destroyed by daily crises and the tides of living. 

It should be noted that gold has long been a color of “the hive” in Mad Men. A color of productivity and being “on board” for the greater good; working as one for the vision. (Ted often wears gold.) While Peggy wore a literal image last week (her black, gold, and white honeycomb patterned dress), last night Don wore a black, white and gold striped tie while telling her she will make the presentation. He was willing to be on board, for the greater purpose, for once. Not for the company, but for Peggy. It’s as self-effacing an act as we have ever seen from Don. 

So, though Matthew Weiner has said, “Mad Men is about the women,” and so often that is true, this season it was really equally about the men, being pushed to change, if they could manage it. Ginsberg could not, he’s locked in time, and it’s to be seen whether Ted can. Men this season were wrestling to figure out what the equivalent of their own moon landing would be, personally. 

There is nothing, nothing on Mad Men I love more than seeing Roger work — really work. Roger still has fight in him. It highlights how lazy and indulgent he is that it takes so little for him to effect so much, for so many. Often, he can’t be bothered to stir; Roger is the king of phoning it in. In the finale Roger was no doubt further motivated by Bert’s passing. By age, he is likely to die next, and that heart attack still haunts him, hence this season’s Peter Pan-esque attempts at living and often grotesque and immature antics. 

Jim Cutler’s future is very clear, but it’s a future that he’s almost 15 years too early in imagining. His instincts are spot on, though myopic. Cutler needs Don the most, professionally, but he can’t see it. He can’t yet fathom the limits of computers and data or the long term problem of unwavering hive mentality.

Bert’s passing was sad, and symbolic. From his dislike of Dawn being stationed at reception this season to the hypocrisy that arises from that (based on his love and adoration for all things Asian {but not the people?} as well as his undying love for Ida Blankenship) to the glimpses of him we get at home with his housekeeper, in full uniform who almost feels a bit like his “mammy,” Bert was out of time, a man that picked and chose his prejudices as they suited him. But he was also a great example of a character as a human being: fundamentally flawed and still with qualities that make him lovable and respectable. And isn’t that what family is? Robert Morse’s end scene was lovely. While I didn’t felt I needed the whole thing as a viewer, I did like the baton he was passing to Don, who knows he personally isn’t a spring chicken any longer, and like Bert, is watching proteges just hit their stride. Bert is as close to a father as Dick or Don will ever have. 

Pete is a survivor. His tenacity alone is part young Roger Sterling, part Duck Phillips. He’s in it for life, and he does truly love it. Once he lives out his Don Draper fantasy as much as he can with his next-generation Betty Hofstadt, Bonnie Whiteside, his personal life will continue to be chaos, but what anchors him, much like Duck and Roger, will be advertising; it’s his North Star. So the question for all of them is voiced by a pipsqueak young Neil, the boy that exists inside each of them: now what? 

Part 4: Mad Housewife: The Edible Identity of Betty Draper

This is the final installment of my look at Betty Draper’s disordered eating and psychology. It ends abruptly, due to having been over the page limit and out of time. I intend to continue looking at Mad Men through this lens, as season 6 showed evidence of Sally’s budding eating disorder, and Betty’s return to the denial of food, this time with less of a need to control and more of a need to feel her power.

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Betty, hiding. 6:1-2, “The Doorway”

“I don’t know why I’m here. I mean, I do, I’m nervous, I guess. Anxious. I don’t sleep that well. And my hands… – Betty Draper (Ladies Room, 1:2)

Early in the series, when Betty begins experiencing numbness and an inability to use her hands, she seeks medical attention, but there is nothing physically wrong with her and the physician recommends a psychiatrist. This is a magnificent shock to both Betty and Don. After some hedging and fear, Don eventually relents to let her see seek help, but not before reminding her that she has everything, and nothing could possibly be wrong with her? (He later tells her that he realized that she doesn’t have everything and gives her a gold watch, so that she can apparently measure all of the time that she has that’s filled with nothing.) (Ladies Room 1:2).

