Joan and the Mad Men episode I had been waiting for

Last Sunday night seemed like a big deal.

I’ve loved the character Joan from Mad Men the entire series. I always wanted more of her on the screen. I always sensed she was there for a bigger reason. Destined for bigger scenes. Meaningful scenes. She got plenty before last night but last night was truly the reason all the other scenes existed.

Finally the shit went down and the movement of woman’s lib sorta kinda took hold on Mad Men.

It was resolved in a very, very true manner.

An “Aww, shit, this is how it is going to be?!” way.

A way in which women of my generation (Gen X, baby!) struggle. The “how is this the way it is, how hard am I going to fight?, how do I deal? Oh crap –  I’m not going to do anything” kinda slacker, Gen X way.

I don’t use slacker as a derogatory term. I am rather proud.

But let me tell a story. It’s a story with broad brush strokes but it will demonstrate what I am referring to and talking about.

It’s 1995 and a 22 year old takes an entry level job at a small business in the Lincoln Building in New York City. It’s across the street from Grand Central Station and having nothing to do with the point of this particular story it’s the same building where her father had his first post-college job.

There’s definitely a boys’ club at the company. How can there not be? It’s almost not their fault as she is the only female in an execution/sales/bringing in the bucks position. The other women working at the firm were admins or bookkeepers.

So there’s lunch, after work drinks, and all around plenty of time to be collegial, build camaraderie, joke around. The jokes didn’t fly constantly but from time to time there were uncomfortable jokes. Not lewd jokes. At least not how she remembers them now 20 years later (!) but not jokes she would retell. Not jokes that should necessarily have been told one time – female present or not.

She’d either laugh or not laugh, didn’t matter because each time she’d move on and not say anything. She was offended sometimes, she’d blush sometimes, she would just not assess sometimes.

And that’s the slacker. Maybe a Gen Y’er would have spoken up. “Can you not tell that joke or jokes like that in front of me? Better yet, don’t tell jokes like that. They perpetuate prejudices, misogyny and they are obnoxious towards half the human race!”

But then and there a Gen X’er didn’t do anything. Stayed at the company a few more years. Earned a nice paycheck. Didn’t look back.

In Joan’s final scenes of the antepenultimate episode she basically shrugs and figuratively says “F this. I’m out.”

Now, 24 hours later I am definitely in a “you go girl!” kinda cheering mood but last night was devastating. To see it there on the screen in my face. I was offended. I was speechless. I was hurt.

There was so much potential. Not for Joan. Not for Mad Men. Not for fiction.

I felt there was so much potential for humanity and equality.

It was close. And it wasn’t going to happen. But I was at the edge of my seat. What WAS going to happen?

Of course, it wasn’t happening.

I was naive. I still am.

There are Jim Hobarts* all around us. Maybe not our managers. Maybe not staring us in the face. Maybe not so many within these sheltered walls of the NYC metropolitan area. But they are all around.

The show depicts story lines from the early 70s. Analyzing it now I wonder, how can this even be? The early 70s was such a long time ago. How is progress so slow. How has nothing caught up with itself? Am I being dramatic?

Hell, yes I am. It is cause for drama.

Insert clever, mind-blowing, surprising stats here about income inequality, sexual harassment in the workplace, at colleges, the number of female Forbes 500 CEOs compared to the number of MBA graduates, and so on and so on. Do you get me? Do you get my drama?

Completely unrelated to this Joan centric analysis, I’ve realized something. I am going to be sad in a few weeks when my favorite show is over. This is definitely the first time I’ve taken a series finale so much to heart. (True, there was Lost but I’ve forgotten about that the minute it was over and I know Mad Men won’t let me down in the end.)

I learned that if anyone anywhere ever wants to talk about Mad Men, then I will talk with them about Mad Men.

*Men who don’t want women to supervise men’s work. Men who don’t value women in the workplace. Men who don’t believe in equality. 

More on this:

About Joan’s Hysteria on Last Night’s Mad Men

Margaret Lyons, New York Magazine

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