Meddling With Masculinity

The scene starts in The Oak Room Bar, crowded with people, alcohol and thick smoke permeating the air. Roger and Don are enjoying their 5 o’clock while conversing about light matters-- young females. Roger takes an interest in two attractive women down the bar when he comments about women losing their glow of youth after thirty, speaking to his discontent with his own marriage. Roger instantly turns glum after the women’s eyes follow Don as he exits to call Betty. This initial interaction promotes the uncomfortable situation at dinner later that night. The episode renders a theme of proving one’s masculinity in which both Don and Roger face challenges against the ideals they envision and take actions to reassert their own manhood.

Masculinity answers the “question of how particular groups of men inhabit positions of power and wealth, and how they legitimate and reproduce the social relationships that generate their dominance," according to Carrigan, Connell and Lee (92). This question is clearly articulated in the natural rivalry present between Roger and Don, of which comes to a head during dinner. Roger has passed his prime and envies not only Don’s emerging success but also his dashing looks and seemingly perfect home life. He comes on to Betty in the kitchen, saying that he knows he gives her "the hot pants." This attempt at bolstering his ego falls short when Don walks in and is fully aware of the flirting that Roger has instigated. Don afterwards approaches Betty, grabbing her arm to assert himself as the man in the house, something no one can take from him, not even his boss. This moment is particularly strong because Don enforces his power in the household and his power in the office, by scolding Betty and blaming her for the flirtatious encounter with his boss.

Don deals with the merging conflicts between home and work by exerting his masculinity over Roger the next day at the office. Don utilizes his youth and stamina to execute a simple plan in order to outshoot Roger. A contest in drinking and eating, both manly tasks, determines one aspect of greater masculinity. Don not only embarrasses Roger in front of his colleagues, but he also out-drinks and eats more than him, reinvigorating his sense of pride. This leaves emasculated Roger on the steps of the office, sitting in the odor of his own bodily fluids and his ego out the door with the knowledge to not mess with Don, or his wife, again. Williams states that masculinity “has to be continually renewed, recreated, defended and modified” (112). "Red in the Face" captures all of these aspects as the men in the show face challenges to their own masculinity as well impose tests on the others.

Each episode begins with a business suit-clad man falling. He falls out of an office building through the setting he is defined within and passes images that are ideal yet artificial. He is not in control. The theme rendered in this episode of masculinity is articulated clearly in the introduction to each episode. No man wants to feel that he is not in control. Even worse, no man wants to feel that another has more control over aspects of his own life than himself. Roger feels this challenge first at the bar and tries to assure himself that he is attractive and wanted by coming on to Betty, only to cause Don to feel tested in his own house. This causes Don to make his move at the office, publicly making known that his masculinity is something no one plays around with.

Sources cited: T. Carrigan, R. Connell, and J. Lee's "Toward a New Sociology of Masculinity" (From In The Making of Masculinities:The New Men’s Studies, Ed. H. Brod. Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1987) and R. Williams's Marxism and Literature (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1977).

1 comment:

  1. The idea of masculinity and the need to continually prove one’s masculinity seems to be an extremely popular topic within Mad Men that is shared among almost all the male characters. Throughout the season the idea of needing to prove one’s masculinity or manhood is continually visible throughout the show. Another example of this need to assert one’s manhood can be seen in the character of Pete Campbell in the episode "Red in the Face", where Pete is constantly attempting to prove his manhood, only to continually fail in the attempt.

    The article “Precarious Manhood” Jonathan R. Weaver, et al. et al. (2008) use five studies to show that “manhood is widely viewed as both elusive, in that manhood status is not a developmental certainty, and tenuous, in that even once achieved, it is not guaranteed and can be lost” (1326). This definition and study helps to shed some light on reason why the men of Mad Men continually feel the need to prove their masculinity.

    Source cited
    Jonathan R. Weaver, et al. "Precarious Manhood." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 95.6 (2008): 1325-339. Sociological Abstracts. Web. 9 Feb. 2011.