Mad Men, Sex Work, and the Ownership and Freedom of Women: “The Other Woman”


Spoiler alert: This piece has spoilers about the most recent episode of “Mad Men.” If that’s not okay with you, don’t read it.

What made this last “Mad Men” episode so upsetting?

Ingrid won’t watch “Mad Men.” She watched the first bunch of episodes with me, but then she dropped out: she found it too harrowing, the lives too miserable and trapped. Normally I don’t agree. I mean: yes, it’s harrowing, yes, the lives are miserable and trapped. But I find it encouraging to think about how much has changed since then — and as trapped as they are, at least some of the characters are beginning to make that change happen, for themselves and the rest of the world.

This last episode, though? “The Other Woman”? Even I was cringing at. Even I felt bludgeoned at the end of it. (Peggy’s escape notwithstanding. Which was totally awesome.)

And then I read Amanda Marcotte’s analysis of the episode on Pandagon, and I started wondering: Why was I reacting this way? Why is this episode different from all other episodes? Had I internalized the idea that prostitution is inherently degrading and shameful, and that it would be a dreadful tragedy for a “good” woman to engage in it?

Quick precis of the episode, for those who don’t watch the show: The ad agency, Sterling Cooper Draper Price, is trying to get an account with Jaguar — an account that would be both hugely lucrative and hugely prestigious. The head of the Jaguar dealer’s association, Herb Rennet, makes it clear that he’ll vote for SCDP to get the account — if he gets to have sex with Joan Harris, the extraordinarily able SCDP office manager and an extremely beautiful and curvaceous bombshell. This offer is presented to Joan, and initially she’s intensely offended and rejects it out of hand. But when it’s suggested to her that this account means a huge amount to the company, and she could ask for a five percent partnership in the company in exchange for securing it, she reconsiders. In essence — no, more than just in essence — she lets herself be a very high-end prostitute.

So Amanda’s question is valid. If you don’t think prostitution is inherently degrading and shameful, then why would this extremely profitable example of it — one night with an unpleasant and sleazy guy in exchange for a partnership in the company you’ve devoted your life to, with a probable lifetime of financial security and some serious prestige to boot — be so deeply upsetting?

I’ll admit that Amanda is partly right. Sure, I’ve at least partly internalized the idea that prostitution is bad and sad, and that it’s bad and sad for women who have a choice to engage in it anyway. It’s in the water of my culture, and I’ve absorbed some of it. I’m not proud of that, I wish that it weren’t the case, but I’m not going to lie about it. And Amanda is right that far too much of the commentary about this “Mad Men” episode has reflexively assumed that prostitution is shameful, and that engaging in it by definition brought dishonor to the company. Amanda is totally right to point that out, and to call it out.

But I don’t think that’s the only upsetting thing here. Or even the most upsetting thing. There’s more going on in this episode than just “Joan decides that having sex for one night with a sleazy unpleasant person is worth a five percent partnership in the agency.”

For starters: A lot of why this was upsetting has to do with how the partners — Don excepted — were treating Joan. They weren’t treating her like a prostitute. They were treating her like property.

A prostitute is not owned. A prostitute does not sell their body; they charge for their time, and for services rendered. But the partners of SCDP — Don excepted — were treating Joan like something they owned. In the horrific “partners’ meeting” scene where this matter is being discussed, Joan’s consent was barely discussed. Sure, Pete told them she was on board… but they all know Pete is a lying scumbag. Who the hell believes Pete? Unless he’s telling them something they want to believe — something that was convenient for them to believe. So they accepted Pete’s lie about Joan being on board. And for the rest of the conversation, they talked about Joan like she was a piece in a chess game. Or a company they were considering acquiring but couldn’t agree on a price. Only at the very end of the conversation does Bert Cooper say, “Let her know she can still say ‘No.'”

Now if, instead of making the offer by manipulative insinuation, Pete Campbell had gone to Joan directly and said, “Look, this offer is on the table, is this something you would consider? I will completely understand and accept it and drop it forever if you say No, but it’s on the table, and it involves you, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t find out how you felt about it”… I don’t think I’d find his behavior so appalling. But he didn’t. Of course not. He’s Pete Campbell. He treated her like an obstacle in his path to getting something he wanted… something that could be moved with the right kind of manipulation and pressure. Pretty much like he treats everyone else in the universe. And the other partners — again, Don excepted — went right along with it. The theme of this episode is that men are frustrated because they want to own women and can’t. The hook of the story, the pitch the agency makes to Jaguar, is that the car is “At last. Something beautiful you can truly own.” But in this scene, they act as if Joan is something beautiful they truly can own. For the right price, anyway.

So there’s that. There’s also the fact that, no matter how hard Joan works at her job, no matter how exceptionally skilled she is at it, she will now always be seen by the partners as someone who slept her way to the top. Joan deserves to be a partner on her merits alone. But now she — and they — will never see her that way. Yes, she has a partnership… but she will probably never get the respect that this partnership should have earned her. And that is sad beyond measure.

But the main thing I found so upsetting about this incident was the fact that Joan, herself, did not want to do it.

It doesn’t much matter what I think of prostitution. What matters is what Joan thinks of prostitution. And clearly, Joan doesn’t think very highly of it. She is deeply offended when the proposition is made to her. She thinks less of herself for having engaged in it. You can argue about whether she’s right to feel this way — but the fact is that she does.

And the fact that she feels this way about prostitution, and engages in it anyway, is what I found upsetting.

