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No-One’s Ever On Your Side: Betty Draper Francis Still Needs Your Love

So, Mad Men’s over now for another season. And we have a brand-new wife to hate! Hurrah! You guys, I am sure she is going to be so much worse than we can even plan for. And then we will get to write about the not-so-coded misogyny involved in how she is awful. But before we do that, we should talk about the big news this season: The Character Assassination of Betty Draper Francis, Bitchmonster At Large.

Yes, Betty is harder and meaner and more board-certified Yikes in this season than she has ever been. Yes, Betty is verbally and physically abusing her children. Yes, everything about her, from the tone of her voice to her wardrobe choices, has become somehow less attractive; in the show’s first season, she was this delicate little flower in floral prints, all softness and pastels and sympathetic brooding, and in this season, she’s a shellacked, sniping asshole, looking almost physically as if she’s in the process of developing some brittle exoskeleton to cover up anything vulnerable or human she might still be carrying around inside.

There have been plenty of stories about this, and blog posts, and more; I’ve ended up having at least one intense debate about it in my personal life. It’s something people just need to talk about, for whatever reason. Because the consensus is that the show is “ruining” the character, or forbidding us to like her, or generally trying to turn her into a monster or a caricature or a villain, and that this is a mistake or a misogynist ploy or a flaw in the show’s normally amazing understanding of and respect for its characters. And I just don’t think any of this is true. Betty Draper made me cry more this season than she ever has. She’s truer than she ever has been. Her character reads, to me anyway, as a way more powerful indictment of sexism and of her world than ever before.

Because, let’s start here: Betty, in her own estimation, has absolutely no power. Oh, sure, she’s got the rich lady power. And the white lady power. She gets to be an unforgivably racist fuck to Carla. But this is the norm in her social circle; the list of people we have seen being unforgivable racist fucks on this show includes Bert, Roger, Pete, Joan, Peggy, Roger again but with Hiroshima jokes instead of blackface, and Lane’s father, who hit him in the head with a stick. Nothing about Betty’s grossness is excusable, but she has the power of privilege, and this power (along with her abuses of it) is invisible to her because of how privilege works. She can only see the ways she’s not privileged. You know, sort of like Peggy! Who you love!

But in her mind, in terms of her subjective experience of her life, she’s never had power. It’s been implied, many and many a time, that Betty’s mother was also abusive — that Betty’s mother, basically, was Betty. Betty, unlike Sally, didn’t rebel; she didn’t have it in her, or didn’t have the support necessary to pull it off, or she just never knew that it was an option. Like a lot of abuse survivors, she keeps referring back to clearly terrible and scarring things that her mother said or did as if they were not only normal, but positive. She’s angry when Sally cuts her own hair because her mother used to threaten to cut her hair when she was bad; to everyone who hears this, it’s a story about having control over your own body, and the constant threat that someone else is going to take that control away from you in a way that you fear and hate. Betty thinks it’s a story about hair. This is the first truth of Betty Draper Francis: For her, there are no healthy relationships. There are abusers, and there are the abused.

And then, there was her marriage. Which was really no better or worse than a lot of marriages; she didn’t trust her husband, or know him, and he didn’t trust or know her, but it looked fine and all of the outside checkpoints — money, kids, social status — were being met. The neighbors were so jealous of the handsome man who came back smelling like other women and acted like he might hit her when his boss flirted with her. You want to bounce me off the walls? But he didn’t. And how many stories is that, really? More crucially: What are the chances that any of the women she knew would share their own stories honestly enough for her to verify how normal or not-normal it was? And, even more crucially: Had Betty ever existed outside a context of abuse for long enough to know that she could or should expect more? This is the second truth of Betty: She’s never had goodness, or healthiness, but she knows what it’s supposed to look like. As far as she’s concerned, what it looks like is what it is. She can’t tell the difference between an apple and a ball of wax made to look like an apple; she’ll eat either, probably, but she’s more used to how the second one tastes.

Every single season of Mad Men, prior to this one — every one — climaxed with Betty figuring out that Don wasn’t who he seemed to be. She knew that he was spying on her therapy sessions and that he was cheating on her; it wasn’t enough to make her leave him. She knew that he was cheating on her, and that other people knew he was cheating on her; that was very nearly enough. She figured out that literally everything about him was a lie or the omission of a critical truth; that was what broke it. And even then, it only broke because she actually had an escape route. She had another stranger that looked good from the outside, another big wax apple. But imagine that your life has been Betty’s life; abused, lied to, “disrespected,” disappointed, betrayed. And now there is someone you are actually allowed to be angry at. Now, finally, you have someone that it’s okay to blame. That’s the third truth: Betty has always been this angry. She’s always wanted to just stand there and scream that she hates somebody, that she wants him (her, them) dead. But now, she has an excuse. It’s him, Don, that bastard, that cheating drunk lying fraud son of a fucking bitch, the one place in the world that she is allowed to aim her anger. It’s all his fault.

