The Don Draper Effect: Why Do Feminists Still Love Assholes?

Illustration for article titled The Don Draper Effect: Why Do Feminists Still Love Assholes?

Yes, he can rock a suit. And the man pitches a mean cigarette slogan. But Mad Men's resident mystery cad Don Draper "cheats on his pre-Friedan-ized wife, Betty, going through mistresses like packs of Lucky Strike cigarettes. He is stoic, handsome, emotionally stunted." So, why, according to the Observer's Irina Aleksander, are liberated, independent women whose own supportive husbands happily stay at home feeding baby Thelonius Walnut organic applesauce dreaming of their own emotionally unavailable dick?"If you just compare him, to, say, Patrick Dempsey on Grey's Anatomy, Dr. McDreamy comes off as a whiny little sensitive bitch," says one Draper fan to the Observer. Adds another of her perfect house husband, "It works as a social system, but it's not terribly erotic." The Observer piece chronicles a bunch of these enlightened yuppie marriages. The working women described are unsurprisingly proud - or defensive - about their partners. "It takes a certain kind of guy to be confident enough to stay home and still have a sense of identity...(my husband) can easily choose to be in the corporate world and make a lot of money, but he chose to stay at home," says one. Adds a stay-at-home dad, "There just aren't those issues of masculinity." Here's one dad's day:

Every morning, Mr. Ryan wakes up between 4:30 and 5 and cleans the house; gets the laundry cycle through; makes a to-do list and plans the meals; gets the children up; and goes for a run with the dog. He makes an errand run: dry cleaning, hardware store, socks for his son, pay off a parking ticket, pick up a new coffee carafe, the tennis club, make doctor's appointments for the kids, then grocery store. Shower, shave, then lunch with other SAHDs and SAHMs. Back at the house, he replies to e-mails, mows the lawn, organizes the basement, sands down some wood and makes house repairs, then nap. Kids get home, he makes lunch; then homework, extracurricular activities, and finally, cooks dinner, for which his wife may or may not be present. "There was a word for guys like me back then,' said Mr. Ryan of the 1960s. 'Losers.'"


More to the point, there was a word for women like him: normal housewives. And yet, these same wives admit to idolizing the remote philanderer who'd never dream of lifting a finger in the kitchen. Says one "anonymous Brooklyn mom", "You appreciate a stay-at-home dad - as feminists, this is what we wanted! - but marriage now is all about equal partnership," and that's apparently not hot. Another wife complains about having to listen to her husband drone on about preschool. "And I just completely glazed over, went a million miles away in my head. I thought, 'Jesus, fellas, get a life!'" These women protest that it's not just Don Draper's smoldering looks and emotional unavailability that gets their motors running. It's that he's secretly sensitive: "With his taste for strong women living outside the very rules he feels boxed in by, Don Draper seems as though he just might understand all angles of the domestic equation." It's not that they want Draper; these women are him. "His sense of yearning, his sense of being confined by the home yet also craving that confinement and comfort, I identify with it," says one Brooklyn dame with a house hubby. But to others the connection seems more basic: "When our world is so chaotic, we tend to romanticize a time when men were men and women were women. Certainly, Don Draper is not making his wife very happy, but there is a strength to him. A stability." You could certainly argue that in painting Don Draper as so complex, so tortured, so stealth-enlightened, so handsome, the Mad Men writers are doing women and men a disservice. They've endowed a definition of pre-feminist masculinity - a composite of all traditional manly virtues - with hints of modernity that make him appealing to women who can fancy he would have swept them off their feet while secretly supporting their dreams of equality. There's a sense on the show that his wife can't keep his interest purely because she's so docile and subservient; we could, we think. Who can compete with that? But what no one interviewed seems to consider is that the situations described in this piece aren't so much "equality" as a pretty direct flip of the old gender divide. When anyone's career takes total precedence over another's, doesn't that automatically create a, well, 1950s dynamic? If all these women are identifying so powerfully with a philandering 1960s businessman whose work life feels unconnected to home, might they consider that their dynamic is just as binary? Not merely that a man is "not being a man" but that they are with a person who has voluntarily put himself second which is, ironically, not erotic? The Career Woman/Understanding Husband dynamic illustrated here is way more like the Betty-Don marriage than those relationships in Mad Men that people find so appealing - Draper's flings with tough, smart women with their own careers. The erotic charge in these scenarios comes from the clash of wills and intellects; in short, from a certain basic equality. Obviously the lives these couples have developed seem to work for them and these women have opportunities and careers Betty Draper could only have dreamed of. But whereas chaos may breed a desire for the defined roles described, ironically what they seem to be fantasizing about is ambiguity. Mad About The Man [New York Observer]



People have all kinds of unhealthy sex fantasies, it doesn't necessarily say anything about them. But if you really prefer a guy who is emotionally distant and withholding, you need therapy.

Am I the only one who doesn't find Don Draper appealling?