You can be totally accepting and supportive of prostitution, and still not want people to engage in it who don’t really want to. In fact, I would argue that being accepting and supportive of prostitution means caring about whether the people who engage in it really want to. Of course there are costs and benefits to prostitution, upsides and downsides, good customers and bad customers… just like there are with any job. Of course someone can freely choose to be a prostitute, and basically be fine with it, and still not love every minute of it. But when someone is as sickened and offended by this prospect as Joan clearly is, and they go ahead and do it anyway, then it’s a fucking tragedy.

Comments

  1. says

    Note that the following comment is made by someone who has never seen Mad Men in her life:

    I don’t think a person needs to think poorly of prostitution as a profession in order to recognize that it is something usually regarded as very personal turned into a business transaction, and therefore it’s inappropriate and offensive to suggest it to someone who is clearly working as a businesswoman and not a prostitute. It’s insulting to her because it suggests a refusal to take her seriously at her actual profession– advertising– and insulting to prostitutes in that it suggests that they are simply women who can be persuaded by a sufficient amount of money to sleep with someone they otherwise wouldn’t.

    Yes, a prostitute is a person who has sex for money. That doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to offer money to anyone in return for sex in the hopes that they will consider a temporary career change in favor of prostitution. The fact that this almost certainly wouldn’t have happened if Joan were a man matters, as does the fact that her co-workers look down on her, and she is ashamed of herself, as a result. Prostitution doesn’t have to be shameful in itself in order for treating just anyone like a prostitute to be wrong in part because it inspires shame.

  2. says

    I agree with Ingrid on watching the show, although I like to keep up with it, I find it painful to sit through. I think the key to this, like you said, isn’t what you think of prostitution, it’s how Joan thinks and feels about it.

    I disagree with you on the reaction of the partners in one regard — the thing I find most sad about it is that I don’t think it actually changed how the men she works with look at her. If she’d been made partner without prostituting herself, they still would have thought of her as a sexual object who made it to the top through her sexuality and not her other merits. I imagine that had to be part of her mental calculus.

  3. says

    Seems to me like you reacted from your instinctive knowledge of what prostitution actually is, then rationalised it with your liberal, sex positive ideas of what you would like it to be.

    Yes, a prostituted woman is property. Yes, even the tiny minority of women who sell sex from a position of relative choice are vulnerable to abuse from their clients, and yes, most suffer from issues of dissociation and depression. And those are just the Joans and Belle du Jours of this world.

    I object to the false dichotomy between acceptance and judgement; what Joan did was not “shameful”, it was devastating. It’s not a question of judging Joan; it’s a case of feeling sorry for her.

  4. David F says

    So, are you upset that they made the episode at all? Or, is it just the case that the episode was upsetting because of its content. The fact that it’s got people discussing a troubling situation makes it sound like good drama to me.

  5. says

    …instinctive knowledge…

    There’s no such thing. There are instincts. There are moral judgments (which operate on a “judge first, rationalize later” basis). There are subconscious thought processes. What Greta did may be the last of these, perhaps mixed with a bit of a moral judgment (as she mentioned with her discussion of societal influences on her thought processes), but it certainly had nothing to do with instinctive knowledge, as there is no such thing.

    It may seem like instincts contain knowledge, but they’re actually just a set of reactions that exist because they helped propagate the species (or just through dumb luck), or which have been trained into a being over time. Being based on reality tends to help instincts be passed on, but it’s not necessary. Particularly, as humans drift further away from the environments in which we evolved, instincts become less and less reliable at reflecting reality. If there is any human instinct that comes into play here, it’s almost certainly irrelevant. At best, it’s a reflection of societal views. At worst, it’s a reflection of how to survive in a pre-agricultural foraging/hunting society.

  6. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    Yes, even the tiny minority of women who sell sex from a position of relative choice are vulnerable to abuse from their clients, and yes, most suffer from issues of dissociation and depression.

    Credible citation needed. This sounds specifically like the “being gay increases your suicide risk” argument.

  7. says

    My reaction was similar. I think that in spite of her current circumstances up to this point, I’d always thought of Joan as smart, strong, and in control. Of course I couldn’t’ve been more wrong about the last point. Relative control, maybe.

    But what I like about this season is what seems to be a growing anti-capitalist message (most obviously the episode with Megan’s parents). This latest is maintaining the foray into the dreck of the biz, but with more awareness of it. Previous seasons seemed to be – to me, at least – glorification of the ad business, with the clear goal of maintaining interest in one or the other characters, or the success of the firm in general. Now, honestly, who gives a damn about what happens to ‘em?

    And then there was the whole “turnaround” that Megan had to do at her callback.

    But, seriously: In the Ad business, aren’t Creative the biggest whores of all?

  8. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    At worst, it’s a reflection of how to survive in a pre-agricultural foraging/hunting society.

    Well, no. At worst…

  9. says

    “But the main thing I found so upsetting about this incident was the fact that Joan, herself, did not want to do it.” There it is right there. When someone doesn’t want to do something, we don’t need to believe it is inherently wrong to say they shouldn’t have to do it.

  10. notmyrealname says

    So I was all ready to disagree, I love Mad Men and I thought -Sunday’s episode was exceptional Mad Men-esque awesome. And yes,Joan’s story was heartbreaking and the partners behavior was appalling at best.
    ..And I don’t disagree with you. this was a very nice and detailed investigation of why the (fictional yet so real) behavior was disturbing. I am still confused about the prostitution issue (as in: I haven’t made up my mind because I’ve never talked to a prostitute or read about it)
    I am sure this story line will come back to haunt the series, it’s the second time Joan had to deal to sexual assault (because that’s how it felt).
    Thank you, great article!