Her psychiatrist is a stereotype, straight from the church of Freud and then some. He speaks to Betty only once, and is otherwise silent, sitting behind her head, jotting everything in a notebook while she lays vulnerably on a chaise lounge. She soon finds out he is reporting to Don all about their meetings; yet another trust broken. Typical to the school of Freud as well, her doctor, Dr. Wayne, minimizes her troubles and reports to Don: “Mostly she seems consumed with petty jealousies and overwhelmed with daily responsibilities. Basically we are dealing with the emotions of a child here. We’re finding that this kind of anxiety isn’t uncommon in housewives” (Red in the Face, 1:7). Susan Bordo notes: “Yet Freud never makes the connection between the monotonous domestic lives these women were expected to lead after they completed their schooling, and the emergence of compulsive daydreaming , hallucinations, dissociations, and hysterical conversions.” (Bordo 240)

The symptoms that Betty describes, nervousness, anxiety, insomnia and especially sudden numbness of the hands might be easily diagnosed as Conversion Disorder, which at that time would have been a new diagnosis. If Betty had experienced these symptoms even 40 years earlier there is a good chance she would have been diagnosed with “Hysteria”. Hysteria was a catch-all diagnosis that was employed for thousands of years. In the Victorian era one physician sat down to list all of the symptoms which might be present in Hysteria. He stopped at 75 pages and called it “incomplete”.

“During the repressed Victorian era, hysteria reached its apex. It was joined by chlorosis or “green sickness” (which would probably be called anemia or Anorexia today) and neurasthensia—a new disease believed to brought about by the stress of modern life—to make a triad of women’s ailments known as hysteroneurasthenic disorders. The French physician Pierre Briquet claimed that a quarter of all women suffered from hysteria.” (Dusenbery)

It is striking then, when shortly after Betty and Henry Francis meet, (the man she marries after divorcing Don) they are walking by an antique store and Henry points at the fainting couch in the window. Henry: “THAT’S what you need. A fainting couch!” Betty, “What’s that?” Henry, “Victorian ladies would get overwhelmed, with corsets and things, they’d need a place to lay down.” Betty, “How do you know that? Henry, “I used to move furniture.”  (Seven Twenty Three, 3:7)

Betty has found a man that sees her as fragile, and needing to be shielded. Since Betty is caught between the Victorian-minded teachings of her mother, and her confident, outspoken daughter Sally, she isn’t sure where she belongs. She is emotionally adept enough to not settle into the marriage with Don, who continually breaks her trust and manipulates her love, but she stumbles immediately when she creates a chance at independence for herself. She doubts herself and her abilities, buying into the lie that she cannot take care of herself. Her need to be loved, and parented, trumps her desire for independence and chance at learning how to parent herself.

Whether or not Betty will learn to parent herself and love herself remains to be seen. As season 5 is ending, we see her living in Henry’s monstrous Victorian mansion, which seems to have a life of its own. It’s almost as if she is bulking up so that she doesn’t disappear. Combined with Don’s inability to stay current, baulking at modern music and trends, he and Betty are out of time, both belonging to another period of history, one that’s passing.

Viewers seem to be holding fast to their perceptions that Betty is a villain and Don is a-okay because he’s handsome enough and the standards for men are different. But both characters are ill. And both characters represent the illness of society, which perpetuates the double standards that prevent real and lasting positive change to take place for both men, and women.

10. Dusenbery, Maya. “Timeline: Female Hysteria and the Sex Toys Used to Treat It.” Mother Jones. N.p., 1 June 2012. Web. 11 June 2012.

11. Stern, Marlow. “‘Hysteria’ and the Long, Strange History of the Vibrator.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 27 Apr. 2012. Web. 11 June 2012.

12. Staff. “The Arc of Joan: The Secrets Behind ‘Mad Men’s’ Most Divisive, Decisive and Delicious Character.” The Hollywood Reporter. N.p., 6 June 2012. Web. 11 June 2012.

Part 3: Mad Housewife: The Edible Identity of Betty Draper

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Betty’s magnificent, much needed breakdown. S2E8 “A Night to Remember”

“Mommy doesn’t like to eat.” -Sally Draper (Meditations in an Emergency, 2:13)

Anorexia is often believed to be a form of elected suicide, a killing of one’s self slowly, but it  is my opinion that Anorexia is a form of protest and illness that can result in death. The root of Anorexia grows from a profound need to object and isolate oneself outside of something (this can be conscious, subconscious or both), and to assert a sense of control in a situation or life where the afflicted perceives none. Suicide on the other hand, seems often to be an answer to a question that no one but the victim is certain of.