And she just can’t stop doing it, the screaming and the blaming, even though it’s been going on way too loudly for way too long and no-one has any sympathy for it any more. Betty can’t let it go; now that she knows how to be angry, and how to let people know that she’s angry, she just can’t stop. I mean, consider: It took her several years, three kids, and countless life-altering, scandalous revelations for her to be able to talk to Don the way she now talks to Henry Francis pretty much every day. In previous seasons, when Betty was upset in the middle of a business dinner, her hands just went numb, or she threw up in the car on the way home. This season, she stomps off to the bathroom and has an out-and-out fit. She’s hit the mother load. We all said we wanted Betty to get in touch with her anger, but we expected that anger to look admirable and positive and feminist. We didn’t consider that it might just be anger. That she might just not bother to think about how she was serving the world or women or the audience when she finally got to the point of rage.

And it’s not Don’s fault. Maybe it was, but that’s over now; what happens to Betty is pretty much exclusively Betty’s fault from here on out. She grew up thinking that there were two roles to play, abuser and abused. Now that she wants power, now that she’s sick of being abused, she’s chosen to become an abuser. She honestly does see that as her only other option. She’s angry at something that happened to her so long ago she can’t even exactly name it, but she’s playing that thing out with her children, and especially with her daughter, every single damn day. She’s become her own worst problem; every single time, every single time, she screams at Sally or hits her or threatens to cut her fingers off, she makes it that much less likely that she will ever be able to face how fucked up she is and get over it. It’s not easy to come to terms with what was done to you. But it’s much, much harder to come to terms with what you do.

That’s why Betty makes me cry so much this season, why her scenes make me sick to my stomach and why I feel for her more than ever: We talk a lot, in feminist communities, about abuse. And we talk a lot about how oppression can warp your understanding of self, about how some people raised in an oppressive system will internalize that system. We talk about how people who are victims of abuse often perpetrate it. I just don’t think we were prepared to see that play itself out on Mad Men. We wanted Betty to read The Feminine Mystique and get her mind blown and rise above; or, we wanted her to stay a victim, so we could relate to her better, or at least keep feeling sorry for her. But sometimes, people just get damaged until they start damaging. Sometimes, people are lost. We hate Betty now because she’s not going to stay a victim, but the truth is, she’s also not going to be saved.

It was the scenes with the child psychiatrist that did it for me. Some will argue that January Jones is a terrible actress, and to them I submit: The scenes in the child psychiatrist’s office. She became an entirely different person for those few minutes of film; you could see her getting softer, and sweeter, and more human, every second. All because someone — a woman, older than her, an authority figure — talked to her gently, and quietly, and responded to her worst, yikesiest statements only with, “that must be a terrible feeling.” You know: It really must be. All of Betty’s feelings must be so, so terrible. But it was clear, even then, that this woman was scared of her, and scared for her daughter. You could see the potential for Betty to heal, in those few scenes. But that wasn’t the message of the scenes themselves. The message was that her chance was gone; she wasn’t a child any more, and she had to be judged by adult standards. She still needs love, so badly, but she just doesn’t deserve it any more, and giving it to her is just too risky. Help came too late. And how many stories is that, really?

49 Comments

  1. What a wonderful post. I feel like in the second season there was this glimmer of possibility for Betty: when she confronted Don and said, plainly, you don’t love me, and sees through his sales pitch, when she bonds with divorcee Helen Bishop who tells her ‘the scary thing is realizing you’re in change.” Even her little bathroom fling was refreshingly human. But then her pregnancy makes her cling back to her marriage against everything she knows about it.And, to steal your line, how many stories is that?

    Monday, October 18, 2010 at 9:46 pm | Permalink
  2. Nicole wrote:

    Thank You For This.

    Monday, October 18, 2010 at 9:51 pm | Permalink
  3. Muffin wrote:

    This was a fantastic post. I’m so tired of people writing off Betty as just being a bad person. We’ve seen her for four seasons. We should have a better understanding of what this is by now.