  11. Funkopolis says

    The episode wasn’t disturbing because of anything inherently wrong about prostitution. The episode was disturbing because Joan was _pimped_.

  12. Esteleth, Raging Dyke of Fuck Mountain says

    Mmm. To me, I thought Joan made her decision after learning that Roger was on board with it.

    That is, the man who has more-or-less bluntly said that he loves her thinks of her as his property.

    So she knows that if push comes to shove, she cannot count on him to help her – or help the child that she is raising alone.

    Lane’s explanation that with the partnership and stake in the company she is set for life (assuming the company doesn’t go belly-up) that closed the deal.

    She doesn’t need Roger now. Finally, she is actually free.

  13. says

    I see some other reasons why the scenario is distasteful:

    1. It’s sexist. You don’t see young and upcoming businessmen being propositioned by powerful women. Not that this would make it all better, but it would certainly abrogate one source of imbalance.

    2. It deals with a “resource” that has no place in an advertising firm. If he demanded that she give him, say, a corner office, or a nice retirement package, in return for the Jaguar contract, then this would be less offensive than bringing in something deeply personal that has no place in an advertising business.

    3. It’s coercive. Prostitution, if it is to be looked on favorably, must be entered into because of a person’s interest in that career, not because it is the only option available. In the Mad Men episode, this does not seem to be the case.

  14. Greta Christina says

    Seems to me like you reacted from your instinctive knowledge of what prostitution actually is, then rationalised it with your liberal, sex positive ideas of what you would like it to be.

    MarinaS # @3: Actually, I’m basing my understanding of prostitution on what prostitutes themselves say about their experience. I have several friends and colleagues and acquaintances who are current or former prostitutes (or who have worked in other areas of the sex industry). I’ve read numerous books and other writings by sex workers of many varieties. And in fact, I’ve worked in the sex industry myself: not as a prostitute, but as a peep show dancer.

    Have you bothered to do the same? Have you ever actually listened to what sex workers say about their experience? I highly doubt it. If you had, you would know that many of them freely choose the work, and they find the idea that they are “property” to be not only ludicrous, but grossly insulting.

    There is an excellent discussion elsewhere on my blog, in which current and former sex workers of all varieties talk about their experience with the business. I highly recommend that you read it before commenting on this subject any further.

  15. Greta Christina says

    So, are you upset that they made the episode at all?

    David F @ #5: No, of course not. It was an excellent episode (if a bit heavy-handed). It was the content that was upsetting — not the fact that they made it.

    But, seriously: In the Ad business, aren’t Creative the biggest whores of all?

    davidly @ #8: Can you please not use the word “whore” as a pejorative? The word gets used as an insult, to mean “someone who will do anything for money.” Prostitutes don’t do that. Prostitutes (the ones who do it consensually, anyway) have limits. It’s insulting to prostitutes to use the word “whore” in that way. Please don’t do it. Thanks.

  16. Zengaze says

    Prostitution perpetuates gender inequality. It’s great greta that your blog really does challenge, it puts it out there, and asks big questions, but I just cant find myself agreeing with this supposition.

    It isn’t sex positive, it demeans all humanity! And it isn’t just females who are bought, it’s males too. The idea that a person can be bought for the sexual gratification of another impacts all of us because it objectifies people as sex objects, and let’s not polish whoring, it is what is, one person being bought as a sperm receptacle for another, (it’s generally men who buy) can you “use” a person in a more demeaning way?

    It also strengthens societal imbalances, if you’ve got the money everybody has their price, is that the society we want to create? And it is one sure way to cripple the equality agenda, there is no way in hell you could educate a guy to respect women as equals and not view them as walking hardon magnets whilst approving of the hooker at the corner that will alleviate their basest desires for the loose change in their pockets.

  17. hieropants says

    Yes, a prostituted woman is property.

    Well, sort of – wives are owned property. Prostitutes are time-shares. Both are vulnerable to abuse from their clients – Joan suffered far worse from her husband than she did from her john, even though society was (and would still be) far more accepting of the former than the latter.

    Either way, women existing at the mercy of the men who hold financial and social power over them sucks for almost everyone involved. That’s why it’s a good thing Joan managed to wrangle a partnership out of the whole sordid business; now she’ll have the ability to control her own affairs as long as the company does well.

  18. Greta Christina says

    Zengaze @ #17: Can you please read some writing of people who have actually experienced prostitution — both as workers and as customers — before commenting on the experience?

    Also, you should know that when you call prostitutes things like “sperm receptacles,” you are being incredibly demeaning and insulting to the sex workers you supposedly are concerned about. You are actually contributing to the very problem you’re decrying — the dehumanization of sex workers. Stop it. Now.

  19. julian says

    But the main thing I found so upsetting about this incident was the fact that Joan, herself, did not want to do it.

    And that’s really all it took for me. If this were a “What evs. Do your business and pay me” I doubt I’d care. Not as much anyway. (Her partners selling her is not something I’m going to be comfortable with. Liberal opinions be damned. She is not a sex worker. She is an employee and a damn good one and there is no reason some fuck should coerce sex from her with the blessings of her co workers.) But it was “I don’t wanna do this but if I don’t there goes any chance of moving up and no one is going to back me if I say no.”

  20. says

    Can you please not use the word “whore” as a pejorative? The word gets used as an insult, to mean “someone who will do anything for money.”

    Good point: What I actually wanted to get across regarding Creative is that they’ll do anyone for money. Joan has shown more discretion.