What does any of this have to do with Betty Draper? Betty has severly disordered eating habits and behaves as a functioning anorexic through seasons 1-4 of Mad Men. Betty is not suicidal, rather she is ill and a holding a great protest against many things. It isn’t until season 5 that we see the protest end and Betty move from Anorexia to another form of disordered eating (bingeing), with different motivations and ends.

We know from case studies, literature, doctors, and biographies that Anorexia must be managed, nearly constantly, through hyper-perception of one’s eating. Anorexia is less about denying food than it is about controlling food and fear. Susan Bordo offers: “…anorexic women are as obsessed with hunger as they are with being slim. Far from losing her appetite, the typical anorexic is haunted by it…” (Bordo 232). Anorexia is a series of actions based on beliefs (often subconscious) that are cemented in the family and culture.

In classic anorexic fashion, Betty’s best friend and worst enemy is her body. It “wins” her a handsome, promising husband (which is the “goal” laid out for her). Her body and physical beauty cause people to be drawn to and admire her, but it stops there. From what we know, Betty’s relationships with her parents were quite difficult, and being married to Don has served to further isolate her. Her body floods her with emotions that cannot be satisfied, such as the desire to be loved, rage that cannot be acted upon and has no outlet, want for a different life, and talents and abilities that she cannot utilize. Susan Bordo expands upon this concept of the body’s ceaseless hungers in her article, “Anorexia Nervosa: Psychopathology as the Crystallization of Culture.” “The only way to win this no-win game is to go beyond control, to kill off the body’s spontaneities entirely — that is, to cease to experience our hungers and desires. This is what many anorectics describe as their ultimate goal” (Bordo 232). Since it is paramount that Betty remain beautiful and attractive, to function as a positive reflection of Don and his family, Betty takes it to an extreme degree, as her food intake and hunger is one of the only things that is her own and cannot be dictated, or interfered with, by others.

Throughout the series, and especially in seasons 1, 2, and 3, Betty is often introduced to an episode while seated at the kitchen table, watching Sally and Bobby Draper eat dinner,  waiting for Don to arrive home from work. Regular watchers know that often Don doesn’t come home from work at all, but Betty is never shown eating without him. And while the children eat, Betty sits at the table watching them, with a cigarette and a glass of wine.

Early on this image of Betty isn’t terribly remarkable, but as her screen time accrues, we soon see that when Betty is on screen, she is nearly always accompanied by a glass of wine and a cigarette, even when others are eating around her and no matter the time of day.  This fact is addressed by her daughter Sally, who when Don asks Betty to join he and the kids for dinner after he has moved out states, “Mommy doesn’t like to eat.” (Meditations in an Emergency 2:13). The Betty that resides in seasons 1-4 is living on nearly wine and cigarettes alone. “While at first glance the anorectic’s refusal to eat is an act of conformity, a taking-up of the commandment, the act of refusal contains its dialectical response: I shall not partake of that which is offered for it is not sufficient/not for me at all. The food is the symbolic representation of a world that has already disappointed (failed) the anorectic. Entry into it is not the answer.” (Orbach 63).

Don also comments on Betty’s meager eating when she is pregnant with their third child. Betty is well into her pregnancy and reaching for a piece of melba toast in the morning for breakfast. Realizing the package is empty and exclaiming this to Don he replies, “Jesus, Bets. Have some oatmeal. That baby’s going to weigh a pound,” letting the viewers know that this is a trend and one that’s extreme enough for even Don to have taken notice of.

I want to speak about a few scenes when we do see Betty deal with her own meals throughout the series because I believe they form a portrait of her character and comment upon the extremity of her illness. Aside from the ever-present glass of red wine (which from a glance appears to be French and likely Bordeaux), we often see Betty order food, but rarely eat it. This behavior is echoed by Don, who seemingly has an eating disorder that rivals Betty’s, but that is another paper.