    Monday, October 18, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Permalink
  4. Zoe wrote:

    Thank you so much for this. I haven’t been comfortable writing Betty off this season, even though she frustrates me, but all my analysis was stale. 20 hours a week I’m interning at the local domestic violence and rape crisis center, and you’ve brought it back to what I know from that. People who’ve lived in a relentless state of trauma (however muted) are not going to be at their best. Protecting her kids is important, but so is self-determination. I really hope she continues to talk to the child psychiatrist, who can help hold and support Betty’s terrible feelings.

    Love your words and your ideas, Sady.

    Monday, October 18, 2010 at 10:40 pm | Permalink
  5. Yes. Thank you for this. Every scene she did made me hope, for a second, that I might get a glimpse of her redemption. That it wasn’t to be found made the story so painfully real. I think they’ve done a beautiful job with this character and story arc – and that’s a painful thing to contemplate.

    Monday, October 18, 2010 at 10:51 pm | Permalink
  6. Paula wrote:

    Thank you for this insightful look at Betty. So much better than reading posts on Facebook that just say “OMG! Betty is such a bitch!”

    Monday, October 18, 2010 at 11:03 pm | Permalink
  7. SpitNDuctTape wrote:

    I get what you are saying, Sady – or at least I think I do… But as the daughter of an abusive mother who excused every one of her beatings, screamings, lock-ups and bids for control with “I was abused as a child”…

    I just can’t. I can’t go there. Betty can cry me six hundred fucking rivers. I am tired to the bone of people going to the place of “she’s lashing out because she is in SUCH PAIN.” Everyone in a 600 mile radius gets to be in Betty’s pain and to have their lives destroyed by her terrible feelings. Betty is a raging asshole. May a farmhouse land on her asshole head.

    I want to know about the sadnesses and losses of Carla. That ought to fill up a few seasons. Or a few dozens.

    Monday, October 18, 2010 at 11:13 pm | Permalink
  8. Yatima wrote:

    “It’s not easy to come to terms with what was done to you. But it’s much, much harder to come to terms with what you do.”

    Yes. This.

    Monday, October 18, 2010 at 11:17 pm | Permalink
  9. Kate wrote:

    I haven’t watched ANY mad men (I KNOW). However, this hit pretty close to home.

    I feel like everyone feels like the line between abuser and abused is a thick, wide line. The truth is, it’s a thin, porous one. And sometimes, the gap is so thin that there is no difference. You are both, at the same time.

    I am lucky that I have been able to keep myself out of positions where I would become an abuser. I think I’m pretty safe now (as much as anyone is) but there is no question in my mind that, had I been living in a world where you got married and had babies right away, I would be Betty Draper, or similar. I’m 26 and I have only just worked out, frankly, that there are real apples. And that you can eat them. That there are OPTIONS and CHOICES and you can behave in different ways.

    I know that seems obvious, and of course I always knew it was true. But you don’t Know that it’s true, so you just react react react. Even when the power is in your hands, you still feel powerless, so you don’t realise what you are doing to others. Because how CAN you be hurting them, you who has no say over anything, ever.

    You’re right, it’s a horrible feeling. And the only thing that really fixes it is real, unconditional love. But how do you find that when you don’t know how to tell the difference, because all you’ve ever had was little pieces of conditional love?

    Monday, October 18, 2010 at 11:40 pm | Permalink
  10. Andrew wrote:

    Was gonna post a comment but I turned it into sort of a tumblr reblog because it got long and had a lot to do with my personal life. Short version: Betty Draper is apparently the same person as my mom. Long version: http://andrewtsks.tumblr.com/post/1349679078/its-been-implied-many-and-many-a-time-that

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 2:44 am | Permalink
  11. Maud wrote:

    I’ve never seen Mad Men, but this post was fascinating, and poignant, and rings so true.

    And for what it’s worth, SpitNDuctTape, I don’t think anything Sady wrote excuses, or is intended to excuse, the harm Betty is doing, or to be sympathetic to her abusiveness. As she wrote, “what happens to Betty is pretty much exclusively Betty’s fault from here on out.” I don’t think there’s any suggestion that the harm Betty perpetrates on others is not also her fault.

    Crying while you watch someone who’s been abused become the abuser doesn’t mean you are sympathetic to who they’ve become or to their behavior. It just means it’s a horribly painful thing to watch, and to recognize as true, and as happening over and over again.