  21. Zengaze says

    @Greta 19

    I’m not a schoolboy, i served in an all male infantry unit which was operational for six months at a time, I know what prostitution is. I’ve seen whole brothels being bought for the night at the end of tours, there’s nothing pretty or respectful about it.

    My concern is for my 2 daughters, and the world they will grow up in, and I don’t want a society that validates prostitution

  22. David F says

    @Zengaze #17. Your basic premise is flawed. Prostitution is no more the selling of a human being than massage therapy is. In both cases a person uses a part of their body to give pleasure to another person. The prostitute/therapist is compensated for their skill and time. There is no ownership conveyed. That the former is generally condemned while the latter mostly ignored is a function of looking at sex through the prism of religion.

  23. Greta Christina says

    I know what prostitution is. I’ve seen whole brothels being bought for the night at the end of tours, there’s nothing pretty or respectful about it.

    Zengaze @ #22: Did you talk with any of those prostitutes about their experience?

    Have you ever talked with any prostitutes about their experience? Or read any of their writing about their experience?

    Prostitution is a hugely varied business. It is absurd for you to assume that you know everything there is to know about it, simply because you’ve seen one particular variety of it.

    I will say it again: Read some writing of people who have actually experienced prostitution — both as workers and as customers — before commenting on the experience. Talking about prostitution without bothering to listen to the people who have actually done it is grossly disrespectful. Sex workers are very tired of having people opine about our work without listening to what we have to say about it. If you can’t be bothered to take that minimal step, you are no longer going to be welcome to comment on this topic in this blog.

  24. Marta says

    “The episode wasn’t disturbing because of anything inherently wrong about prostitution. The episode was disturbing because Joan was _pimped_.”

    Yes. This.

  25. says

    It also strengthens societal imbalances, if you’ve got the money everybody has their price, is that the society we want to create? And it is one sure way to cripple the equality agenda, there is no way in hell you could educate a guy to respect women as equals and not view them as walking hardon magnets whilst approving of the hooker at the corner that will alleviate their basest desires for the loose change in their pockets.

    Newsflash: if you view prostitutes as “sperm receptacles” and “walking hardon magents,” you do not respect women are equals.

  26. David F says

    It might be interesting to consider that even if Joan felt bad about prostituting herself and regrets having done it, it still might have been the correct decision for her to make on balance. Everyone’s life contains moments of conflict where the most beneficial result requires an act of pain. Feelings and outcomes don’t necessarily jibe. The real tragedy is that the pain of her action was not necessary but contrived for her by our cultural patrimony.

  27. Zengaze says

    @gretchen 26

    I guess you missed where I mentioned men and women, I guess I forgot trans though, which is remiss of me.

    “It isn’t sex positive, it demeans all humanity! And it isn’t just females who are bought, it’s males too. The idea that a person can be bought for the sexual gratification of another impacts all of us because it objectifies people as sex objects, and let’s not polish whoring, it is what is, one person being bought as a sperm receptacle for another, (it’s generally men who buy) can you “use” a person in a more demeaning way?”

    You don’t get to insinuate sexism on my part because you choose to reinterpret what I said, it’s that and a non sequitur.

    @ Greta, I’m reading and processing, I’m going to have to take a long time with this one I think, I have cognitive dissonance alarm bells exploding in my head.

  28. Anonymous says

    Inherently the point of the episode itself was to be disturbing. You’re not supposed to feel sympathetic with the men (except maybe a smidgeon towards Don).

    #8-
    > Previous seasons seemed to be – to me, at least –
    > glorification of the ad business, with the clear goal of
    > maintaining interest in one or the other characters, or the
    > success of the firm in general.

    Maybe superficially, but it was clear from the start that the ad business is where they convince you to buy things that you do not need. It’s been about manipulation from the start, and now as we work towards what is probably the end of the season, we’re digging into the ugly.

  29. says

    @Zengaze

    I didn’t miss it. You might say that prostitution demeans males who partake of it, yes. But you don’t suggest that they are somehow lesser, which is what you’re doing with women who choose to become prostitutes. If you respected them as equals, you would respect that it’s their own choice to make, but obviously you don’t. And you claim that it’s difficult to teach young men to see women as equals when some of those women are prostitutes, as if the choices of these women somehow render women in general unequal. That means that either:

    a) you believe equality is something women as a group must earn (by living up to your personal view of what makes them equal, that is by not choosing to be prostitutes), or

    b) you are quite sure that young men are not bright enough to understand this is not the case.

    The former is misogynistic while the latter is misandrist. I am guessing that at least the first one is true although I’m not completely sure, so it’s possible that you might be sexist against men instead of women. My bad.

  30. Peter B says

    Why do we use the words sell and buy in relation to prostitutes? Sell and buy show ownership changing hands. I would think rent would be the more applicable word. Rent implies permission to use for some specified limited time.

  31. AshtaraSilunar says

    I don’t watch the show, so this is a response based on your description.

    The big issue I see is that the men were apparently making this decision for her, without her consent. Then, she (reluctantly? seems that way from what you said) agrees to the idea after basically being bribed to do so. That she was asked to override her initial decision for more money/benefits REALLY repulses me, but I’m having trouble putting my finger on why it bothers me so much.

    I also agree with Gretchen’s take that assuming she’s open to the idea of prostitution, just because she’s female, is an insult to her professionalism.

    I see nothing wrong with prostitution, but it should be her choice.

  32. says

    All great points! I hope it was clear that I think the men’s behavior was repulsive, including Don’s half-assed white knight act. I just wanted to defend Joan from the supposition that she debased herself. She did something she didn’t want to to help her family. In a certain light, that’s heroic.