Betty seems to eat when she is fulfilled somehow, especially in early seasons. For instance, while still married to Don, he takes Betty to a hotel for Valentine’s Day. Their marriage is as solid as we ever see it, as she is still consciously ignorant to his adultery. After they have what seems to be tender, boring sex in their room, Don states he doesn’t feel well. Betty reminds him that they haven’t eaten and tells him to order room service. Don (on the phone): “Can you send up some vichyssoises and a BLT on white toast?” Betty: “No. Shrimp cocktail.” Don: ”Scratch that two shrimp cocktails please.” (Betty takes phone out of his hand.) Betty: “Do you have anything special, anything out of season? …How about this, I want the half avocado filled with crab meat and a rare petit filet. 2 place settings.” Thus, not only does she have display hallmark anorectic behavior of controlling food and being preoccupied with it, she ends up ordering for two hungry adults what would normally serve one person. And of course, we never see if they actually eat (For Those Who Think Young, 2:1).

Another instance with food, and one where we see Betty actually eat is when Roger invites himself over to Don’s for dinner after having cocktails with him in the city. Betty was supposed to be making a special dinner for her husband and Don calls her telling her to include Roger. Betty protests saying, “I don’t know if I have enough food…”

Since we know Betty has a maid that does the shopping and she has two young children in the house, there is no way the Draper house doesn’t have food enough for one more guest. What Betty means is that the meal she cooked just for the two of them is spoiled, and will not be what she had intended.

As the three are seated at dinner in the dining room, we can see Betty has an iceberg lettuce salad and Roger is eating her steak. Despite all of the choices for food Betty had at her fingertips, she chose lettuce, a silent protest toward Don’s disregard of her feelings and plans. Lettuce is a calorie deficient food, one often cited on various online pro-Anorexia (proAna) forums and in circles as a good food choice so that one will burn more calories eating and digesting it than they will gain from it (Red in the Face 1:7).

Roger observes her plate and thinks she is watching her weight. He offers about his wife, “Mona has a little calorie book she keeps on the refrigerator. Always has her nose in there.” Betty responds, “Maybe she wants to look good for you.” Betty goes on to mention that she used to be chubby as a girl. “I was pudgy as a girl if you can believe it.” She recounts that she didn’t realize she had lost weight until she showed up for Home Ec. class in the 8th grade with a pattern for “big girl pajamas” and the teacher asked who they were for.

To direct this instance back to the environment that Betty is experiencing daily, after the above mentioned scene, Betty and Roger are in the kitchen waiting for Don to come back from the garage with more liquor. Roger makes a pass at Betty, but she rebukes him. As Don enters he notices something has transpired. Once Roger leaves he angrily confronts Betty and blames her, saying it is her fault. The next day at work Roger apologizes and Don realizes Betty wasn’t at fault at all. When he arrives home from work Betty apologizes to him, despite not having done anything wrong, and Don never tells her Roger admitted he was in the wrong. Don leaves her dangling, not needing to justify his behavior to her and she feels guilty for Roger’s behavior just for existing and being attractive.

We glimpse a hint of the shades of things to come in season 2, episode 13, “Meditations in an Emergency” regarding Betty’s weight. After dropping the kids off at Don’s hotel room, Betty takes herself shopping and then to a bar for a cocktail. A man at the opposite end sends her a drink and they end up having sex in the back office of the bar. Still married at this time (and newly pregnant with his third child) Betty has cheated on Don. She has taken it upon herself to find out what it feels like to be Don: betray the person you love, connect with a stranger sexually, and create no attachment to them. After this scene we see Betty arrive home. In the dark kitchen she throws open the refrigerator, grabs a cold chicken leg, stands next to the open ‘fridge door, and eats ravenously. This is a totally different Betty than the one we have seen before, and the difference is that she indulges in her hunger, just as she did inside the bar.

Fans of the show were shocked to see, when season 5 began, what has been dubbed in the media and online as “Fat Betty.” Betty had gained weight in a considerable way; something serious internally changed for her. While she is no longer a functioning anorexic, her appetite has changed from nothing to everything.

