Wednesday, September 3, 2008

'Maidenform' Reveals Mad Men Double Standards

MANHATTAN, New York (September 1, 2008) >> mad men virtuality >>
"Nothing fits both sides of a woman better than Playtex." Mad Men's 'Maidenform' episode is a view into the substrata of the prevailing social rules of the early-60's sexual double standard. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) maneuvers between the compartments of the complicated world he has chosen to create for himself. The pressures of reality on his walls of separation are mounting.

DISCLAIMER: The essay below contains plot spoilers about Season 2, Episode 6: "Maidenform." If you haven't seen that episode, check out the Mad Men schedule on to see when encore presentations are airing or download it from iTunes.

Women dressed like code for men in 1962: Shoes, stockings, skirts, dress straps, bras, accessories, etc. Clothes reveal how "men want to see them" according to Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss). Women's fashion of the era featured appropriate outfits for every occasion. Yves Saint Laurent had yet to score the knock-out blows against the established order with pant suits, safari wear and revamped color motifs.

Before the shakeup of the Sixties, privileged white males (like our Mad Men boys club) flaunted and exploited their positions of presumed authority over all women due to their gender. That perspective demanded uniforms of domestic, office and provocative attire from women. Men objectified and divided women into functional roles and sexual types (e.g., good girl versus bad girl). The Sterling Cooper self-ordained review committee typed the photo shoot bra models into two roles. As Don put it to the Playtex clients: "Two sides of one woman - Jackie (Kennedy) by day or Marilyn (Monroe) by night."

Peggy Olson did not fit at all and was laughed at as a Gertrude Stein or Irene Dunn (who won numerous Oscar awards for her acting). As Peggy put it, "Women expect to be as "men want to see them." When she is not included in activities related to her own account, she joins the after-hours mens' party dresses as the Devil in a Blue Dress to go to the strip club.

In the mind set of the time, it's acceptable to ogle swimsuit models at the golf club fashion show with families and kids but not OK for wife Betty Draper (January Jones) to wear a sexy bikini beach outfit in the privacy of her own kitchen. Don is merely reflecting the social onto his personal in ways that he increasingly cannot control. Don lives between his functions as a successful advertising executive and the difficulties of dealing with the psychological issues and processes of his marriage partner and children.

On a side note, an approaching series plot arc is foreshadowed as Duck Philips undergoes a series of self doubts. First, Duck cannot connect with his divorced family. Then, Duck must admit, "You have an 'I told you so; I hurt the company'," to Don about the American Airlines account fiasco. Finally, Duck confronts the urge to drink and releases the last link to his family - his dog Chauncy - onto the streets to fend for himself.

Mirrors Mirror
The thematic focus on the double standard is reinforced in the Maidenform episode by both the cinematic tools of mirrors and the reflection of the downside effect on our characters -- how they respond to one another and who they become. (That evidence will be explored in more detail as the season and accompanying commentary continues.)

The mirrored images are as obvious as Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) gazing at himself with smugness after his couch romp with the brassiere model. The day/night photo for the Jackie-by-day/Marilyn-by-night Sterling Cooper campaign pitch is visually representing a deeper level for our gazing or gawking at the social sexual double standard.

Don Draper and Bobbi Barrett (Melinda McGraw) watch themselves in the mirror in a stimulating and intoxicating turn-on. Then, Don suddenly senses and understands that Bobbie derives pleasure from him being her behavioral counter-party in a twisted pool of murky yin-yang S&M. Don Draper asks Bobbi as he is tying her wrists: "Does it make you feel better to think that I'm like you?"

Don also has two very different and awkward images of himself in his daughter Sally's eyes. First, she beams at him when he stands as one of the veterans at the country club. Then she comes into the bathroom to sit and watch her daddy shave in front of the mirror. The admiring look repeats the sequence and Sally's comment that "I'm not going to talk; I don't want you to hurt yourself," echoes and ricochets Bobbi's remarks in her bedroom. Don becomes very uncomfortable and sends Sally out. Don sits on the toilet seat reflected in yet another mirror at the close -- Narcissus incarnate darkly gazing into the lake of experiential realization. ///
c2008 by M.L.Duby // 'Maidenform' - Season 2, Episode 6 //


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