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Bad Boys and "Mad Men": What Do Women Want?

Why do smart, strong, feminist women get hot for rogues and Lotharios, sexy but selfish bad boys who use women and throw them away?

The new season of Mad Men is upon us: the brilliant, beautiful, painful, inspiring, fascinating TV series on AMC about a New York ad agency in the early 1960s, and the screwed-up, rapidly-changing-but-not-rapidly-enough world of gender and race and sex during that place and time.

And it's reminding me of a rant I've been wanting to rant for a little while now:

Why are so many women hot for Don Draper?

The lying, philandering, self-absorbed, work-obsessed, emotionally warped, goes-through-mistresses-like-cigarettes, sexist prick of a lead character, Don Draper?

Via Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon, we have this charming article in the New York Observer, speculating on why Don Draper is inspiring so much lust in so many women. The gist of the article is that feminism has been too successful—and women aren't happy with it. We've gotten our equal partners, men who share housework and child-care, men who express their emotions and support us in our careers, men who treat women with respect and value home and family more than work... and it's letting us down. What we really want is Don Draper. And we're hypocrites for expecting men to be more feminist... while fantasizing about sexist bad boys who treat women like dirt.

Speaking as someone with a mild Don Draper fetish (although Joan Holloway is the Mad Men character I really crave): This is just silly and wrong. It's silly and wrong for so many reasons, I can't even begin to outline them all. (Although I'm certainly going to try.)

For one thing: Don Draper isn't a standard Bad Boy. He's not a conventional Lothario, chasing tail indiscriminately, purely for his own sexual and ego satisfaction, with no interest in women as people, and no recognition of their equal humanity. For starters, he has more than a kernel of genuine respect for women—certainly way more than any other male character on the show. He's the one who recognized Peggy Olson's talents as a copywriter, and who helped her repeatedly in her pioneering climb up the Sterling Cooper ladder. (Help that often came in complicated and ambiguous ways, to be sure—but help nonetheless.) Not to mention his singular, impassioned, entirely necessary support of Peggy during her time of terrible need. That was an act of pure human compassion and friendship... one that transcended gender.

And look at his taste in women. Every woman Don cheats on his wife with is intelligent, independent, unconventional, and in some way defiant of traditional gender roles. Proto-feminists, one might even call them. (In fact, I'm wondering now if part of the Don Draper fantasy has to do with wanting to be one of the strong, edgy, fascinating women he gets the hots for.) What's more, he has a genuine emotional connection with these women, a connection he's largely lacking with his wife, Betty... and a connection that seems to be a major part of why he pursues these affairs. And this taste in women is, I think, a huge part of the attraction. It's not about him being a sexist throwback to a time when Men Were Men. It's about him being a complicated man who's drawn to strong, interesting women.

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Greta Christina
August 13th, 2010
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Greta Christina is editor of the annual Best Erotic Comics series. She is also editor of Paying for It: A Guide by Sex Workers for Their Clients, and author of "Bending," an erotica novella in the...