Pioneering psychoanalyst Hilde Bruch worked extensively with anorexic patients through the middle of the 20th century and noted, “{Her patients were} often terrified at the prospect of taking just one bite of food, lest they never be able to stop” (Bordo 232). It’s clear to viewers that Betty has taken many bites of food over a short period of time. A switch has been flipped in her and while she is no longer suffering from Anorexia, she is now a binge eater, as we see when she arrives home after a Weight Watchers meeting, making a beeline for the refrigerator and taking a can of whipped cream out, spraying her mouth full. (She immediately runs over and spits it out in the sink, foreshadowing Bulimia.)  “For the compulsive eater the experience of eating, while fraught with anxiety, contains elements of soothing, and the impulse towards food is generally coupled with a desire to give to oneself, to quiet an upset, to make whole what is empty, to say what cannot be spoken. The anorectic can find no such momentary satisfaction in the taking-in of the most basic substance of life” (Orbach 63).

Betty exemplifies the conundrum all women experience. By and large women are responsible for all of the meals a family consumes, but the standard ideal female body size has been shrinking steadily since the middle of the 20th century. “Consider for a moment the following… a woman comes to know that the food she prepares for others as an act of love and an expression of her caring, is somehow dangerous to the woman herself. Every day women read in any newspaper or magazine of how they must restrain their desire for this very same food” (Orbach 60). While Joan is curvy and voluptuous, to modern eyes she is often considered overweight. The perception towards women’s weight and bodies (often perpetuated by women themselves) is a mental and emotional disorder. Viewers have been happy to relish in the character of Betty’s failures around food, ignoring her previous Anorexia and their own disordered thinking about the subject, as if binge eating and weight gain is some kind of just punishment for her.

The Betty of season 5 is in a place where no one is hurting, manipulating, or withholding from her. Henry, her new husband, is largely understanding and loving, even parental towards Betty, who has never learned moderation in life, especially with regard to emotion; she is cold and shut down or she is raging. Henry insists Betty is beautiful no matter the size, and he means it. But Betty can’t love herself when she’s fat, just as she can’t love herself when she is thin. She has no ability to balance and without being in emotional competition with Don, or being manipulated by him, she has no reason to continue starving herself. The protest is over. Betty is resigned.

7. Greer, Germaine. The Female Eunuch. London: Paladin, 1991. Print

8. Bordo, Susan. “Anorexia Nervosa: Psychopathology as the Crystallization of Culture.”Philosophical Forum 17.Winter (1986): n. pag. Print.

9. Orbach, Susie. Hunger Strike: Starving amidst Plenty. New York: Other, 2001. Print.

Part 2: Mad Housewife: The Edible Identity of Betty Draper

"Mad Men's" January Jones.

Betty is very good at her “job.”
 “My mother always said, ‘You’re painting a masterpiece, make sure to hide the brush strokes.’ ” – Betty Draper (Red in the Face, 1:7)

It’s striking that subversive illnesses such as eating disorders and “nervous conditions” continued to manifest in a culture that was so invested in fertility, nourishment, youth, and living “the good life.” When I began writing this paper, it was with the intention of writing about the eating identities of the three main female characters in Mad Men. As I began rewatching the series however, it became obvious that not only is Betty Draper’s eating identity at a point of extreme crisis, more so than Joan or Peggy’s, but that Betty is outright ill. Betty can easily be called an anorectic. In behavior, upbringing, relationships and self-conduct, Betty is a classic case.

Much like the narrator in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s resonant, classic novella, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Betty Draper is prevented from herself by the community she lives in and grew up among. This is evident when we see Betty, in an attempt to invigorate herself and her life, seize the opportunity to return to modeling after asking Don’s permission to do so (The Shoot 1:9). It turns out the opportunity was only given to her as an attempt to attract Don to a rival ad agency. Though she hides her disappointment, Betty is crushed. To console her Don states, “You (already) have a job, taking care of these kids.” Betty smiles weakly.