    As Sady says,”how many stories is that, really?” That, the perpetuation of that, is heartbreaking.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 5:43 am | Permalink
  12. Erin wrote:

    Thank you so much for this. I’ve had a hard time articulating my belief that that Betty’s descent from sympathetic victim to raging asshole was not a failure on the part of the writers or January Jones, but perhaps the bravest and most conscious choice in a show full of both.

    The hardest parts for me are the scenes which emphasize Betty’s childishness. Her barely-concealed desperation when the psychiatrist suggests that Betty should see a therapist who works with adults; her pretty, almost-lisping apologies to Henry on the occasions when she decides that being sorry is temporarily easier than being angry; and that killer scene last night when she curled up in Sally’s empty bed. Betty has all the power and rage of an adult combined with the fear and desperation of an abused child – and nobody’s sorry for her anymore. January deserves a lot of credit, in my opinion, for portraying that terrible emotional state without judgment or ironic distance.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 8:41 am | Permalink
  13. laura k wrote:

    And this is why I continue to love Mad Men, and its writers. Yes, it’s a flawed show and problematic and all that…but. The writers don’t hold back from showing people as they are, in all their ugliness and imperfection. Television is so often about showing us people as we think they should be. But people are mostly messes. I appreciate seeing the mistakes, the horrible-ness. Even when I’m cringing and shouting out about how horrible it all is.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  14. Elizabeth wrote:

    For so many seasons I had assumed that Betty and her mom both were abused by their position in society. Bonehead me, I didn’t put it together that Betty was actually physically abused by her mom, on top of it all. I am so grateful that someone on the Internet is explaining Betty in a way that respects here will acknowledging the damage she perpetuates. Thank you!

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Permalink
  15. Snarky's Machine wrote:

    “I want to know about the sadnesses and losses of Carla. That ought to fill up a few seasons. Or a few dozens.”

    Me too. That said, The evolution of Betty’s anger has been intriguing. She’s been bottled up for years and now she’s finally uncorked and it’s spilling on everything. I can’t imagine what’s in store for the character next season.

    I don’t think Jones is a strong actor, but she’s very adept at playing Betty, a character that doesn’t read to be as particularly nuanced and sharply shifts moods in a way that seems a bit to dinner theater-ish for my own person preferences in an actor, but is well utilized on Mad Men.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Permalink
  16. Amelia Jane wrote:

    So, how do you come to terms with it when Betty Draper is a member of your family? (By which, of course, I mean, my family.)

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink
  17. liz wrote:

    Whatever, Sady, your sadness is clearly really because you’re not as pretty as January Jones. Matt Weiner: “How much of it is the child and how much is the mom? One thing I say about Betty — I saw the word “monster” used. People must see a lot in themselves, or they wouldn’t be reacting so strongly. I guarantee one thing: If she weren’t so good-looking, they wouldn’t have a problem.”

    (no, really, though, this is the read on why *the reaction to* Betty’s characterization has been so incredibly frustrating I’ve been waiting for)

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Permalink
  18. David wrote:

    Great perspective, and the comments have also been most enlightening. Thanks, all of you.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 8:21 pm | Permalink
  19. Kimberly wrote:

    I love how you picked up on the most shocking line of this episode: “No one’s ever on your side, Betty.” Your analysis of Betty is insightful and empathetic. Thanks!

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 3:36 am | Permalink
  20. Emily wrote:

    I was so glad to find this. I was going to google something about “no one’s ever on your side” last night but I was too tired after the show. It’s incredible what she’s become. It’s really textbook abused child behavior only you get to see it in an adult. I mean, she’s turned into a bully and ruthless one at that. Adults are so much more dangerous than kids can be after all. I feel bad for her, she can’t even have a therapy session of her own, she has to mooch off of her daughter’s therapy couch in order for someone to listen to her. She thinks if it’s actually her own session, it will turn bad or be like the last time she had therapy. The woman actually thinks the entire world is out to get her, so she hides inside of this exterior she’s built to live in. And she tears innocent victims (Carla) down just out of some kind of elaborate defense mechanism. I mean, this was a woman who spoke Italian in Italy and smiled at strangers and never wanted to leave! She has crumbled.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink
  21. nm wrote:

    This is a great post. I would add only that I bet at some point in her childhood Betty did rebel. And fail at getting herself free, emotionally speaking. So now she’s sure it’s futile. At least, that’s how I read her overwhelming rage at Sally’s attempts at rebellion.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink
  22. Meg wrote:

    I understand what you’re saying but I think the last lines are the most important – she’s beyond saving. Those scenes with the therapist were the only moments where Betty looked like she could heal and move on but her disinterest in actually pursuing it – and wrenching Sally from the same environment – indicate she’s uncomfortable doing anything besides controlling the situation as much as she can. And while that is saddening, I don’t pity her because of the consequences of her actions. You’re right, she’s not a child anymore. Every abusive step she takes threatens to make Sally Draper into a model of Betty, like mother like daughter. Fortunately, Sally seems to be resisting this and has hopefully found a new mother figure in Megan but that doesn’t excuse Betty’s actions. We can pity her, but right now she’s her own worst enemy, and to a large extent, that of her family.

