Before I launch into a wholesale examination of this week’s Mad Men…
Brief recap of this one particular scene – Peggy goes out for a drink with her friend from a few floors down, Joyce, who’s gay (and awesome)..meets up with Abe, who she met at a loft party a few episodes previously. He’s the first guy who’s been on Peggy’s level intellectually, but within a few minutes he’s gone off on a rant about The Establishment and Corporations are the Devil and eventually, when Peggy points out she’s in an industry that’s business and corporation-oriented, scoffs at her for being a hypocrite. She mentions a car parts store that he tells her is the target of a boycott in the south for refusing to hire people of color, and then he pooh-poohs her assertion that most of the things African-Americans are prevented from doing, she can’t do either as a woman in a patriarchal business world.
I first just want to say how much I admire Peggy for standing up for herself right then and there with Abe the Jackass Revolutionary. Was he wrong about civil rights as a cause, not a PR campaign target? Of course not. But was he an ass for stomping all over her career, her perspective and her calm pronouncement that "hey, women’s rights are a thing"? Hells yes.
Peggy: "You’re opinionated, and you’re criticizing me"
Abe: "What? No! This is discourse!"
I have been on that date. I have been on many of those dates, where you’re enjoying watching them go off on a subject about which they are passionate, but it’s not one you want to engage in so you attempt to change the subject, or you try to bring your experiences into it, only to be shoehorned right back in to The Opinion Show. You find yourself in an argument where you don’t want to be, where your voice is not being heard and your perspective is being openly mocked. It’s infuriating. They keep telling you it’s a discussion when really, they’re trying to strongarm you into agreement or show off their own counter-culture street cred.
If it happened to me, I might have picked the quick and dirty, loudly escalating fight, or would have people-pleased and rationalized my way through it, or agreed with him since "he’s such a nice guy" or (horrors) downplayed my feminist activism just to move the conversation along instead of saying "No, women’s rights are every bit as important as civil rights." I bet Abe is going to feel pretty stupid when the Women’s Rights March he sarcastically joked about actually comes to pass.
And the great thing about Peggy is she listens and politely engages at first, but when he gets personal and refuses to recognize that there are some grey areas in her line of work, at her level of authority, she puts her feet on the floor and leaves. Even better, she does hear his point about civil rights – she brings Fillmore Auto Parts’ racism up to Don in front of Stan (the horrid art director) and Ken Cosgrove later, and his answer, something like SCDP’s job being to sell car parts not influence Fillmore’s business practices, is pragmatic but honest – and in line with Peggy’s instincts (racism: bad, business politics: nuanced).
When Joyce comes by Peggy’s office again at the end of the episode, she’s still thinking about the interaction….
Joyce: "Are you angry, or lovesick?"
Peggy: "I don’t know"
Guys like Abe can be compelling, and exciting, and with the right balanced mix of tolerance and passion, they can be irresistible. In my experience they turn out to be abrasive, offensive and impossible to actually talk to if you don’t really like fighting all the time.
Peggy may well find a way to reconcile her personal convictions, her business obligations, and her attraction to the first guy we’ve met who’s been a real thinker – not a posturer like Paul Kinsey, not a privileged wank like Pete Campbell, not a milksop like Mark, or a nothing like one of her one-night stands…. but if not, it’s ok because she knows exactly who she is. She’s Peggy Olson, and she’d like to be something besides the dessert.