Before she wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman was advised by her physician to, “Live as domestic a life as possible… And never touch pen, brush, or pencil as long as you live.” The pervading idea that mental or individual pursuits would destroy a woman, only served to reinforce the mentality men perpetuated that women were little more than children and needed to be protected from their own instincts. This is how Betty was raised to experience life and how she continues to experience it with Don. Though she is allowed to have a past time, riding horses and spending time at the stables, this fact is used by Don against her when she attempts to get her needs met emotionally. She has everything, right? What else could she want? (3 Sundays, 2:4).

The advice Gilman was given conjures up the image of Virginia Woolf, who by Gilman’s  doctor’s estimation, and being prone to depression, was literally taking her life in her own hands by writing. Woolf is reported to have struggled with Anorexia Nervosa for much of her life. Fans and scholars still debate what precisely contributed to her suicide by drowning in 1941, but what Virginia Woolf displayed, Gilman outlined, and Betty depicts is that a woman must be allowed to live her own life. And we also have to wonder if Virginia Woolf had not written, might she have taken her own life much sooner?

It is widely reported that Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner was strongly influenced by Betty Friedan’s 1963 seminal book, “The Feminine Mystique” which took Woolf and Gilman’s assertion much further. Most of that book serves as nearly a direct argument for why “Betty Draper,” as a product and determined construct for women to then aspire to, is a failure of society. The book sparked second-wave feminism, broadening feminist rhetoric from focusing on legal obstacles, inclusion, and legal specificity around gender, to including attention on reproductive rights, family needs, and social inequalities (among other areas of focus). Thus, a broader discussion began, and the character of Betty Draper typifies why it needed to happen.

Betty must undergo a daily suppression of personality, one that she is trained to perform from her earliest days. We can only imagine that her mother, likely born just as the last corner from Victorianism was being turned, was an amped up version of Betty. (Ruth’s abusiveness is hinted at and mentioned throughout the series despite Betty’s confused insistence that, “She was really beautiful…”.) This contributes to Betty’s constant sense of failure. Betty is really only a full generation away from corsets (girdles are still widely in use), “Hysteria” being diagnosed as a blanket term for any behavior men didn’t like, and fainting couches being employed with regularity. Stephanie Newman cites Germaine Greer’s “The Female Eunuch” when talking about Betty, citing, “Betty ‘is the dead heart of the family… the best thing that can happen is that she can take up again where she left off and go back to work at a job which was only a stopgap when she began it; she can expect no promotion, no significant remuneration, no widening of her horizons. Her work becomes a hypnotic. She cleans, she knits, she embroiders.’ ” (Newell 108).

As an educated, upper class, Main Line Philadelphia socialite, Betty was raised to accomplish two things: attract a husband by being a “lady,” and marry well. Even the raising of children by Betty’s time was less important due to the common practice among the upper middle class of hiring nannies and housekeepers. In the Draper household the children’s nanny is the loving, patient, and sad Carla.

Once Betty has married well to Don (at that time an upwardly mobile copywriter for a fur company), Betty’s duties, aside from staying attractive, maintaining Don’s household, and performing perfectly as a hostess and at social functions, are done. In season 1, episode 9: “Shoot,” Betty explains to her new therapist her mother’s instructions to her for life after marriage: “She wanted me to be beautiful so I could find a man. There’s nothing wrong with that. But then what? Just sit and smoke and let it go ‘til you’re in a box?”  She faces years ahead of her with nothing in them aside from socially reflecting well upon Don.

In the 1967 novel “The Edible Woman,” by Margaret Atwood, the anorexic main character, Marian, begins down the same path Betty is on. Her successful and upwardly mobile fiance, Peter, is everything she has been told she should aim for in life, but as the time for the wedding draws closer, Marian’s body begins to betray her. She can no longer eat most foods and she suddenly starts displaying odd behavior such as spontaneously fleeing from a dinner with friends and being unaware that she has been crying. This is the same sort of behavior Betty displays when she is preparing for a very important dinner party at home for Don’s business relations and boss. Preparing the dining room, Betty finds one of the chairs is off balance. After trying to fix it, she picks it up and smashes it apart without a word, in front of the children. She does it with no more remarkable expression than one would have if they were washing their hands while thinking about something else. Both Marian and Betty’s behavior shows that the emotional and mental space created for women to live in was grotesquely too small, and there was no reachable degree to which a woman could shut herself down emotionally enough to maintain health, let alone thrive.

