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The 7 Worst Men of Mad Men: Do They Have to Be Such Jerks?

Profiling seven of the cruel, insensitive, retrograde jerks from one of TV's hottest shows, and asking the question: Is 'Mad Men' feminist?

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In the most recent episode (August 23), a Japanese ad exec, representing Honda Motorcycle, comments "It is a wonder she doesn't fall over." In the same show, there is a long shot of her in profile, talking with Roger Sterling, leaving little to the imagination. Here the show, and the tabloids become one, fetishizing Joan/Christina's body for the audience's ravenous consumption.

Many still defend the show as feminist. But the perceptions of "Mad Men" vis a vis women is changing. Writing on Salon Nelle Engoron, who was a strong advocate of "Mad Men" as feminist show, and also someone who grew up in the '60s and entered the job market in the '70s, has changed her mind: "I fear that I've been wrong about its treatment of womanhood. The message that many women, especially those under 40, seem to have taken from the show is not relief or gratitude at what's changed, nor an understanding of the past, but something quite different: Those fashions are cool! God, Don's hot! Are you a Joan or a Peggy? Let's dress up like them, have a 'Mad Men' party and drink martinis!"

Engoron points out that "Ironically, a show that has launched a slew of fashion trends has also made womanhood seem singularly unattractive. The men triumph despite who they are and what they do, while the women suffer as a result of both their character and their choices. The men are mad, all right, but the women on this show are increasingly crazy-making. I may need that martini, after all."

Weiner can argue all he wants that he is merely portraying the nasty consequences of an era ruled entirely by powerful white men. But at what point does the depiction of unchecked bad-boy behavior turn into wish-fulfillment for the viewer? Is "Mad Men" normalizing the actions of the men on the show, and glamorizing a dynamic in which women (and minorities and gays) are subservient to the sick whims of men too powerful for their -- and everybody else's -- own good?

Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.

 
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