    And to be clear, Don and Betty’s mother share some of the blame here, but at the end of the day, we are responsible for our own actions.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink
  23. Carrie wrote:

    I’m completely blown away by your perspective and your eloquence.

    I have a fascination with January Jones, and would love to see you give the person, not just the character, the same critical insight. I’ve come to admire her a lot over the arc of Mad Men, and am saddened to hear that people think she’s a bad actress. And yet I believe only a spot on portrayal of such an unlikable character could compel us to transfer our ire to her.

    I watched her nervously and quietly appear as a guest on Project Runway, where the audience was waiting (demanding!) for her to get all Betty Draper on them. What a disappointment to find out that she is by all appearances simply sweet and articulate.

    That’s not to say I want to undermine the harm that Betty Draper causes to everyone around her. There’s no excuse for her behavior to Sally or Carla. I just wonder why she has inspired so much more venom than other really unlikable characters and villains in this show and others that we struggle to dislike.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Permalink
  24. cat wrote:

    This is an amazing post. I hate when people talk about Betty as a monster without even bothering to think deeply about her character.

    I do think the the show went too far in villainizing her this season without giving her anything else to do. I also think you’re letting Don off too easily. After all, it’s because of him that she can’t even trust an adult psychiatrist.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink
  25. Jennifer wrote:

    Absolutely brilliant post. Thank you. As with many here, I see a lot of my own mother in Betty. They even have the same name, which is a bit creepy for me actually, but also cathartic, especially since my mom just passed away. This post has made me rethink my adoration for my maternal grandmother, whom I have always excused from responsibility when considering my mother’s abusive behavior, even though I know she was physically abusive to my mom, at least by today’s standards (not by the standards of the 1950′s, though).

    On another note, in response to LIZ – I thnk Weiner, whether he intended to be insulting or not, has a point worth considering. Aesthetic beauty gives a person a measure of power in our society, and it also sets a person up for certain behavioral expectations (e.g. that they behave in a way that does not mar that beauty). I think that it speaks to society’s privilege of physical beauty that people WOULD be more accepting and less horrified by Betty’s character if she were less physically attractive.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink
  26. latenac wrote:

    I get a lot of what you’ve written. It seemed clear from fairly early on that Betty was haunted by her mother while still trying to become her mother. I’ve seen that happen even in non-abusive mother-daughter relationships. I do think though that Betty did have a chance to rebel or even did rebel when she moved to NYC and became a model. Heck given how her father felt about Don even marrying him was an act of rebellion probably. Even Don refusing to spank the kids gave her an example of another way of parenting. She has had opportunities to see other options in her life but has consciously or unconsciously rejected them in order to keep up appearances and become her mother. I guess I am a little sad for Betty but her complete self-centeredness makes it hard to do anything but dislike her. As much as I’m not sure Megan is right for Don, I do know she’s right for the kids if just for the milkshake scene alone.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Permalink
  27. Sharon wrote:

    What an insightful post!

    I also agree that January Jones is underestimated as an actor. Another scene in which I found her to be particularly moving was the one where Don tells her he’s engaged. The range of emotions that flickered across her face before being brought under control was powerful.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink
  28. gogo wrote:

    I always thought marrying Don was Betty’s rebellion. It was clear her father & brother didn’t think much of him. And look how it turned out for her.

    Seeing the next man as the way out of her bad situation was so typical of the times, ask my mom! Once divorced in ’64 or so, she was determined to never go down that path again. As long as Henry is not an active adulterer, Betty will probably stick with whatever unsatisfactory situation she has bought into, rather than suffer the immense humiliation of being twice divorced. Betty has no idea how to survive on her own, it doesn’t occur to her to try.

    Don is doing the exact same thing, marrying Megan, who he thinks is googley-eyed for him, and who makes him googley, too. We don’t know who is selling and who is buying. When Don told Megan, “You don’t know anything about me.” I shouted, “And that’s how you like it, Draper!”

