Tube Tied: Regarding Joan
Sorry for so much Mad Men, but as my blogging stint approaches its end, I wanted to complete my little triad on the women of Mad Men - and I'm a little worried lately about Joan.
I'm worried because the last time we saw her she was no longer wearing that hairpiece and her walk was more tentative than usual. I'm worried because she married that frat boy douchebag which everybody says is so 60s of her except, I don't know about you, I seem to know a lot of otherwise redeemable women who married fratboy douchebag. (Some of them even had humanities degrees!) Most of all, I'm worried because Mad Men has tucked her away into some kind of "lost causes" sock drawer in terms of both screen time and character development.
Now, let me be clear: I have a difficult relationship with Joan, and more particularly with the way the show holds her up for us to fetishize. She's sooooo curvy! Look at her red hair! She wiggles so elegantly! I hate that the show uses her to do a lot of ass shots that, uprooted and placed in the context of a Gossip Girl or a Desperate Housewives, we would simply call gratuitous and let it be a day. I hate that Mad Men gets a pass on them because Christina Hendricks is gorgeous. I mean, she is gorgeous, but even though she is not a stick figure and there is value in having a woman like that be extremely sexual on the small screen, it still saddens me that she gets pigeonholed as the "bombshell" who is there for contrast with "plain" Peggy. The show, in other words, more or less leers at her, all the time and unapologetically - much like Roger does!
That said, early on, I thought the show was going interesting places with Joan. Betty is the pre-feminist Angel in the House; Peggy is the second-waver looking for absolution through professional success; and Joan? Joan is all third wave, unapologetic sex and manipulation. Early on, she was playing all the guys in the office, and most of all having a successfully cladestine affair with the boss, and Hendricks' natural coquettishness and syrupy voice made for an interesting contrast with the vixen they were making her out to be. She was, in some ways, the original Bobbie, the one who had tapped into that "powerful business of being a woman" and managed to get what she wanted.
Two seasons later, though, we have a broken, unhappy married Joan, and I can't help but feel there's a whiff of punishment in it. The show didn't bother to sell her doctor-husband to its audience; he appeared suddenly, no doubt found in a closet by some enterprising intern in central casting. It is entirely unclear why Joan likes him at all; he does not appear to have Roger's cleverness at all. One supposes that his being a doctor says to us that Joan is obssessed with social status, and yet, if she really were so, I cannot imagine her ever having slept with the boss. Too much risk for too little reward. Sure she had that line about finding a husband in the first season, but it sort of hung limply in the air then, much as her whole character arc is now.
No, I think Joan is far more interesting character than the writers seem to believe. I don't think she's all T&A and silly status obsession. I'm actually more of a Peggy myself, and the Joans of this world thus alternately mystify and infuriate me, but I think that to posit they are just headed for the same old flytrap of marriage and children seems a little harsh, a little unenlightened. I sometimes wonder if the show is setting her up to be unhappy in order to orchestrate a reunion with Roger, but that too seems so sad for Joan, doesn't it? Too ordinary.
Don't get me wrong - I am the kind of feminist who thinks all that stuff about the "powerful business of being a woman" is, indeed, a trap. I find it suspicious when women's exercise of agency ends up in the same old patriarchal retreads - and the world's enthusiasm about Christina Hendricks' physical qualities certainly suggests that men are idolizing her as pinup, not person. But i think there's a far richer story about the Joans of this world - and the worlds that preceded it - than "And then she got married, and lived unhappily ever after." Don't you think?
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