  33. Sassafras says

    Peter B. @ 32

    I would think “hire”, “contract”, or “commission” would be better, since they imply services rather than merchandise.

  34. Sara K. says

    I have never watched Mad Men, and while this episode seems very interesting, it seems it would be too frustrating for me to enjoy.

    However, reading your thoughts about sex work in fiction makes me really, really wish the novel I’m currently reading now, Tiān Guān Shuāng Xiá, were available in English – I think you would enjoy it.

    It is set (I think) in 18th century China. One of the main characters is the son of a prostitute who operates her own brothel. The prostitutes are clearly there of their own free will, and they refuse clients they don’t like. They are proud of their work because they think they offer the best sexual services in town. They often say that it’s such a pity that the main character is male because he’s so pretty – he would be a great prostitute. Even his mother wishes he were a girl so he could pass the family trade on to him, which is a nice reversal of the ‘sigh if only my daughter were a son’ trope common in patriarchal societies (in reality, there are male prostitutes, but I do not know much about sexuality in 18th century China, so his mother might have good reasons for not wanting her son to be a male prostitute).

    It is eventually revealed that his mother is the leader of a secret martial arts society, and that the brothel workers are her followers. They do sex work to make money and to serve as a cover for their secret activities – rescuing girls enslaved at the evil brothels, rescuing women abused by their husbands, killing rapists, and so forth (while the novel shows that prostitution was often an abusive institution, it depicts marriage as being, on average, just as abusive). Arguably, they could have had just as much autonomy as an order of Taoist or Buddhist nuns, but a) they would have less money as nuns b) it would be much harder to gather information and c) they would have to take vows of celibacy.

  35. Shoe says

    I’m a little confused. Are we ignoring the institutional problems of coercive sex – with your career as the threat – that sex in business deals creates, because we’re more focused on this character, HER consent, and how she’s gaming an already massively unfair system in what may be the only way available to her?

    If so, I understand that. I’m just surprised that there’s so many unqualified statements about how people would be ok with this happening as long as the character was ok with it. It wouldn’t ever really be ok, though, would it? Isn’t it a system where you’re penalized for not being willing to use sex to get ahead? Doesn’t that rob consent?

    I’m not saying we’d necessarily judge her for it, btw. Again, doing what she can in a rigged system, even if the options aren’t great. But we agree that the actual system where sex can be part of a (not explicitly sex-related) business deal is fundamentally bad, right? I’m just checking that I’m on the same page with you folks here, or if I’ve gone really off-base somewhere in my thinking.

  36. Sara K. says

    @ Shoe

    In the situation described in this episode, I think I agree with you – making sex a condition to promotion is unfair if the sex is not directly related to the business. It’s like promoting somebody just because that person is your cousin – if your cousin is the most qualified candidate, cool, but it is unfair to pick one’s cousin over more qualified candidates. But I think Greta does address this point – she says Joan should be promoted on her merits alone, and that it’s wrong to make sex a condition to promotion in a non-sex business.

    That said, I think Joan’s reluctance makes the situation EVEN WORSE than if she would totally okay with it. It’s yet another layer of wrong.

  37. says

    MarinaS #3:

    Seems to me like you reacted from your instinctive knowledge of what prostitution actually is, then rationalised it with your liberal, sex positive ideas of what you would like it to be.

    Seems to me like you reacted from your instinctive knowledge of the existence of god, then rationalised it with your liberal, atheist ideas of what you would like it to be.

    …I don’t think anything else needs to be said. “[Y]our instinctive knowledge” is code for ‘my assumed conclusion’, nothing more.

  38. Coral says

    I love Mad Men, but this one was difficult to watch.

    I think Joan probably wouldn’t have done it if she’d realized in time that at least one of the partners would be on her side. As it is she thought she was up against a wall of men with the power to pan her career — this was coerced consent, which is not consent at all. And that should make us all squirm in our seats.

    And you just know they are not going to “respect her in the morning”, so I worry that her career is dead anyway. Now every time one of them–or Pete, at least– wants something or ‘needs’ it for the company they’ll hold it over her.

    Then again, this is Joan, she is clever and ferocious — maybe she’ll ultimately come out on top.

  39. Konradius says

    To me it sounds even simpler. So what that there’s sex involved; this sounds like a case of extortion, pure and simple.
    It’s like the discussion we had several weeks ago started by Taslima about sex slavery. The sex isn’t the problem, it’s the slavery.

  40. Zengaze says

    I’ve read the comments linked from those involved in the sex trade. A dominant theme is economic circumstances pushing people into prostitution, but something I didn’t expect to hear was now many of them enjoyed the work. That’s great that they enjoyed it, people who are involved in all kinds of questionable “jobs” enjoy it. I’ve done a lot of dodgy “jobs” in my lifetime, must of them involved violence, did I enjoy it, at times yes. Just because you get personal enjoyment from something doesn’t make it right for any of the parties involved, or for society in general.

    In the sex trade the person is the tradable good, I assume none of us here buy into the idea of the ghost in the machine, that somehow the person is distinct from their body? The idea that you are purchasing a service, or renting their time is a misrepresentation of the nature of the transaction. You are buying/renting the person/good to use for your own sexual gratification.

    I’m an employer, I pay people money for their time and skill on a daily basis, but it is for their time and skill, I don’t buy the person, they are not the goods, they produce goods for me to trade.

    I prefer a world where people are never goods to be traded, it diminishes us all. In fact I have problems with the whole monetary system but that’s another debate, perhaps linked to this.

