Photo via AMC TV.
Confession: I have hopped aboard the A-line skirt and Gimlet bandwagon and am completely addicted to Mad Men. More specifically, though, Christina Hendricks, who plays fiery secretary Joan Holloway, is a solid source of intrigue. The curves! The sass! I find the way that character carries herself and flaunts her confidence sexy and enviable, and Hendricks is also the focus of one of the most resonating and powerful scenes in the show: the episode where Joan is raped.
In this episode, Joan’s fiance drops by the office after hours to visit her. Upon his suggestion, she reluctantly takes him on a tour of her boss’s office, where he begins to kiss her. Joan hesitates, playfully pushing him away, telling him that she doesn’t want to have sex. His advances become stronger (as does her resistance)- until he finally pushes her on the ground, violently hikes up her skirt, and renders Joan’s attempts to stop him into resigned passivity. She lies on her back, emptily staring into the middle distance.
At first I was upset, shocked, and frustrated that the writers completely dropped the rape subplot. But Joan’s silence, and her unwillingness to fault her fiance for his actions (they eventually wed), reflect the stories of thousands of survivors and tell a larger story about women and sexuality.
Christina Hendricks, in an interview for British GQ, described her favorite scene from Mad Men. She mentioned the scene in which Joan, while conducting a focus group for lipsticks, uses a two-way mirror to reveal just as much of her body to the onlooking men on the other side as she chooses. “She’s controlling the women – she has more knowledge than them – and she’s also manipulating the men at the same time,” Hendricks said. While Joan is hardly a feminist, she has a deliberateness to her sexuality. Though she is working within the misogynistic confines of the office, she still finds a way to be treated with respect by the men inside of it, conveying an unstoppable strength as she struts from desk to desk. She is also a proudly sexual being, comfortable with her body and okay with having flings with coworkers because she wants to. But when she doesn’t want to, as we see in the scene with her fiance, that power that she holds becomes her downfall. The look in her eyes as she is pinned to the office floor perfectly conveys that sense of betrayal.
Women today are still in Joan’s office. We are often told that our worth stems only from our bodies, our beauty, and our willingness to be sexual objects. We often try to reach, against our better judgement, the ideals of our society- and they are thrown back in our faces when we are raped or sexually assaulted. Our outfits, demeanor, and looks are often used to justify our worst experiences.
Joan’s rape, and the context surrounding it, is no different from what we experience, and must fight against, today.