Second-wave feminism and gender return to primacy in this week’s “Mad Men” episode, “The Other Woman,“ as Joan, Peggy, and Megan assert their independence in very different ways. Though it is now 1967, the season began in 1966, when Betty Friedan and several other feminists formed the National Organization of Women (NOW), the leading feminist organization of the era. Meanwhile, Sterling Cooper acquires the Jaguar account, their biggest catch since the lead characters embarked on their own in season three (1963)
Though Don has opened many professional opportunities for Peggy over the years, he has routinely condescended to her and taken her for granted. After he is ungrateful again when she saves an account, it is finally too much for her to take. Freddy Rumson, who also helped facilitate Peggy’s rise, tells her she should leave and let Draper know that “you’re not some secretary from Brooklyn who’s dying to help out.” Reaching out to Don’s rival, Ted Chaough, she proposes a salary number and he offers more to ensure her hire. When Peggy gives notice to Don, he tries to convince her to stay. Previously, his entreaties had kept her on board, but she asserts her independence and leaves the firm.
Don is equally dismissive of Megan’s acting career. When there is a possibility she might garner a part that will require her to leave New York City for a couple of months, Don is furious and tells her to “forget it.” Don had been similarly unhappy about Betty’s modeling career, first getting her to quit her job when they got married and preventing her from working again when another ad firm recruited him in season one. Understandably, Megan is upset by her husband’s attempts to quash her dreams. “Just keep doing whatever the hell you want,” Don yells at her as she walks out. Later, Megan tells Don she’ll choose him over her career if she must, but will hate him for it.
In a very disturbing plot line, one of the Jaguar officials goes all “Indecent Proposal,” proposing a quid pro quo; let him have a night with Joan and he’ll support their efforts to win the account. When Pete smarmily floats the idea to her, Joan is furious. After thinking it through, though, she agrees to the arrangement in exchange for a five percent partnership share. Don goes to Joan’s apartment and tells her it isn’t worth it, but it is already too late, though Draper doesn't know it.
“It’s not a game. It’s my career,” Peggy tells Chaough, sounding much more like a modern career woman than the traditional secretary we first met in season one (1960). Though she is sad to leave the firm, she smiles as she gets on the elevator to leave for the last (?) time. Joan is now a partner and Megan tells Don she is not going to fail at acting. In their own way, they all represent the embryonic feminist movement of the late 1960s (though it might be a stretch with Joan), which would gain momentum throughout the remainder of the decade and into the 1970s.
note: earlier version suggested that Don got to Joan's before she was with the Jaguar official. Thanks to readers for pointing out my mistake.