    @30 gretchen
    “I didn’t miss it. You might say that prostitution demeans males who partake of it, yes. But you don’t suggest that they are somehow lesser, which is what you’re doing with women who choose to become prostitutes”

    Where exactly did I suggest a distinction between males and females, this is again a case of you making it up as you go along so you can then assert you own conclusions about my values. No you don’t get to do that. Perhaps it was the phrase “sperm reciptical” that made you jump to conclusions, note I said it was mainly males who bought sex, but males buy males too.

    Perhaps it was where I refered to crippling the equality agenda? This is the only female specific comment I was making, Im refering to the female equality drive within the movement. The equality agenda IS about achieving equal rights for females, A person can not slip between being a sex good and not viewed as a sex good when they flip the clock out switch in their head, there is an inherent inequality in the owner goods/potential goods relationship, with regard to the campaign recently launched to (quite rightly) get guys in this movement to stop making unwanted sexual advances, hows this going to work, “dont regard that female as a sex object, it would be offensive and misogynist to ask her for sex, until she flips the clock on switch in her head, then she’s chosen to be a sex object at which stage she wont be offended if you ask her if she wants to fuck” females who quite rightly don’t want to be viewed as sexual objects, the answer is quite simple, don’t trade sex. The cognitive dissonance required is astounding.

  41. Zengaze says

    Sorry this is addendum, I over simplified what is required to get guys to stop viewing females s sex objects, but stopping being a sex object is a damn good start.

  42. Konradius says

    @Zengaze
    NO!
    After that gish gallop of idiocy*, let me first start with the addendum.
    It’s hard to pin down something fractally wrong, but the worst problem is that you put the blame on bad behavior on the injured party, not the people with the bad behavior.
    Stop being a sex object? People sometimes want to be sexual creatures. That does not reduce them to an object! Even if they engage in prostitution no actual objectification is required. On either side.

    And to engage your comment before that. You say you had a “job” involving violence, trying to compare that to prostitution. To me this is a telling point. At what time will you realize that what we see as the dividing line between good and bad in sex is *mutual consent*?

    *This is a description of the comment, not the commenter.

  43. says

    Greta @ #15: Oh hey, I didn’t realise we needed to review CVs before we can disagree around here. I mean, as it happens, I have spoken/asked/read/worked and so on, so you’re out of luck making me out to be some ignorant prig – but whatevs.

    At the end of the day, I’m not the one with cognitive dissonance to reconcile here – my stated beliefs about prostitution fit well with my reaction to this story line. You on the other hand admit to having found the episode “upsetting”, so I thought in the spirit of scepticism you’d be open to examining your biases. My whoopsie.

  44. Zengaze says

    @43 Konradius
    “After that gish gallop of idiocy*, let me first start with the addendum.
    It’s hard to pin down something fractally wrong, but the worst problem is that you put the blame on bad behavior on the injured party, not the people with the bad behavior.”

    Gish gallop?
    Who exactly is the injured party when someone approaches someone who sells themselves as a sex good, and treats them as a sex good? What is the bad behaviour in that?

    “Stop being a sex object? People sometimes want to be sexual creatures. That does not reduce them to an object! Even if they engage in prostitution no actual objectification is required. On either side”

    Yes people sometimes want to be sexual creatures, and no this doesn’t make them sex objects, I agree, then you make a leap…where you completely ignore my argument as to why prostitution does make people sex goods, which is my whole bloody post!

    “And to engage your comment before that. You say you had a “job” involving violence, trying to compare that to prostitution. To me this is a telling point. At what time will you realize that what we see as the dividing line between good and bad in sex is *mutual consent*?”

    What exactly is the telling point you are trying to insinuate? I was making an assertion, that prostitution is not good regardless of whether people enjoy it or not, to demonstrate that I spoke of a job which I may have enjoyed but again I assert is not good! It is possible to like or enjoy jobs that are not good for individuals or broader society. Note that my assertion that prostitution is not good is tied into my argument that prostitution is a trade in people which was my post! On the mutual consent point you raise, you and I can mutually consent to a lot of behaviours which are damaging to both us, and society at large. I assert you do have a responsibility to society, and your freedom to choose what you do should be limited by that responsibility. I demonstrate why I think prostitution is bad for society in my post!

    Are there any specific points you want to ask me about my post?!

  45. Konradius says

    @ Zengaze
    Gish Gallop. Follow the link for the explanation.

    > Who exactly is the injured party
    This was in response to:
    > I over simplified what is required to get guys to stop viewing females
    >as sex objects, but stopping being a sex object is a
    >damn good start
    ‘Guys’ viewing women as sex objects is a problem where the ‘guys’ are the offending party and the women are the injured party. The problem lies not with women, but with ‘guys’.
    Please fix the problem at the source.
    Additionally, if you think there’s any way a women can prevent being viewed as a sex object by behaving or dressing a certain way. Please educate yourself.

    > What exactly is the telling point you are trying to insinuate?
    You’re equating a job involving violence, which I assume is non-consensual, with prostitution, which is consensual in the only version we approve of.
    If the violence was consensual we do also not approve of it because most of us are for socialized health care. We dislike people dying/suffering in the streets even if they don’t have enough money to visit a doctor.

    And finally, please give a real argument why you think consensual prostitution is bad. The only thing I’ve been able to find is that you are incapable to distinguish someone offering a service and someone being a good*. This is your problem. Other people do not have this problem. Please fix it at the source.

