Adultry Is Everyone's Problem

The first time I watched Mad Men one of the main flaws I found in almost all of the adult characters was infidelity. No matter how much I wanted to relate to the cast, and to view Don Draper as my protagonist, this one major flaw slapped me in the face. From as long as I can remember adultery has been in the headlines. From my parents’ discussion of the Clinton scandal dominating the room, to last week my roommates' critical examination of the broken marriages of Tiger Woods, Sandra Bullock, and Jenifer Aniston (just to name a few). Adultery has never been spoken of as anything less than a sin growing up, and there is no reason why I or anyone else with my upbringing would consider it the same thing. Yet, if you turn on the television or surf the web you are guaranteed to find images of adultery are clear. The 1960s and last week are no different when it comes to the appropriateness or existence or adultery.

Mad Men does not shy away from showing their audience their leading men and women straying from or participating in the act of adultery. This is not shown because “sex sells” but because adultery was common place during this period, especially in the higher classes of American society. Don Draper and Roger Sterling are merely products of their time. Women were in on it too. In 1962, one of the bestselling women’s books was Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown, the editor and chief of Cosmopolitan magazine from 1965-1997. Gurley Brown instructs young women how to work the system in which they were restrained by. She taught them many lessons that she learned during her 30+ years of being a single girl in the city from how to be financially sound and choose the best roommate, to how to chase a married man. This book was controversial at the time mainly because she voiced what was already being done behind closed doors. Joan Holloway is a great example of a woman who is sexually independent and allows men of every marital status to help her get the things she wants in life without toiling with the idea of marriage. Society is aware that adultery is a sin, and grounds for divorce even, but this does not hinder most people from straying. Gurley Brown in I’m Wild Again published in 1999 wrote a section about adultery. She asked one of the married men she had an affair with why he felt he “needed” to stray. The response was shocking; it was not selfish or deflecting the issue, he merely said “It just felt civilized."

I feel it is important for Mad Men’s audience to keep this in mind as they watch the series - to see it more as a cultural norm or rather something that was expected of them. People of that time married for different reasons, went to college for different reasons, and loved for different reasons. To compare them to today’s cultural standards is unfair and from my personal experience can build biases in your mind toward the show. Even though the reasons to turn to adultery may be different for today’s married couple, the rate of which marriages are ended due to marital infidelity seem to mirror the past. Today there are even dating websites devoted to adultery. These sites such as AshleyMadison.com, are providing an easier way for married people to stray. No longer are men confined to finding a woman on a train or taking off their wedding ring when entering a bar, but they are able to openly advertise for what exactly they are looking for. Are we today still as na├»ve about the severity and vastness of adultery as were the people of the 1960s? Or are we just as equally blinded by denial and refuse to consider that not everyone plays by the same rules taught to us? Or even that we ignore the rules when it comes to our own lives?

Sources referenced: Mad Men Unbuttoned: A Romp Through 1960s America by Natasha Vargas-Cooper


  1. You had mentioned this in class today and I definitely agree. Just in the first episode, Pete cheats on his fiance that he's marrying on the upcoming Sunday, Don cheats on his wife and even proposes marriage to his mistress (although he may not have been serious). I honestly feel like it was a part of the society, especially because women had no other options. Women relied on their husband for financial support and I would venture to say emotional support as well. If a woman was to leave her husband she'd most likely be responsible for her children, finding and maintaing a job and dealing with society.
    As far your final questions, I dont feel as though we are unaware about cheating but I feel as though people dont hold maariage in as high regard. It has less to do about society as a whole but individuals that refuse to consider the rules.

  2. I really think this post brings up a good point. Adultery is most definitely a major aspect of the show and it is not something that people should just push aside and accept as a socially acceptable form of behavior for the time. In the first season, it becomes clear that the only person who hasn't actually gone through with this sort of behavior are the married woman (specifically Betty). All of the married men consider the idea of adultery to be fair game. And I don't think this sort of behavior has changed all that much today.
    Today I don't think it would be a stress to say that at least a handful of the population has "cheated" on a significant other, whether that be spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend, at least once. And I would say people with serious wealth or a level of fame have an even higher likelihood. That is no different that the behavioral tendencies in Mad Men.
    During the period of the show, your Don Draper and Roger Sterling would have been well to do people. They are no different than our celebrity types who today think that there wealth and fame entitle them to a looser interpretation of the rules. The only thing that I think has significantly changed with the idea of adultery is now people have to worry about their spouses seeking a divorce, which today is far more easy than it was in the 1960's.

  3. Don doesn't cheat on Betty out of entitlement. He loves Betty. But he cannot open up to her because he's constantly lying to her. Notice that he opens up to his mistresses so much more? Plus he only cheats on her with women who fill his mommy void accord to Matt Wierner.