Reader: I woke up this morning to a freshly downloaded episode of Mad Men. And also, a headache you would not believe! Yet, in the hopes that one would fix the other, I pursued my duty of watching Mad Men and opining about it for the general public.
The episode begins, startlingly, with Ann-Margret in front of a blue screen singing “Bye Bye Birdie” directly into your face. It is a fun opening! And Ann-Margret is a sexy, sexy lady. But, my God, her voice was NOT a gentle welcome into my day. So, when the footage dies out, and we find ourselves back in the Sterling Cooper conference room (Sal: “Awwwww!”) I was more than ready to deal with one of the major themes of the episode (the only one I’ll be writing about here, in fact, because I love it so), which was, basically: Peggy being really, really irritated with Ann-Margret.
They are meant to rip off the “Bye Bye Birdie” scene, you see! For a Diet Pepsi (or, as per the terrible branding choice of the time, “Patio”) commercial. And Peggy is disenchanted with both Ann-Margret and with her colleagues’ praise of her, noting that the sexy schoolgirl commercial might not actually be the best choice for a product aimed at women. Her colleagues, having recently graduated from Sterling Cooper’s top-notch sensitivity training program, politely request that she not be such a “prude,” and tell her that she is “not fat any more,” since clearly only fat girls have issues with using sexy ladies to sell crap, and since they obviously only make those points because they are fat and therefore jealous, we don’t have to listen to them either. Everyone’s a winner!
“Can we at least make fun of it?” Peggy snipes, thereby affirming my eternal love for her. It would appear that Peggy has a headache, too! A headache from too much THE PATRIARCHY.
But, here is the thing: those boys in the conference room aren’t entirely wrong. Peggy does have issues with Ann-Margret because she has issues with her own sexuality. And, seriously, if YOU lost your virginity to Pete Campbell, and then had to WORK with Pete Campbell afterward whilst he treated you like crap to affirm his own ever-threatened masculinity, and THEN you became the office “fat girl” and got to experience what it is like to be excluded from the male gaze (if they want to bone you, they objectify you in a patronizing way; if they don’t want to bone you, they objectify you in a patronizing way; once again, everyone wins!), and THEN you found out that you were actually PREGNANT WITH A PETE CAMPBELL BABY you did not know about… well, you too would probably not be so enthusiastic about sexy times. When Peggy takes the idea to Don, complaining that “no one seems to care that it speaks to men,” he tells her that it speaks to women, too: “Men want her, so women want to be her. You know how this works.”
But Peggy doesn’t want that. Ann-Margret is basically the opposite of who Peggy wants to be. Or is she? At home, Peggy stands in front of the mirror and does Ann-Margret’s routine, switching back and forth from feigned coyness and cuteness to evident self-disgust. In the first scene, she wondered whether they could find an actress to “match Ann-Margret’s ability to be twenty-five and act fourteen.” She’s learning that she can do it – it is exactly what she can do, in fact; in terms of finding a sex fantasy to project for the dudes, “naughty schoolgirl” is probably the role Peggy Olsen can take on better than any other. But it’s weird, and threatening – Peggy has always refused to sexualize herself or to play with “feminine” wiliness or indirectness. She wants all the attention on her mind, because she’s afraid that once dudes start noticing her body they won’t see anything else. Yet the girl’s not made of stone; she has needs. And she can get at least some of them taken care of by playing the roles men have set out for her.
And then Peggy goes to a bar, acts the giggly secretary, takes home a boy, makes out with him, and leaves. The role, she’s discovered, is one she can take on – and it’s also one that she can ditch, at the precise moment that she doesn’t need it any more. It’s a troubling statement about female sexuality – do you really have to play the parts to get men interested, even when you don’t like them? Is that really what “empowerment” looks like? But, when Peggy ditches that sweet, dumb kid in the middle of the night, refusing to tell him even a little bit about who she really is or where he can find her, it’s impossible not to notice what she’s pulled off: she managed to get what she wanted without losing control. And, as far as anyone in the office is concerned, she’s still the version of Peggy Olsen that she has decided to be. “Limit your exposure,” indeed.
In other news: Don says that change can be a beautiful dance and affirms this by skeeving all over a barefoot flower child who teaches his children, Roger’s family is thoroughly tired of him and his off-screen wife “June,” the Brits are bad decision-makers and worse dinner partners, Betty’s pregnancy has made her terminally unbearable, someone FINALLY lays a decent amount of smack on Kinsey and his pretentious ramblings – and it’s Pete! – and Betty’s dad moves in with the family due to the fact that he has become a very depressing version of Abe Simpson. Next week, everyone!