    * as someone in the IT business who’s occasionally referred to as 0.9 FTE (Full Time Employee) this isn’t even that much of a problem. Just know it’s a simplification and don’t use it personally.

  46. Zengaze says

    @konradius

    The Gish Gallup accusation? Ummm I’ll let others decide on that lol.

    “‘Guys’ viewing women as sex objects is a problem where the ‘guys’ are the offending party and the women are the injured party. The problem lies not with women, but with ‘guys’.
    Please fix the problem at the source.
    Additionally, if you think there’s any way a women can prevent being viewed as a sex object by behaving or dressing a certain way. Please educate yourself.”

    You are wholly correct, when a guy views a random female as a sex object they are the source of the problem,
    when a guy views a person who sells themselves as a sex object, as a sex object, they are not “misbehaving” to use your word. When said sex object then demands they not be treated as a sex object, they are the problem. Please fix the problem at the source. The first step in not being treated as a sex object, is to not sell yourself as a sex object. Is this complex?

    When you talk out the version of prostitution “we” approve of, who is this we?

    You’re missing the point of the comparison……..Two jobs I assert are bad for society, yet the people who do them can still enjoy them.

    “The only thing I’ve been able to find is that you are incapable to distinguish someone offering a service and someone being a good*”

    No I demonstrated quite clearly why they are a sex good rather than doing a job, you either didn’t read my argument or dismissed it, but you haven’t addressed it.

  47. Brea Plum says

    “it is something usually regarded as very personal turned into a business transaction,…”

    The same can be said about many marriages and pregnancy surrogacies, and I have the same attitude towards that: if both parties are consenting, then it’s nobody’s business but theirs.

    I appreciate and am glad to see some commenters point out that which should be glaringly obvious, but perhaps because we are all so distanced from that time period, we can’t help but view the matter through our more modern eyes so miss it: if Joan’s colleagues view her as nothing more than a sex object who got her partnership on her back instead of on her abilities, it’s because that’s *exactly* how they viewed her prior to the Night of the Jaguar. Their views were not have changed. If they had any higher an opinion of her prior to that night they would have made her a partner already.

  48. Sassafras says

    MarinaS @ 44 –

    Oh hey, I didn’t realise we needed to review CVs before we can disagree around here.

    You’re the one that accused her of interpreting things based on “liberal, sex-positive” ideals and ignoring reality, so you invited her to back it up. And she bases her outlook on actually listening to sex workers while you appeal to “instinctive knowledge”.

  49. Bruce Gorton says

    To get back on topic

    I haven’t seen the show, so I can only speak from what you described, but there is something else going on in the story too.

    Joan, is being used as a bribe isn’t she? I mean it is not just about sex or prostitution or anything like that, it is about her integrity being traded by the partners.

  50. Brea Plum says

    Another point that jumps out at me: we’re talking about a single mother in the mid-60s. Considering the stigma attached to single motherhood and divorce in that time, Joan’s decision to grab the brass ring by the most effective means possible (again, her many years of impeccable service have gained her nothing in terms of advancement or even much in terms of professional respect) is wholly rational. She must provide not only for herself but for her child, possibly eventually her mother.

    Ironically, (or perhaps not, being under 50 makes me wonder if I’m able to rid myself of modern cultural bias about marriage) her partnership stake in SCBD makes her a more attractive marriage prospect and will attract a higher class of potential husbands.

    Damn, I wonder if the show’s writers knew how many layers there were to this storyline?

  51. Konradius says

    @ Zengaze
    As we’re actually zeroing in on our disagreement I’ll retract the gish gallop accusation. As a matter of fact you might not even be fractally wrong, you just have one preconception I disagree with.
    I, and I suspect more people that follow (and write) this blog, thus the “we”. I apologize for distracting you with that. Numbers of people on one’s ‘side’ do not matter.

    So far the niceties.

    The preconception that I think lies at the base of our disagreement is this:
    Prostitution is selling yourself as a sex object.

    From this the following is derived:
    Mutual consenting sex for money is damaging to society.

    So let’s engage this head on:
    Prostitution is selling a service, sex.
    The sex is discussed beforehand. It is not an abandonment of ones humanity during the time one engages in sex. There are limits as to what is allowed during this time, and the person providing the service can stop that service for whatever reason.
    At no time is it required to view any person as an object.
    At no time the person providing the service becomes a good.
    Again, if you think they become a good, you have the problem.
    A prostitute is as much a sex object(A) as I am 0.9 FTE(B). Any conclusions you want to derive from A you can derive from B and both conclusions will be equally valid.

    And what exactly is the damage to society you’re speaking of? Am I right in thinking the only damage is the objectification of women?
    You are deluding yourself if you think this follows from prostitution. Any behavior displayed by women have been used to rationalize this damage. I am glad you agree to the point that this is incorrect when applied to the clothing a woman wears.
    But what if a woman has multiple sex partners?

    Let me spell it out to you: no behavior a woman or anyone else engages in is justified to objectify that person. This is including running naked on the street shouting “I am an object, have sex with me”.

    Someone who sees that and concedes the idea that that person is an object is someone with a problem.

    Although I would also concede the person running around naked might not be entirely rational.

  52. Ze Madmax says

    Zengaze @ #41:

    I’m an employer, I pay people money for their time and skill on a daily basis, but it is for their time and skill, I don’t buy the person, they are not the goods, they produce goods for me to trade.

    When you hire someone to paint a house, you don’t “buy” (or rent) the person, you hire the services of someone who is able to paint houses.

    When you hire someone to give you a massage, you don’t “buy” (or rent) the person, you hire the services of someone who is able give massages.