    Remember when Faye was new and seemed to have Don’s number and appeared to be the first woman to resist his allure? She told him he’d be married again in a year. Don yelped, “What?” and she said something like, “Sorry, I forgot people don’t like being told they’re a type.” Then she threw all her psychological insight in the dustbin and went against her best instincts to fuck around with Don anyway. And she was right, it hasn’t yet been a year and he’s engaged, and she’s dumped.

    I think Faye may be part of Don being publicly unmasked in future episodes.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Permalink
  29. Patrick wrote:

    I’ve thought the same thing for a long while. We’re shocked by the gauntlet of sexism and misogyny Joan and Peggy are put through every episode, yet, hypocritically, we look at Betty as a monster and excuse Don’s transgressions. I think it’s a great example of how the writers expose our own hypocrisy and show us how far we still have to go.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Permalink
  30. zina wrote:

    I agree with all you say, but I think a bit of context might help. Betty is just the most obvious of the abusers on the show: Don, an abused child, has been bullying, using, abusing, and manipulating other people (including the women in his life, and Betty most of all) to deal with his childhood traumas. Pete had horrible parents, and is not a very nice person as a result. We don’t know much about Joan’s background, but we know that she acted like a prison matron toward the secretaries in the agency (the least powerful people there), and was quite cruel toward her lesbian friend when she confessed to being in love with her. At the risk of sounding cynical, I’d say that the fascination of Mad Men comes from its depiction of ordinary (in the social sense) people (not mobsters, drug dealers, hitmen), who are casually and ordinarily cruel to others, because they can, and that is the most realistic aspect of the show, not the clothes or the furniture. Betty strikes us as worse because she is a mother and pop culture keeps brainwashing us into thinking that motherhood automatically makes women into saints. Also, this past season we have seen Betty this season through the eyes of Sally. Do you remember the time in your teens when you believed that your parents were the worst people on earth? This is what we are seeing: a run-of-the-mill bad mom, whose daughter is blaming her entirely for the divorce, and who idealizes her absentee, distant father, who has never spent enough time with her, before or after the divorce, to be abusive toward her.

    Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 12:18 am | Permalink
  31. Evan (a lady) wrote:

    To Andrew and to others whom it may apply, I have to say: things will get better. Maybe not for your relationship with your mom, but like you said, she never really caught on to how abusive her relationships were. YOU have. My grandparents are pretty okay grandparents, but they were terrible, abusive parents (my paternal grandfather is the only one who wasn’t, as far as I can see. With his engineer’s mind, he was simply emotionally absent and detached, rather than actually actively abusive), to an extent that I can never imagine, but has only been implied. From what I do know, and what I can see, I wouldn’t blame my mother if she never spoke to her mother again, though she tries. But she knew how terrible it was, and so did my father, and so they ended up being fantastic parents. Not perfect by any means, and we’ve certainly had our issues, but I have turned out quite well as far as my parents could influence, and the ways I’m fucked up are hardly their fault at all. Unless you count the issues I’ve had as a girl named Evan (as opposed to a boy named Sue). What I’m trying to say to you, total stranger I feel compelled to advise through the powers of Tiger Beatdown to make people feel okay, is that YOUR children are going to be fantastic, should you decide to have any if you don’t already. Or at least, probably not fucked up by you. Because you are aware of the cycle of abuse, and therefore probably won’t perpetuate it.

    I really need to catch up with Mad Men. I’m a season or two behind.

    Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 2:59 am | Permalink
  32. Maria wrote:

    After Season 3′s finale January Jones was in New York rehearsing for SNL and I ran into her on Madison Avenue on my lunch hour. I approached her and told her how much I enjoy the show. She is a very sweet,shy,unassuming young woman. She shook my hand and thanked me for my comments on Mad Men. As I walked away I thought of how different she is from the character she plays and that made me think that she’s making it look easy but she’s doing a great job of acting the part. I hope we see more of Betty in Season 5. It’s hard to predict what the writers have in store for her but I hope there is an opportunity for redemption next Season.

    Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 10:19 am | Permalink
  33. Angela wrote:

    [29.Patrick wrote:
    I’ve thought the same thing for a long while. We’re shocked by the gauntlet of sexism and misogyny Joan and Peggy are put through every episode, yet, hypocritically, we look at Betty as a monster and excuse Don’s transgressions. I think it’s a great example of how the writers expose our own hypocrisy and show us how far we still have to go.]

