Mad Men’s Betty Draper Is A Real Bummer

After years of philandering and flirting and general fooling around, years of getting some and then getting some more on the side because he’s Don Draper and an ad man – years in which I might add he not once heard any hell from his pretty wife in Westchester County – cheating Don Draper finally got a taste of his own mad medicine.

And there’s not a single reason I can think of for why any of this is at all wrong or unwarranted. Fifty years ago, women stayed in loveless, lustless marriages because, socially speaking, the possibility of the alternative – divorce, a career – simply was not. They tolerated another woman’s lipstick on his starched lapel with the resolute certainty that a little bleach would do the trick. As though it were that stain that could even begin to explain their problems.

Betty is a woman who might quite adamantly argue that all fish necessarily need bicycles.

So when Betty leaves her unhappy marriage to her unfaithful husband, it ought to be significant. It ought to be some sort of gigantic social statement.

But it’s not.

Betty isn’t a bold, brave woman. She’s not a daring divorcée. Betty has left, she’s found a new man to take care of her – a man who will take care of her – and she only goes from being miserable at home and alone with Don and the kids, to being miserable with Henry, in the same house and in the same closeted fashion.

She slaps Sally, she smokes in bed. This is not what a happy mother and wife does, not what a happy woman does. Not really.

It’s not even her icky behavior that’s the problem. It’s that she is awful and unkind and unpleasant and unbearable – and she’s not even happy, still.

If only she could enjoy her awfulness, it wouldn’t be so unpleasant to watch. It would be salacious and sexy and scary – and it would be important.

But Betty’s logic is so limited in scope that the only conclusion she seems capable of coming to is that if it’s not one man, it must be another. In other words, Betty is a woman who might quite adamantly argue that all fish necessarily need bicycles. She just has it all wrong.

Let us consider for a moment that Betty, as an archetype and an example of the fraught female role in the ‘50s, will probably never live a deep and meaningful existence. Not for a reason as simple as her being a woman – no, it’s far worse: That married-life, wife-life, will not be sufficiently satisfying has not even occurred to Betty to begin with.

It’s not that I expect the expert minds at AMC to fashion Betty a feminist – that would be against everything her character’s been built upon, and it would just make for bad TV. But if this is the way Betty is going to be – unhappy and hostile – well, wouldn’t it be nice to see her really own it? TC mark


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  • taylor

    “They tolerated another woman’s lipstick on his starched lapel with the resolute certainty that a little bleach would do the trick.”

    Beautiful, Molly!

  • Mynameclay

    Who needs happiness and freedom when you have all those amazing dresses. Fuck, I love this blog.

  • christopher lynsey

    Great block quote.

  • The Well-Read Wife

    A happy wife and mother doesn't smoke in bed? Whaaat?!!

    Just kidding. I agree with what you're saying about the way the writer's have crafted Betty's character.It seems to me that she is lost and spends all of her time in a fog. I would love to see her character make just the slight developmental turn toward owning her decisions.

    • Molly Oswaks

      Right. I don't even mean that she ought to be more pleasant or more contented with her life – frankly, it's hard to see how should could be. But I think it would be so satisfying to see Betty go full force bitch. All her waffling about is just so exhausting to watch.

      I want her to show up at Sally's school with a bottle of bourbon, take a few too many pills. Something. Clearly, she's a candidate for this kind of coming undone.

      • ChrisG - Art Director

        She has the ability to destroy Don — the “put him in prison”, kind of destroy. He's living under the false identity of a dead man, he was a combat deserter in Korea, and she knows it. Even if he succeeded in fighting off a prison sentence, the legal battle would consume years of his life, all of his money, and the revelation would destroy his career. She could leverage that to blackmail him. She could say, “sign the deed to the house over to me, it's not purchased in your real name anyway.” Or at what point does she share this information with Henry? Betty does not yet seem to see the implications of Don's secret beyond the betrayal of keeping the secret from her. Henry works in politics, he'd get the implications immediately.

        We learned this week that (provided she wasn't lying to Henry) that Betty lost her virginity to Don. This would mean that Henry is only the third man she's even been with (least we forget the young waiter in the restaurant storage room when Don was off in California). She has learned something: Not all men are good in bed. With Don as her only standard of comparison, she apparently never knew. We have learned that Henry does not sexually satisfy her. Don may have had many faults as a husband, but he provided well, and he could give her an orgasm. A smart successful good-looking guy who could please her (though rarely bothered to) who also happened to be a womanizing alcoholic might be the shallow basis for a marriage, but she's a pretty shallow princess herself.

        I'm going to throw out some possibilities: Betty has a one-night-stand with Don. And/Or Betty begins having affairs, drinking heavier, and perhaps taking too many little-yellow-pills. I could easily see Betty taking on some of Don's worst attributes in her relationship with Henry: Play the role of Henry's trophy to show-off on the political scene, while boozing and pill-popping it up, and juggling affairs with younger men on the side. Just speculation.

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  • Sea

    “Fifty years ago, women stayed in loveless, lustless marriages because, socially speaking, the possibility of the alternative – divorce, a career – simply was not.”

    Not quite. Betty isn't married to Torvald Helmer. Of course there was even more inequality then than now, and there's plenty now. But women stayed in marriages then largely for the same reasons they do now (and while I agree that the Draper union was lustless – even Betty in the black negligee couldn't turn Don on, because Don draper likes brunettes, it's Dick Whitman who likes blondes – I don't agree that it was loveless). Women are genetically predisposed to forgive/turn a blind eye to liasions and affairs of a purely sexual sort. Betty didn't finally leave Don because he banged other women. She left him because of his emotional dishonesty, the stuff in the drawer. It is men who cannot tolerate physical/sexual cheating. What women cannot tolerate is being emotionally deceived. It's all straightforward Darwinism and evolutionary psychology and resource allocation, all the way back to the simple fact that women can only create one offspring a year whereas men can produce an almost limitless number.

    Don Draper cheats because he's biologically programmed to and he's a confident alpha male with status (like Sterling, but Don's in better health – for now anyway, part of last week's episode was about how Don is becoming like Roger, and to a lesser extent Duck Phillips). For those of you who believe there are truly loyal and noble men out there, ask yourselves if you think said man could actually be fatihful if he didn't hit up the occasional strip club or view porn or think of someone else while screwing his partner of more than, say, three years (because that's about the threshold for it not being boring to the average straight male). Or, a better experiment: take the most monogamous, devoted guy you know, and then make him rich AND famous tomorrow. Let's see if he stays loyal and true or goes out Tiger Woodsing (another great comparison for this season's Don Draper, as both Don and Tiger are on the wrong end of the proverbial downward spiral). Male viewers of both once idolized them, now they shake their heads and cringe at their lack of game, both literal and figurative.

    By the way, I have the same revulsion for Betty as the author but mine is because she has crossed the line between bad mother and child abuser. Regarding the 'minds at AMC' and feminism, the show is the product of Matt Weiner. He learned under Chase's wing on The Sopranos that there can be only one boss, one individual's vision. It's his show. And he is aware of feminism. It's just that Betty is too simplistic and spoiled and child-like to apply anything resembling feminism. Joan happened to be born at the wrong time. Peggy (a full ten years younger than Joan, remember) is the only character who gets to ASCEND in the social climbing/advancement/Victorian heroine sense. Watching that ascent brings me true joy as a viewer. And knowing that Peggy will continue to ascend is very rewarding. Less rewarding is how thoroughly convinced I am that Joan's fate is ultimately tragic. Despite all her abilities, she is in for bad, bad tidings if even the most rudimentary rules of storytelling are applied.

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