Early in the series, during the process of grieving for her mother who recently passed away, Betty attempts to make Don her whole life. That is, she attempts to do what her mother and society have instructed her to do and invest all she is in him and their home. We see Betty with a voracious sexual appetite to the extent that Don even turns her down, preferring to read in bed (Don Draper turning down sex!?).  She tells Don that all she waits for each day is for him to return home so that they can be together (have sex). She is in a fog with only one thing to look forward to and as regular viewers know, half of the time Don does not come home at all. While Betty is investing in her husband and her home, Don is destroying those bonds via adultery and lying. He can’t give her what the culture has told her will ultimately fulfill her, and as she has no ability or tools to fulfill herself, we see an incredibly destructive pattern unfold.

3. Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Other Stories. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1997. Print.

4. “The Literature of Prescription: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “The Yellow Wallpaper”” U.S.National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 28 Sept. 2009. Web. 10 June 2012. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/literatureofprescription/b1Literature.html>.

5. Atwood, Margaret. The Edible Woman. New York: Anchor, 1998. Print.

6. Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. Ringwood, Vic.; Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1965. Print.

Part 1: Mad Housewife: The Edible Identity of Betty Draper

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Betty’s go-to meal for 4 seasons.

Following is the first portion of a paper I wrote for a class called “The Aesthetics of Hunger.” I will post the other sections in coming days. This was a consideration of Betty Draper up through season 5. Seasons 5 & 6 give me reason to want to revisit these ideas, especially as Betty is back to her “fighting weight” (as Tom and Lorenzo put it on their blog), and Sally is more strongly exhibiting characteristics that are often found in people with eating disorders.

“As a feminist protest, the obsession with slenderness is hopelessly counterproductive.” – Susan Bordo

Betty Draper. What a villain, right? Everyone loves to hate Betty… the cold mothering, the simmering rage, always ruining the fun. She’s so troublesome and needy, but why? In early seasons she has a maid who cares for the children and cleans the home. She doesn’t have to work. She is beautiful, her husband is wealthy, and she lives in his beautiful house (which he reminds her of). So why can’t she just shut up and be nice already?

Compared to good-time-gal Joan on Mad Men, who knows exactly where, and what, her sex appeal will get her and how to keep the rampant misogyny to a manageable tone (well, sort of), and tomboy Peggy who can hit from the whiskey bottle shot for shot with the fellas, Betty’s such a drag. But it takes a commitment to selective memory to maintain this popular stance. Early on Joan is driven to achieve marriage to a successful man, “viewed as a way out, the key to an enviable existence” (Newman, 103). Joan’s goal is to achieve what Betty has by finding, and entering a gilded cage as it were, and she is willing to pursue it so far as to marry a man that rapes her.

Similarly, Peggy is often praised for being driven, fearless, and masculine in her pursuit for success. But while Betty is disparaged for being a distant and cold mother, Peggy has given her only child up to her sister and plays virtually no role in his life. Not only is there a double standard for the women depicted on Mad Men, there is a double standard by viewers towards Betty.

A Google search result for “Hate Betty Draper” returns an avalanche of bizarrely fierce vitriol aimed at the character, most of it authored by women. A similar search for “Hate Don Draper,” is far less dramatic. Dislike of his lying and misogyny only sometimes pops up; mostly the results are about how he would likely disdain modern advertising or how a viewer wants the “old Don” back, versus the new, more balanced one being seen in season 5.

Why do women particularly hate Betty? And why, when Betty gained weight in season 5, have viewers relished in it, devoting hundreds if not thousands of tumblr pages, memes, and forum posts to her weight gain, especially since Betty has gone for 4 seasons being a functioning Anorexic?

The search term “Betty Draper anorexic,” results in very little, just a few forum posts calling her mildly anorexic and wondering if the show is hinting at her having an eating disorder. But even passing attention to the construct of her character yields a fairly shocking portrayal of a woman with severely disordered eating who is consuming herself from the inside, in an attempt to digest her feelings of rage, unfulfillment, isolation, and loneliness. One online commenter states, “According to Tumblr, now that Betty (Draper) Francis has gained weight she is no longer a valid or interesting character. It turns out fans were only willing to tolerate her when she was mildly anorexic. Nice.”

