Did Joan Mean She'd Give Up Her Son For Richard On 'Mad Men'? Why It Might Not Mean What We Think
For most of the latest Joan-centric episode of Mad Men, I understood where she was coming from — ordering her room service french toast because why not, getting snippy with her babysitter, and even lying to her Los Angeles hookup about her real life just to prolong the California fantasy a bit longer. But when Joan's boyfriend Richard flies to New York and makes things very real, the game changed. And some really interesting things came out of Joan's mouth.
Of course, this is all after she gets pulled back and forth like a rubber band. First, Richard surprises her. Then Richard accuses her of being married. Finally, Joan tells him she's not married, but she does have a little boy and Richard says it's fine. But when Joan has to stop play time at Richard's hotel in order to call her babysitter, Richard gets frustrated: Joan having a kid is a problem after all.
After Richard seems like a thing of the past, Joan shouts at her babysitter "you're ruining my life!" but come on, we're not simpletons. We know she was really talking about little Kevin. Poor kid. Furious that her golden opportunity has disappeared because of a child she had as a result of fear-induced hook-up with Roger, Joan tells Richard that she's sending her son away. Richard gave her an ultimatum and she seems to choose him over baby Kevin.
Did that really just happen? I was convinced that Joan was making a really cruel sarcastic joke at Richard's expense. Then I realized that it doesn't necessarily matter whether she meant it or not; it matters that her saying she'd give up her son brings up a major gender issue.
Joan has watched as the men of SC&P all leave their children to be taken care of by their wives and nannies. Pete sees his daughter so infrequently that the girl barely recognizes him and Don only seems to see Sally when she comes into the city on a field trip (who knows when he saw Bobby and Gene last). And then there's Roger, who is Kevin's father and whose only responsibility is a birthday party here and there.
Dating with children presents a very specific problem for women that, as we've seen, wasn't really an issue for the ad men Joan works with.
Regardless of whether or not she was joking or saying something she didn't mean in the heat of the moment, it brings up an important issue for a woman at her level at a company in the early '70s. Luckily, Joanie doesn't have to make the decision to ditch her son for love, but the idea that she almost did is something we can't and shouldn't ignore.
Image: Courtesy of AMC; Giphy