Mad Men and Male Anxiety

What, pray tell, was the deal with the phallic references in last week’s episode of Mad Men?

Let’s go over just some of them.  The name of the bar that Don and Roger and Joan head to after winning a Clio?  The Pen and Pencil. We had Stan Rizzo throwing pencils up into the ceiling and getting them to stick.  Peggy calls Stan on his bluster, though, and disrobes and encourages him to.  In the face of her calling his bluff, he “shrinks up.”  She reminds him of this the next day, when someone asks him if Peggy helped with the copy they came up with, and Peggy holds up her fingers just a touch apart and says, “Just a little bit.”  Funny, but brutal.  She totally emasculated Stan.

Which is similar to what happens with Don.  Don picks up a woman at The Pen and Pencil, but leaves his Clio award behind there.  He’s slumming with that woman, and he heads into a bender that leaves him in something of a blackout.  When he next wakes up it’s not the next morning, but the one after that.  He’s lost a day, and he’s in bed with Doris, a waitress who has seen better days.  Betty gives Don a hard time, and for good reason.  He’s missed his fatherly commitment to his kids to see them on Sunday morning.    To top things off, Doris calls him Dick, which is what he’s been acting like.  He’s just about hit bottom, it seems to me.  He cleans up for Monday morning, swallows his pride by hiring Danny Siegel, and tells his secretary to get his Clio back.  He’s trying to get some semblance of his manhood back, as he returns to being “Don Draper,” and not “Dick.”

It seems to me that this season has been a lot about gender poltics and gender power relations. This is an interesting development, one in keeping with the times and the rise of feminism.  At SCDP, we’ve seen this playing out with Peggy and with Faye, and with Alison, Don’s secretary.  It seems to be coming to a head.  It seems to me that the women are on the rise, for the most part, and that the men are struggling a bit to stay on top and to keep [it] up.  (Sorry for all of the double entendres there, I just couldn’t help myself!)

It will be interesting to see how they continue this thread, but it seems to me that as Don continues to live on his own, no longer married to Betty, he’s very much in the middle of a struggle that he’s not winning.  There’s a ton of male anxiety going on in this show and the women are slowly taking on greater and greater authority.


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