TV Club

Mad Men’s Peggy and feminism: It’s hard to be a boss in 1969.

It’s 1969. Peggy is a boss and Beyoncé isn’t around reclaiming the word yet.

Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson.
Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson.

Photo courtesy Michael Yarish/AMC

I don’t think Peggy’s getting a raw deal. If this is where Peggy’s story was going to end, maybe, but it’s not. And nothing that has happened is out of character—it’s just an unfortunate amount of bad character all at once. Peggy has always been the kind of demanding, oblivious boss who makes her employees stay late on holidays, qualities she inherited from her own boss, Don. But those traits in a woman mean she is lacking the very thing we expect female bosses to have: emotional intuitiveness.

You’re right, Julia, that this is all very gendered, but to such an extent that not only am I not sure if Weiner is doing it on purpose or not, I’m not sure he has to do it on purpose. We, the audience, are supplying all the subtext. Is Peggy behaving worse than her male colleagues? Of course not! They are cheaters and drunks and liars. They get in fistfights in the office; they condescend and evade; they are impolite and irresponsible. Don, in particular, has not just been professionally noxious, he has been personally so. He threw money in Peggy’s face! And yet when Peggy told him how unmissed he was didn’t she seem like the one who was being way harsh, unkind, holding a grudge?

When the men on the show are jerks, they also have charm or pathos. When Peggy is a jerk, that’s all she is, or a litany of other very gendered words: shrill, petty, irrational, bossy. And that distinction between Peggy and her peers isn’t so much in the text—everyone on Mad Men is petty, irrational, flawed—as it is in the air all around us. It’s what makes Anne Hathaway and Kristen Stewart and Jennifer Lawrence such flashpoints while Shia LaBeouf and Zac Efron are just, eye roll, silly boys. 

It’s 1969. Peggy is a boss and Beyoncé isn’t around reclaiming the word yet. So yes, Peggy is having a supremely unlikeable moment. I don’t think it will last at this pitch. But even if it does, Peggy should not be straightjacketed by our expectations for her and only her, even though, of course, from her and only her, we expect more.

Read all of Slate’s coverage of Mad Men.