Meditations on Don Draper (Part 3)


In Defense of Betty

A friend brought to my attention Ezra Klein’s posting (here) positing Betty Draper actually having cancer and  lying about her diagnosis. I really hope that Ezra is reading too many tea leaves.

I think I can speak for Betty Nation on this point: we may not like Betty, we may think Betty is a despicable mother, we may think she is pathetic, but we do not want her to die or be written out of the show. Some of us believe that Betty is a pivotal character in the series, perhaps even the most important character moving forward.

More than anyone else, Betty has the capacity for change, transformation, and redemption. I heard somewhere that the 60’s were about change, transformation, and redemption.

Betty’s weakness — or perhaps maybe just her biggest liability — is that she is a product of her age. She is a graduate of a fancy college, has social graces, and is fluent in Italian. However, women of her age have limited opportunities. How many women wanted to become doctors, but had to opt for nursing (e.g., my own mother)? Remember Sandra Day O’Conner graduating third in her class from Stanford Law School and having to make coffee as a legal secretary? Betty used one of her gifts — her physical beauty — went into modeling, and met Don Draper.

Betty followed the path of what was expected of women of her era: marriage and children. Everything went towards family. Aspirations and ambitions outside of the family were not viewed favorably. Women who worked outside of the home were denigrated as selfish, denying their husbands and children their full attention. How many of Betty’s contemporaries felt similarly stifled?

Maybe if her husband had not been a philandering, emotionally distant and bullying dick Betty could have been happy. Instead, her home was a prison. Her children were her cellmates. Her husband was the warden. Of course, we are (or at least should be) masters of our own actions. Betty clearly has mommy and daddy issues (and a brother who is a dick). She is not equipped or disposed to rise to the equation.

But do you remember her reading Mary McCarthy’s “The Group” in the bathtub in Season 3? Could this be “green shoots” of a consciousness being raised? If so, we could be witness to Betty growing into a more complete person in the last few seasons. Could Betty be ready to burn her bra? Could she survive Sally’s teen years? Could she go to graduate school and/or get a real, paying job? Could she get out from the shadow of Henry and Don, men who just want to take care of her?

Lots of women were able to change, transform, and redeem themselves in the 60’s (see this timeline). Why not Betty?


About Stephen Dedalus, Jr.

I am trying to awaken from the history of my ancestor's nightmare to comment on my Holy Trinity of Interests: art, literature, and music. Oh, and thoughts on dysfunctional families, which is to say families.
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