    When you hire someone as a surrogate mother*, you don’t “buy” (or rent) the person, you hire the services of someone who is able to carry a fetus inside of them.

    Likewise, when you hire prostitutes, you are not buying them, or renting them. You are hiring them to perform a service (i.e., sex).

    And therein lies the issue, as you seem to think sex is somehow special among human activities that it is wrong to do for money. Which doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense.


    *Thanks Brea Plum @#48 for the idea! :D

  53. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Joan, is being used as a bribe isn’t she? I mean it is not just about sex or prostitution or anything like that, it is about her integrity being traded by the partners.

    more to the point, now that they’ve pimped her once, what’s to stop them from doing it again? how long until they don’t even toss out the half-hearted “she can still say no”? We are talking about 1960’s era white dudes, right?

    (I’m assuming she went through with it, of course. Don’t have cable, so don’t watch the show).

  54. Baloney says

    @Zengaze —

    Konradius(@51) says:
    “…
    At no time is it required to view any person as an object.
    At no time the person providing the service becomes a good.
    Again, if you think they become a good, you have the problem.
    …”

    This!

    If you think a person shouldn’t be able decide how to use their own body (or parts of it), then maybe the problem resides within you. As an employer, do you feel you own your employees? If I were self-employed, would my clients own me?

    It sounds as though you had a bad experience involving prostitution (Comment#22), but your single experience also doesn’t define the entire spectrum. I could argue that the plumbing profession is “neither pretty nor respectable,” but not every plumber is mucking a sewage shaft up to their chest in waste.

    If you read the other article (that Greta pointed out in #19) and can’t incorporate that range of the spectrum into your viewpoint, then the problem is yours.

  55. says

    Prostitution doesn’t have to be inherently degrading, no. But in the context of a society where a woman’s sexuality is treated like a possession by other people besides the woman in question, and where the object model is applied to the woman where by every time she has sex, she’s viewed as more “used up,” then I think it’s difficult to avoid having prostitution be degrading. Context matters.

    It sounds like Joan went through with it, but felt bad about it anyway. I haven’t seen the episode yet, but I can’t imagine the pressure of her male co-workers didn’t have at least something to do with her decision, and the knowledge of how she’d be viewed afterwards probably also paid a part in her feeling bad after. She’s not a bad or unenlightened person for feeling this way or making the decision she made. It makes sense, given the environment she’s in. And it also means that it would be pretty hard for prostitution to not be degrading for her in that environment.

    We don’t exist in a vacuum.

  56. pablo says

    now that they’ve pimped her once, what’s to stop them from doing it again?

    She’s a partner now. They no longer hold anything over her to threaten her with. Joan is a very savvy character. Trust her that she knows what’s in her best interest.

    The episode was uncomfortable for me to watch. Not because the partners revealed themselves as scumbags to the viewers(regular viewers knew that about them already), but that they revealed themselves as scumbags to Joan, who at least had some illusions about Roger. That was the heartbreaking part.

  57. says

    “The idea that a person can be bought for the sexual gratification of another impacts all of us because it objectifies people as sex objects”

    As others have pointed out, one no more buys a prostitute than one buys a car mechanic when paying to get the car fixed. (Yes, some people are forced into prostitution and are bought and sold, but then so are people who are not forced into prostitution. The slavery is the problem here, not the work the slave does.)

    Unless you think that sex is inherently bad, why is being paid for it objectification? If someone waits tables at a restaurant, or works as a surgeon, then the customer/patient is paying for this person to perform a particular service. The personality, hopes, wishes, dreams etc of the one doing the work are not important in this situation. Is this bad because it “reduces” a person to wait tables or perform an operation? If not, because waiting tables or performing an operation are good/necessary/whatever, then you are making the logical fallacy of assuming that that which you wish to prove is true.

  58. Nora says

    I’m with Ingrid. I find the show too painful to watch. But my husband loves it and insists the women are the best and smartest characters, with Joan perhaps the best and the smartest. And Brea (#51) is right. This was a tough time to be a single mother. She did what she had to do to take care of herself and her baby.

  59. Allison says

    This is a brilliant analysis, Greta, and I thank you for it; I’m really tired of hearing my discomfort with Joan’s treatment comes from an anti-sex worker bias. Amanda Marcotte’s responses to her commenters made my blood boil, especially when she equated the gifts Joan received from previous lovers with the literal work she did on behalf of SDCP (she seemed to be intimating that Joan’s prostituted herself before, so her liason with Herb Rennet wasn’t a big deal, even though Joan clearly wouldn’t have slept with Herb on her own accord.) It was interesting that both Ken and Don’s first response to the proposal made by Rennet was “She’s a married woman!” (i.e., she’s already someone else’s property.)

  60. Jurjen S. says

    Quoth Funkopolis @ #12:

    The episode wasn’t disturbing because of anything inherently wrong about prostitution. The episode was disturbing because Joan was _pimped_.

    Yes!
    To which I would add, if I may, the jaw-dropping hypocrisy you know is taking place in which the men of SCDP are going to regard Joan as a “whore” (apologies to Greta), with all the odium that entails, without thinking of themselves as pimps, with all the odium that should entail.

  61. Melody Elliott Koontz says

    It was Joan’s demand to be made a partner..not the partner’s idea.

    Prostitutes ARE owned..by their pimps. Trust me on that.

    High end call girls..working on their own..maybe not. Joan would fall into that category.

    It made my stomach cringe…but then, I’ve done things in my life that made my stomach cringe too.

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