    Yes! I was thinking the exact same thing. All the characters seem to have both likeable and unlikeable qualities, that’s what makes the show so great.

    Regarding Betty, I never really liked her character from the start but I pitied her. She always had something steely underneath that didn’t quite play right with her sweet persona and I wasn’t able to pin it down until now. Thanks for the thought provoking article.

    I’ve not seen January Jones in much but I hear she’s a baddie in the new X-Men film, should be interseting to see her play someone else.

    Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 10:34 am | Permalink
  34. elisa wrote:

    god i want to send this to my mother. she wouldn’t get it, but still.

    Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Permalink
  35. KK wrote:

    @spitnducttape:

    I so hear you. This, to me, is the saddest truth. For those of us who grew up with abusive parents/adults, who have suffered in abusive relationships and marriages, this is truly my question:

    All the Bettys in the world, men and women, are a product of their own upbringing. They are merely acting out, coping the best way they know how. They are damaged souls. We can applaud the Dons and Bettys when they finally get help, and be glad and relieved for them that they are healing their inner wounds.

    But… what about *their* victims? All of us, their children and spouses, who are in turn damaged to the core of our being, sometimes permanently changed by their selfish cruelties? What are we, collateral damage? Sure, we go get therapy and learn to move on.

    But there is no Fresh Start for us, either.

    Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Permalink
  36. Wow, great essay, wonderful insight into a complex and fascinating character.

    I loved what you said about “we want her to be angry but only in a way we can admire.” Right on.

    Everything I want to say has been said in other comments, especially that JJ is an amazing actress, for all the reasons cited above.

    My only addition is that I find lots of comments (not here) admiring Pete and how much they love his character and how he’s grown. I always think that’s so odd. While we hate on Betty, we excuse a man who cheats on his wife, essentially rapes his babysitter, and rubs his wealth and priviledge in people’s faces every chance he gets. He has a lot less excuse for his bad behavior than Betty has for hers, but the audience seems to cut him so much more slack.

    Thanks again for your insightful commentary.

    Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink
  37. Toni Press-Coffman wrote:

    I enjoyed reading this post and enjoyed reading all the comments just as much. I too had an abusive mother, and a therapist who said to me once, “try to remember that she’s your mother – you’re not her mother” (because I was attempting to explain away my mom’s bad behavior). My mother did change, though. And as an adult we discussed her having been abusive to me, something I never thought possible. I have some hope for moving Betty toward – not redemption perhaps but at least toward a bit of insight.

    I also feel compelled to say that I think January Jones has done an extraordinary job bringing Betty to life. I am shocked to learn that folks think she’s a bad actress. I think she’s wonderful and look forward to seeing more of her work.
    (See her performance in “Pirate Radio” or “Radio Pirate” or whatever it’s called to see just how wonderful she is. Completely different role; completely different performance.)

    Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Permalink
  38. Danielle wrote:

    This is an awesome post!!! I don’t understand people saying January Jones is a bad actor though.

    Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 7:37 pm | Permalink
  39. betty's daughter wrote:

    Wow. I had no idea so many parents I know are either monsters or adult versions of abused children. Betty’s an unfulfilled person and a crap mother no doubt, but I always thought she was doing the best she can with what she knows – which is apparently not very much. She embodied her society’s version of a desirable woman when she took on adulthood (half adorable child, half worldly princess) and shocker -found it could barely get her through the first few years in the suburbs, faced with kids, boredom, limited spheres of power, and fleeting moments of intellectual, emotional, or spiritual stimulation. I love the way she’s been costumed in increasingly matronly first-lady outfits, still trying desperately to act like a grownup,whatever that is. I agree with the other posters who point out that there are other characters who do equally rotten things to their kids and servants – it’s just they get scenes in which to be redeemingly cool, charming, plucky, barrier-breaking, or in some other way forgivable. ‘Aging’ upper-middle class housewives just didn’t have many forgiving venues in 65. But it’s not too late for Betty Draper. It’s all still waiting for her. Anti-war mother’s leagues and consciousness-raising meetings; zipless fucks in Italy and Santa Fe painting retreats; rehab, a mid-life career, hell, maybe even just a little money of her own to spend fixing up her own place by the sea. One day, she and grown-up Sally will get a little drunk there, giggling over our bodies ourselves or something, and Betty will finally have the language to explain her mistakes. And like most of our mothers, she will be forgiven.

