On this week’s episode of Mad Men, copy writer Peggy Olson dealt with the new lazy art director, Stan Rizzo, who claimed to only be inspired by nudity. And, despite the drama of Don Draper’s downward alcoholism spiral, I found that to be the least interesting aspect of this episode. In fact, poignancy derived from Peggy’s story line, which examines women’s self-esteem and how they feel about their self-worth.
From the onset, Peggy’s looks and talent are challenged by Stan — who everyone thinks has great ideas and is attractive. Peggy, who has invested her life in the company and worked her way up to copy writer, begins questioning her abilities because she is often an outsider from the men and women, who gets little praise from anyone in the office — including her boss Don.
In between clips of Don and Sterling scenes, as they search for their own self-worth in the ad world, we see Peggy, after days of trying to stimulate Stan’s creativity while suffering through degrading and sexist comments from him, in complete anguish over Stan’s horrible personality and lack of inspiration. When he decides that she must record his thoughts as he dictates them aloud, he says, “Toots, grab a pencil.”
Bewildered and annoyed, Peggy retorts, “Why don’t you write down my ideas?” (We know the answer to that question!) At this point she is unable to stand his idiocy, so she goes to Don for help.
Lost in his own world of drunken denial, Don doesn’t provide any advice to Peggy and tells her to have the pitch ready on Monday. He suggests that she work around Stan’s idiosyncrasies to get the job done. However, by this time, Stan has insulted her many times, flirted with the secretaries and laid on tables smoking in the office. By the end of the day on Friday, they still have nothing.
In an effort to meet the Monday deadline, Peggy and Stan stay in a hotel room where she tries to generate ideas with him, brainstorming as he flips through the pages of a Playboy. “Are you gonna work or just stare at pictures of women who can’t stare back?”
Now, if this were a typical, sexist rom-com, the pair would come to find each other attractive after being locked in the room together and fall into bed (and love) as they finished their award-winning ad and Stan takes all the credit, but Peggy’s happy because she has a boyfriend. Thankfully, this is not the case.
Out of frustration (and after he insists that she’s ashamed of her body, or that she should be), Peggy says, “Let’s get liberated,” and begins taking off her clothes in hopes of getting their work done and proving that she’s not what he thinks and can get the job done, no matter the cost. (Click to watch clip here.)
As she strips down naked, he is stunned by her moxie and isn’t able to concentrate on anything except for her naked body as she chats about Vicks cough drops. Despite all of his insults about her appearance and lack of talent, he is unable to come up with anything but an erection. Despite being in his “creative element,” he concedes to her and hides in the bathroom as Peggy smiles triumphantly.
What’s great about this scene is that she doesn’t kowtow to his chauvinism. I’m never interested in women gaining power through their sexuality, but Peggy keeps things professional and in the end she confirms, for herself, that she is confident, beautiful, hard-working and talented.
Stripping down naked wasn’t about sex or making him want her. She’s not sexually attracted to him, nor does she want him to find her attractive, she merely wants to prove that she believes in herself and she is not ashamed of who she is. As Peggy bares it all, the only thing she is actually revealing, is her own inner strength.
I think the fact that her character is doing this in the early sixties is even more impressive. Now it seems women use their sexuality to gain status, attention, money and power, but for some reason, this scene seemed really about truth and being honest with herself — stripping down all the b.s. of awards, who’s who, appearances, etc.
I wish we could all find the courage to stand up for ourselves and believe in who we are as people — especially women — because we are often taught to shy away from challenges or to be modest of our talents. What other people say, or how other people perceive us has nothing to do with who we are as individuals.
So, take it from Peggy and get liberated — whether that’s telling yourself you’re amazing in the mirror every morning, completing a goal, checking off that last item on your to-do list, or making a statement to the world — whatever the case, do what you need to feel strong, autonomous and true to yourself.