“Men weren’t really the enemy – – they were fellow victims suffering from an outmoded masculine mystique that made them feel unnecessarily inadequate when there were no bears to kill” Betty Friedan, Christian Science Monitor, April 1974
“Mad Men” portrays this “mystique” … women as subordinate and submissive, housewives, maybe secretaries, always standing behind their men, and only able to derive status from their husbands’ positions. The women who dared to deviate from this arrangement paid dearly (as did the women who submitted to it).
It appeared that men had it all… power, control, status, in general..superiority.
But Don Draper and his crew are deeply unhappy, tragic figures, and unlike women, they cannot cry about it (unless they are really really drunk). It was not manly to admit that maintaining their status was emptying them, requiring more and more illicit sex, alcohol, money, status and control, to keep their emotional reality at bay.
We can watch Mad Men with amazement at how different things used to be. That sexist system seems foreign to many of us today. The feminist movement did away with much of the gross nonsense of the era when men were in charge and that movement still goes on.
Yet many men are still left with deeply ingrained ideas about what it means to be a man, and an imperative to constantly prove themselves masculine. These ideas are handed down through the generations; fathers treating sons as if showing vulnerability was unmanly… allowing sisters, girl friends, wives to get control meant being a wimp. Teasing and ridicule reinforced this, and to complicate matters further, showing that you felt humiliated was further proof of your inadequacy as a man. So you had to build really thick walls to hide any hint of that vulnerability whatsoever.
“Mad Men” cannot allow themselves to feel controlled. Their masculinity is at stake. They have to stay on top. Remaining faithful can translate into being controlled, to being a wimp. It’s frequently an unconscious belief, but it is there…men are superior, therefore they are entitled to freedoms that women are not.
“Mad Men” are proud of what they can provide materially, because the more they provide the more status they derive. They cannot understand why their wives aren’t grateful for their derived status and why they demand emotional connection and faithfulness as well. The fact that their wives are unhappy makes them feel more inadequate and since they can’t talk about it, they lunge at the next big sale, the bottle, or the next woman to reinstitute their sense of masculinity. They emotionally withdraw from their wives to deaden the pain of being a disappointment. “Mad Men” must always be strong and invulnerable.
That was the 50’s and this is the 10’s. Sixty years later. A lot of men don’t act like that anymore. They really don’t want to exploit women. Yet I think that many men still have to contend with the demands of the mad man that is still in the cockpit deep down. The rules about “being a man” could not be erased completely through political action. Feeling like a real man is a lot more complicated than it used to be.