The Mad Men Scene That Has Everyone Talking

Photo: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC.
Mad Men has always been a shocking and unapologetic portrayal of sexism in the workplace. On last night's episode, Don searched fruitlessly for the perfect model to embody a fur campaign. At one point in the episode, Ted walked into Don's office holding an actual binder full of women, saying how hard it was to choose the perfect one. "There are three women in every man's life," Ted says philosophically. He doesn't break them down, because that had already been done earlier in the episode during a painful exchange between Peggy and Joan.

Peggy and Joan have come extremely far since season 1, when Peggy was Don's secretary, and the extremely image-conscious Joan traded in gossip as the office manager. On last night's episode, they met with three men from McCann Erickson — SC&P's new majority shareholder — to discuss a potential relationship between Topaz pantyhose (an SC&P client) and Marshall Field's (a McCann Erickson client). Peggy and Joan arrived with a fact sheet, ready to talk price per unit and sing the praises of upmarket hose. 

"So you can pull them down over and over," one of the men from McCann quips after Peggy's matter-of-fact product description.

"You can use them quite a few times before they run or lose shape," Peggy responds, refusing to play his game.

"Why aren't you in the brassiere business? You should be in the bra business. You're a work of art," one of the men says to Joan, going for a more direct approach. 

Neither Peggy nor Joan lose their cool in the meeting, finally directing the men's attention to the fact sheet about Topaz and the matter at hand. It's not until the elevator (where so many of Mad Men's most important exchanges take place) that the tension comes to a head. Rather than turning into a "sisterhood is powerful" moment where the two commiserate about the ridiculous sexism and harassment they just faced while trying to do their jobs, Peggy and Joan turned against each other.

Peggy: So, should we get lunch?
Joan: I want to burn this place down.
Peggy: I know, they were awful. But at least we got a yes. Would you have rather had a friendly no?
Joan: I don't expect you to understand.
Peggy: Joan, you've never experienced that before?
Joan: Have you, Peggy?
Peggy: You can't have it both ways. You can't dress the way you do and expect...
Joan: How do I dress?
Peggy: Look, they didn't take me seriously, either.
Joan: So what you're saying is: I don't dress the way you do because I don't look like you, and that's very, very true.
Peggy: You know what? You're filthy rich. You don't have to do anything you don't want to.
Photo: Courtesy of AMC.
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"Joan uses this as an attempt to say to Peggy, 'You know, you don't have the same problems as I do because you don't look like me,' which is probably the meanest thing that she's ever said to her," series creator Matthew Weiner says in AMC's behind-the-scenes video about the episode. 

Joan and Peggy have never been best friends, and they were both reacting impulsively to a traumatic experience. Still, it was disappointing that their immediate response was to attack each other's appearances and experiences, rather than discussing the real instigators — the extremely sexist men from McCann. 

Matthew Weiner also points out during the behind-the-scenes video that McCann Erickson probably didn't have females in top creative positions until 1970, which is when this episode takes place. This meeting with Joan and Peggy is potentially one of the first times these men have been asked to meet with women as equals in the conference room. They choose to open the meeting with a joke about how Hanes' pantyhose business has increased in the past few years: "L'eggs spreading all over the world."

It's hard to watch, but Mad Men has always served up the hard truths. "There are three women in every man's life," Ted tells Don. It's a painful reminder that even in 1970, these ad men still see women as expendable, exchangeable, and easily classified into different categories — all to suit the needs and gratifications of men. Peggy and Joan may have broken free of these confines in their own minds due to their professional accomplishments, but they're clearly struggling to empathize with other women's experiences that differ from their own.

They may have broken through the glass ceiling, but they're still living in a massive fishbowl, watched by men whose rule has remained unchallenged for so long. It will be especially illuminating to watch this dynamic play out during the final seven episodes.
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