The public dislike for Betty as a character elucidates the ongoing impossible standard for women in our culture, one often perpetuated by women towards other women. It also outlines the discomfort women experience when looking at the history of gender dynamics. While women like to think they would be a marginally empowered Joan or androgynous, power-seeking Peggy, by numbers the vast majority of women were having Betty’s experience: living in some sort of version of the gilded cage as well, raised by their family to simply get married. While women today believe they are standing on the shoulders of the Joan and Peggy-types of previous generations, it can’t be ignored that both feet are equally, firmly planted on the hem of Betty’s shirtwaist dress. What viewers are hating when they hate Betty Draper is rarely extended to the rest of the characters when they make similar choices, and is a painful reminder of women’s issues, past and present.

1. Newman, Stephanie. Mad Men on the Couch: Analyzing the Minds of the Men and Women of the Hit Tv Show. New York: Thomas Dunne, 2012. Print.

2. honeytallsocks. “Betty Draper | Tumblr.” Betty Draper | Tumblr. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2012. .

Sally & Betty, “…Bulimia’s so ’87…” -Heathers

Okay, but Mad Men…

I took two notes only during this week’s episode. Here is one:

“…yeah, she stayed skinny but her breath smelled like vomit all the time.” -gal at Miss Porter’s

So here we go. Sally’s concrete introduction to Bulimia right after Betty has mysteriously gotten down to her, “fighting weight”. Tom & Lorenzo fleetingly touched on this a few weeks back and any good viewer knows Betty did *whatever* it took to drop the pounds. And indeed, as control of her weight (despite unhealthy means) increased, Betty has become a happier, lighter Betty. Attention is back on her. She is valid again. She isn’t, ‘overweight and sad,’ like the Miss Porter’s student assumes, and society says that she should be at this point.

“Fat & happy” is nowhere in Betty’s realm of reality. We don’t even hear Betty say out loud that she is “happy” in her life until the tryst with Don at camp. All of the precarious pieces of her life are at that second, okay: Her worth is in tact (attractive, slim wife with “perfect” kids/husband/status), and she is so desirable that even her first husband, who put her through Hell, still wants her, not to mention the gas station attendant, and the acquaintance of her husband’s, and, and, and…

As a daughter to two eating disordered/addict parents, Sally’s future road is very likely a grim one, even if she can achieve a sheen of “success”. The choice to go to Miss Porter’s sets up a surprising turn. Viewers, myself included, predicted a quick turn to rebellion after witnessing Don’s pathetic infidelity (let’s admit it, zero about that scene was sexy — just desperate, gross, and sad… an addict with a drug), and indeed Sally could have taken that road. I mean, if Don doesn’t give a shit about his family or commitments, why should Sally? But Weiner is thus far taking us in a smarter and probably equally likely direction by exhibiting what we knew: that Sally is the singular adult of the whole family. Aside from Henry, the adults are virtual children and now Sally wants out of her role of having to always: state the obvious, speak the truth, and treat people according to the respect they’ve earned, rather than what they think they deserve. She’s done giving her energy to being the glue for a family that doesn’t care. She’s going to parent herself, responsibly, and well.

Let’s say Sally stays at Porter’s, gets into an Ivy League school or a European equivalent. Flash forward to 1984 — a late 20’s Sally is… what? Hyper successful, hyper perfectionist, likely emotionally shut, eating disordered, maybe addicted to something to keep her “edge”… a lawyer, a businesswoman… The images rolling through my brain are: Less Than Zero, Debra Winger, Jane Fonda, Legal Eagles, Murphy Brown, etc. That’s who Sally is set up to be. Where Betty was bred to succeed at being marriage material, and the perfect wife and mother, Sally will fall into the late 70’s-80’s: “Women can do it. All.” mindset, and we can already predict the cost.

Eating disorders for Sally are already ingrained and learned. Now, with her own concept of her success above her parents and family at stake, they will likely bloom.

The second note I made about this week’s ep. wasn’t so much a discovery as a summary about Don’s motivations. More on that later…