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Mad Men "Field Trip" - World of May

Apr. 28th, 2014

11:19 am - Mad Men "Field Trip"

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There was a line from one of the various Mad Men meta pieces that has stuck with me for several years now. Betty Draper (Francis) is the least sympathetic victim of the patriarchy ever. And it was so evident in this episode. Betty started her scenes with her old frenemy Francine. Francine has started working, is looking modern, and feeling fulfilled in her life as an individual. She’s excited about what SHE’S doing, Francine's news was all about Francine and what she's doing. Betty’s news/gossip was all about her current husband, and I think she realized at that moment just how little she has for herself. Betty built her life to be the perfect June Cleaver wife, the one women were expected to be, no matter how little that life actually suited her. The zings Francine delivered about needing a purpose absolutely hit home for Betty, and her weak rejoinder about how she thought children were the point was quickly shot down as Francine called her old fashioned.

Poor Betty.

And then when she gets home, it hits yet again that she is not really necessary as we have another woman caring for her children. The one thing she believes gives her purpose, is done by someone else. So of course, she lands upon something that will make her feel useful. She volunteers to go on the field trip with Bobby as a way of saying, “I’m a mother. This is what mothers do. I have a purpose.” And it goes wretchedly. And the perfect bit about that, is the perfect field trip is ruined because Bobby trades away Betty’s lunch. In essence Bobby told Betty that her presence wasn’t important to him. Of course that isn’t what he meant at all, but to Betty- who is trying so hard to find relevance and a purpose- this comes as a major blow. And Betty does what she does best, closes herself off and hits back.

Betty is trapped by the life she was expected to fulfil. The expectation to be a wife and mother, and only a wife and mother, color every bit of her story line. She doesn’t see a way out, and yet the life she was promised if she performed as expected, has turned out to be a life that doesn’t suit her. Not only that, but the promise has revealed itself to be a lie over and over- from Don’s cheating to her less than perfect (read, mannequin) children as Bobby shows by trading away her lunch. She does not find fulfillment in her children, nor does it come naturally to her.

The great thing about this story line is that not does it show how harmful that expectation is to women, turning her into a bitter angry woman, but it shows how it hurts the people around her. From Bobby’s devastated face at the dinner table, hurting because his mother lashed out at him, to Henry’s puzzled look at his childlike wife.