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And Then There's Joan

Last week I was meeting friends for a birthday lunch (Oh yeah, did I mention the past couple of days it was my birthday last week? Hope people got the memo) I couldn't figure out what dress to wear, so I played fashion show. One dress was too big (I've lost weight, go me!) one had a big spot, but there was one that was just right. I modeled it for my mother, then said "It's a Joan dress." Although my mother doesn't watch Mad Men, she knew who Joan was.



Joan Holloway Harris is a junior partner of SCDP (Sterling Cooper Draper and Price) advertising agency, rising from her office manager job. She got that partner job in a hard way. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I came to Mad Men late; to be honest I don't watch that much TV these days. I'll watch Dancing With The Stars, and I'm loving The Big Bang Theory. However, people kept on telling me you have to watch Mad Men, you have to watch Mad Men. So the summer of 2010, I watched the first two seasons. And I loved it.

Of course I identified with Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) the young secretary who isn't thrilled with men making passes at her and making fun of her weight. Yet Peggy is the one who in a quiet way gets ahead:she's the one who skips church to get the job done, calls Don Draper "Don" and in a non dramatic way tells Pete Campbell that she had his baby yet gave it up for adoption with no apologies, a tinge of regret. She tells Roger Sterling "No" when he tells her to get coffee. I have no idea what she saw in Duck Phillips (Duck, abandoning that beautiful dog? What gives?) But you wanted Peggy to win. When she left for another agency last week, it was sad. But you knew this was the best thing for her. If she stayed at SCDP, she would've gotten more and more angry and resentful. And that's not good for anyone when it comes to work.


And then we have Joan. Joan is that popular girl in the office, the one that always knows what to do and how to do it. She's the one who leads the conga line at the Christmas party, the one who is always perfectly dressed no matter what the occassion. She's the one who always can tell the truth and it might hurt, but you know she's right.


It hasn't been an easy road for Joan: in an early episode she had a chance to read soap opera scripts and tell advertisers where their ads would fit best in the show. Being a soaps fan girl, this is a job I would've LOVED. Yet Joan was replaced by someone else, a man. And she pretended it didn't matter, but it did matter. You wanted to hit Harry Crane in the head and say "You idiot! Don't you get the fact this woman will make this company millions?"

Yet it is this season Joan has grown and done things you might not agree with, but you root for her no matter what. After a fling with Roger Sterling, she got pregnant. Deciding this was the time to have a baby (she had two abortions) she gave birth off camera to Kevin Harris. Oh yeah, she's married. To a guy who raped her when they were engaged. This was when the viewer would just shake their head and say "Oh Joan." You say that a lot about her. Because she's like Peggy that way; you want her to win.

But back to what I was saying about Joan: After her maternity leave is up, she goes back to work. Dumps her awful husband when she finds out he enlisted again in Vietnam, then says he was never a good man, "and you know what I'm talking about."  You can't help but yell "Come on Joannie baby! Give it to the bastard!" She comforts Lane Pryce after he hits Pete Campbell by telling him people have been wanting to hit Pete for years. When Roger Sterling offers to help support Kevin, she turns him down, knowing that it would be bad for Kevin to have a father who would never acknowledge him as his son. But nothing could prepare us for the episode "The Other Woman."


The agency had been trying for a while to land the Jaguar account, which could make them flush with money.However, getting the account has been a dicey road. Finally one executive said they'd get the account if he had one night with Joan. Pete of course, was all for it. Don Draper refused. However the other partners are desperate. Pete and Lane figured out a deal: Joan would get five percent of the company, making her a junior partner. She agreed, and slept with the Jaguar guy. They got the account.

Twitter (which is now the water cooler for the world) lit up. In 140 characters or less, everyone had an opinion on what Joan did. Many feminists accused Matthew Weiner (the creator/writer of Mad Men) of misogyny. I hate disgreesing with my feminist sisters on this one, but I don't think it was misogyny. If anyone thinks that before the second wave of feminism started to blossom that women were treated a-okay in the workplace, they would be wrong. America in the fifties and sixties were not happy days for career women.  Women like Joan were raised to be admired and treated like, as Daisy Buchanan hoped her daughter would be treated, like a "beautiful little fool." Only Joan is nobody's fool. She knew what she wanted, and she got it. We might not like the way she did it, but she got it.  If the audience thinks that this is the end of it, it's not. Weiner is a smart enough writer that for the rest of the show's history Joan's Faustian deal will send aftershocks.

One has to also hope that this is also a setback for our Joan, or maybe even a turning point. Maybe she'll go to New Jersey and burn her bra in 1968. Or meet Gloria Steinem at an Esquire party and chat about NOW. There's one thing about Joan Holloway Harris: watch out for her. She might just surprise you.



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Jennifer, Having grown up in


Having grown up in this era and watching my mother return to the workforce in the early 70's after she spent years as a perfect suburban housewife, I agree that young women today have no idea of the struggles our mothers and grandmothers went through to gain some respect in the workplace.

I found the writing of this episode brilliant (as so many are), because of how Weiner layers each thing. We have Megan the new younger hippier female trying to make it in theatre, but diesovering that even younger men still follow that old male stereotype that judges a woman by her "assets" not her ability.

There is Peggy who finally got fed up with trying to get ahead without sleeping her way to the top, and being passed over.

And then there is Joan who kind of straddles the two generations. She is smart, but stuck as a product of her generation. In the end she chooses to sleep her way to security, as many women had to do. The 'sleeping' with the boss encompasses a lot more than actual sex. It also meant putting up with sexual comments, lewdness, making passes, putting up with being treated as less smart as the male bosses.

So, Weiner accomplishes a great deal in this episode. He continues to show how women evolve in the workplace over those two crucial decades following WWII when women did a "man's job" and then were forced to return to their turquoise kitchens in the suburbs and preside over the PTA.


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Right on Annette!

Let's also not forget Betty this season; Betty who gained weight and found herself unable to disguise her unhappiness (as she had done many times before) yet could be there for Sally when got her first period. Would the slimmer Betty been kind to Sally? Or because of Megan in the picture did that give her an edge for she is Sally's mom? Things to ponder...


Jennifer Gibbons, Red Room