As Mad Men comes to a close, I can't help but process my thoughts and feelings about the final episode. I keep reading disappointed reviews by critics, however I found the final episode a fitting conclusion and surprisingly satisfying.
All of us mid-century junkies were sucked into this show for the aesthetics. As for myself, I begrudgingly began watching after the first season had fully aired. As a dedicated feminist, I was originally deterred by all the male Mad Men fans who were actively celebrating the sexist "good ole days" depicted on the program. It wasn't long before the gorgeous artistic direction of the show proved to be something I simply couldn't resist. After a handful of episodes I found this wasn't a show about MEN as much as it was the story about the journey of women (admittedly mostly white women) during the decade that would forever transform gender roles in the United States, all told against the backdrop of the industry that did so much to control and define the confining roles and impossible standards set for women in the 20th century.
Modern feminists grabbed a hold of the character Peggy Olson and claimed her as their representation. A lot of feminists are angry about the conclusion of Peggy's story in a variety of ways. They seem to think she was betrayed by a storyline not true to her character. But is that really true, or is she being judged by modern standards? Are people just angry because she didn't make the choice they would have liked her to make?
My viewpoint is different. I think her decision to stay at McCann was totally in-line with the character. She obviously LOVED being a part of that system. She loved playing the game that would allow her to ascend up the ladder within that system and patterning her career after her mentor, Don Draper. She revelled in the power she could wield over her subordinates. It makes perfect sense that she would be happy staying with McCann.
In terms of the sudden love connection with Stan, it seemed to me that Peggy just went along with Stan because...why not? Nothing better had come along and they're best friends. That's something Peggy had done throughout the series in terms of romance. She just kind of goes along with whatever's in front of her. Many people have criticized the sappiness of love story at the end, but I think the "corniness" of it was intentional. It played like the contrived emotions of a vintage television ad for Bell telephone company. What could be more appropriate for a tv show about advertising?
For all of us who hung our professional feminist dreams on Peggy (myself included), the joke is on us. CLEARLY we should have been less surprised by the triumph of Joan. Aren't we a bunch of jerks for not realizing that it was JOAN all along who was the closest representation of today's modern feminist SHEros? I was literally cheering (complete with fist pumps) for her throughout the episode. I think most people assumed that Joan would continue to be punished for utilizing her sex appeal for advancement in the business world.
I feel fairly confident that like me, most women have felt underestimated at times. Perhaps that's why it feels so incredibly satisfying to see Joan seize opportunity and establish her own power. She represents all of us who have been written off, dismissed, or ignored- The people who weren't allowed to thrive within the established power structure, who have come to realization that if we want to flourish we'll have to do it ourselves. We have to build our own thing from the ground up.
So, to those who say the Mad Men finale wasn't feminist enough simply because of Peggy didn't follow the trajectory you define as feminist, I say feminism can and should include whole host of perspectives. Feminism can be Betty staking claim in what's best for her children. It can be Peggy simply choosing to do what she wants to do rather than following a contemporary idea of ambition. AND it can be Joan choosing her own professional ambition instead of a man. MOST of all, feminism is the telling of all of these women's stories and their journeys to their own brands of self-empowerment. Our power lies in having options.
Today's record of the day goes out to Joan who was branded a sex-pot and a party girl. The message is, NEVER UNDERESTIMATE a "party girl", or any woman for that matter. There are still barriers to be broken and we're coming to claim or stake!