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On Mad Men and Office Sexism

With only one episode left before the series finale, you’d think Mad Men would wrap up some of the social issues that so carefully tied together the series and the central characters for so long; but just when things got too comfortable, Mad Men made sure to pull the rug from underneath the audience’s feet.

Joan Holloway, Mad Men’s beloved redhead and everyone’s favorite independent woman (aside from Peggy of course) was visited again by the very subject her career and accomplishments seemed to have wore off: sexism. Though this outcome seemed likely with the recent move from the SC&P offices to the ad agency McCann Erickson-and a number of sexist encounters Joan endured-her prediction that she would not be taken seriously in the new offices came true when Joan Holloway’s accusations of office sexual harassment was dismissed by her new employer.

Joan being hit on wasn’t that much of a surprise, but rather how she and her new boss handled the situation, or more like how they threatened to handle it. McCann Erickson head Hobart could not even listen to Joan’s complaints; a calm but still stern Joan demanded she receive the independence she carried at the company she holds partnership with, insisting the accounts she handled can continue to be a success with her care. This is ludicrous to Hobart, who insists she continues working with Ferg, the coworker who continues making advances on an uninterested Joan. The accusations of office sexual harassment does not faze Hobart who tells Joan that he doesn’t care about her previous status, and that he doesn’t even know how Joan even came to a partnership in the first place. Either Joan leaves or she puts up with this sexism; but really, Hobart doesn’t even want to look at her face, as he keeps saying. The very thought of her demanding equality revolts him, and when Joan threatens to go to the press, he only replies with a power stance, insisting that the ads his company pays for in the newspapers gives him ground to not only continue this sexism unreported, but gives him the right to sue Joan instead.

In just one episode, and one scene to be exact, Mad Men delved into the subject of office sexism. Though Mad Men has never shied from this-the very first episode adjusts the viewer to an ad world where women are commonly preyed-you would think that though it is 1969, in the midst of the feminist movement, that sexual harassment would not still exist to this extinct, but the truth is that it did still very much exist, no matter how later into the series the show is. Sorry viewer, but just because our spirit animal Peggy Olson is a copy supervisor doesn’t mean the elephant isn’t still in the offices of one of the most elite advertising agencies that answer to big-time companies like Coca Cola and Avon. Joan Holloway is proof of this.

What’s even more heartbreaking then seeing Joan treated with the same disrespect she would’ve expected during her first years at Sterling Cooper, is the ultimate defeat Joan succumbs too. When offered to be paid more in exchange to her cooperation, a firm Joan seems to stand her ground, and even refuses the ill-advised Roger who pays her a visit and insists this is the best justice she will get. For a second you think Joan is going to tell Roger to suck it, and walk out of the offices with her head high, but she doesn’t. She makes her points, holds her side of the argument nicely until she surprisingly picks up the photo of her son and the phone numbers of her accounts- arguably two of the most important things in her life: her son and career- and tells Roger to tell Hobart that he has a deal. She takes the money and runs with it; looking nowhere defeated, but nowhere fulfilled as she exits her office.

Having been a dedicated Mad Men fan for the past four years, and having watched Joan’s transformation from army wife to company partner, I could not bring myself to hate Joan for giving in. How could I? She has a son, she has her professionalism; without that what will she be? In the arms of a man who wants to sweep her away? No, that isn’t like Joan, and truthfully I think she has a bigger plan in mind.

Maybe she will fight the sexism from within, giving her superiors the upper hand in the meantime before she slyly makes her next move in the name of feminism. Whatever this could be is still up in the air, but what’s important now is that audiences everywhere saw a step back that reflects today’s current work environment for women. Though we have our female CEOs and role models, the lack of equal pay, and sexual harassment at work, still exists, and Mad Men reminded us of this by firmly giving audiences a scenario that even our hero Joan couldn’t completely get out of. It was tough love on Mad Men’s part, but love nonetheless, so thank you Mad Men for the harsh, but much needed reminder.

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Written by Natalie Rivera

Managing Editor Natalie Rivera is a proud feminist and freelance writer who enjoys writing anything pop culture-oriented, as long as it's women-positive. She earned her journalism degree in 2013 and has since then written for a variety of trending websites. Her heroes consist of David Bowie and Annie Clark, who are changing the way the world perceives sexual and gender fluidity. Follow her at @ByNatalieRivera.

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