    Friday, October 22, 2010 at 3:17 am | Permalink
  40. lil sis wrote:

    i love the way you analyze pop culture, pleaseee do more posts about mad men!!!

    i don’t get the whole glenn/betty thing….am i missing something?? what happened there? she gave him her hair, he was weird(ish), now she despises him? i don’t get it :/

    Friday, October 22, 2010 at 8:40 am | Permalink
  41. Sean wrote:

    Thank you for a great analysis, Sady. I really enjoyed reading your take on Betty.

    Lil Sis, I think that with Glenn, the hair led to her being shamed. She reached out to the social outcast in her community, and that interaction bit her. She was more horrified that people would know that Don cheated on her, and she was horrified that Helen was questioning her behavior.

    That said, even as her decisions have seemed wrong, wrong, wrong, that boy is creepy. He’s like a junior version of Zach Galifinakis in the Between Two Ferns episodes. He’s the awkward boy who knows too much.

    Friday, October 22, 2010 at 11:52 am | Permalink
  42. lizriz wrote:

    Thank you.

    Friday, October 22, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Permalink
  43. Love, love, love this post. And to that I should add: I’ve never even seen Mad Men.
    The chain of history as a perpetuation of the cycle of abuse is a subject long of interest to me. What breaks the cycle? And is forgiveness more important than blame? Put another way: is it acceptable to move on if that means that abusers aren’t held accountable?
    I often argue that the perpetuation of abuse stems, as you say it does, from the victims belief that there isn’t something better because dysfunction is all they know.
    I’m kind of rambling, but I’d like to add that this line is a thing of beauty that should be on a fucking greeting card: “It’s not easy to come to terms with what was done to you. But it’s much, much harder to come to terms with what you do.”

    Saturday, October 23, 2010 at 1:41 am | Permalink
  44. victoria highcastle wrote:

    What I find amazing, is that no one comments on the obvious metaphor that Betty manifests regarding advertising during the era portrayed. ‘She isn’t healthy, but she knows what it looks like.’ I tend to think that many of the comments, which are very genuine and heartfelt, and to which I do not want to demean or dishonor, are incredibly personal, but that is not what Betty is really about, although , if that is what moves you… Betty encompasses so much of what happened between the 50′s and 60′s. She is the composite of everything distilled to the point of peroxide poisoning ala Sandra Dee in the late 50′s. But, as we see her in the realm of 60′s advertising; we see escalating access to more of the population than ever before with the addition of television; and the power of the sponsored medium to continue its sexual objectification, materialistic panaceas, as well as the news and its reportage of things like civil rights, assassinations, the pill…..Betty is holding on…in a soon to be great divide.

    Saturday, October 23, 2010 at 3:48 am | Permalink
  45. This week, I told a few stories about my family online, and people commented on them with the word abuse. Every time I wanted to say “no, you got it wrong, this is selection bias, I’m only saying the bad things here because we’re discussing bad things, it wasn’t all bad, it’s not abuse”, and every time I remembered “Betty thinks it’s a story about hair.”

    Sunday, October 24, 2010 at 5:42 am | Permalink
  46. Lorna wrote:

    What scares me the most is that there are so many Betty’s out there today in all stages of their lives and passing the torch if they have or will have daughters. This character in a TV show that we are being maneuvered into “hating” I am sure is being recognized by many female viewers as themselves, and hopefully fiction can alter reality.Thank you for this post because I now realize Betty MUST become whole by facing her pain to save herself. She WAS an angel in S1(but only when she thought she was truly loved by Don.) MW needs to let the viewers see Betty realize who needs a Don? (Or a Henry either…)Love yourself Betty and break the cycle!
    How could I have been so blind?

    Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Permalink
  47. tenacitus wrote:

    Thank you very much for posting this. There were many things about Betty that remind me of my ex. Sometimes she could be very angry, sometimes for good reason but unfortunately she could be a bully and drive everyone away.

    Now that I have finished season 4 I really dislike Don Draper, its true he tries to be good at his job but he such a big fucking asshole.

    As you very rightly called it he cheated on his wife, got mad at her because his friend hit on her, he has her take care of the kids and lies to her about everytthing. Of course she feels very betrayed because she gave him everything and got nothing.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 10:51 pm | Permalink
  48. maria wrote:

    Thank you for this terrific essay and your uncanny insight.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 4:06 am | Permalink
  49. N'Awlins Contrarian wrote:

    Interestingly, for whatever this tells you (you tell me what it tells you), apparently Democrats like Mad Men much better than Republicans do; see http://tv.yahoo.com/blog/the-reign-of-rightwing-primetime–1740.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink