I’ve never wanted to live in the 1960’s as badly as when I watch Betty Draper strut her stuff in her full skirts and prim gloves on Mad Men. Forever a cigarette balancing delicately between her graceful fingers, Mrs. Draper has never made the era of black and white TV and drive through movies look so damn good. Betty Draper, played by the scrumptious January Jones, was a season regular on the ever so popular AMC series Mad Men since it first aired in 2007. Betty was married to the protagonist of the show, Don (Jon Hamm), the womanizing, alcohol drinking, cigarette smoking, broodingly sexy ad man who treated his wife less than favorably.
As was the fashion at the time, men would work in Manhattan, but considered it no place for family life. Shockingly, Manhattan of the 1950/60’s was a mostly dirty and dangerous place, wholly unfit for raising a family properly. The suburbs were the place to be for middle- class America. Scarsdale, Ossining, and the surrounding New York burbs, housed their fair share of house wives. Don, even though working for a large advertising firm on Manhattan’s Madison Avenue, would commute along with thousands of other husbands on their daily journey, leaving their wives behind in their picket fenced, Pleasantville-esque towns. As Don would leave each day on the early morning train bound for the big city (which always seemed to promise promiscuity and trouble) audiences were left at home with the lonely Betty.
Although she is not an ad man, or a character with too many complicated plot lines, Betty still remains one of the most fascinating figures on the show
In the first season, Betty and Don have been married for seven years, have 2 children, and are expecting a third. Betty stays at home with the kids, and with the help of a full time maid, grocery shops, attends PTA meetings, and chain smokes. As the seasons progress, Betty becomes increasingly aware of her husband’s wandering eye…although if his eyes were the only thing that wandered maybe they would have stayed together. As Betty, whose beauty can be boldly reminiscent of that of Grace Kelly’s, discovers Don’s string of illicit affairs, the two eventually split. Betty remarries a politician and becomes Mrs. Frances, and her appearances in the later seasons of the show become regrettably less frequent.
Although she is not an ad man, or a character with too many complicated plot lines, Betty still remains one of the most fascinating figures on the show. Betty always contained a certain cold aloofness. Her smiles and laughs reserved for special occasions, and her display of overall emotion generally limited. She was a person who held much of her emotion inside, and was not the warmest or most maternal with her young children, sometimes seeing mothering as a heavy burden to bear. Betty’s withdrawn nature is what makes understanding what lies below her surface that much more alluring.
For all intensive purposes Betty was the epitome of the bored housewife. Giving up a modeling career at a young age to marry Don, we are given the feeling that Betty, a twenty something young lady, who has been saddled with a cheating husband and three small children, is not the happiest of woman. Although she leads a simple life, Betty is anything but. The mix of extreme beauty, tempered by a deep sadness, makes Betty one of the toughest yet most fragile of characters on the series.
Throughout the seasons Betty develops some medical issues, like tingling in her hands, and severe weight gain. Although 1960’s medicine attributed this to women’s ‘’hysteria’’, it is clear that Betty was going through some sort of inner turmoil and unhappiness. To audiences, it is understood that Betty’s lack of any sort of profession left her deeply unsatisfied. But as the era frowned upon woman with careers, and bolstered the image of the lucky housewife, Betty was left alone in her confusion and unhappiness. Although Betty, coming from a wealthy household, was breed to be a doting wife, her inner voice was violently screaming for more. Betty passionately loved Don, but her love was mostly met with his absence, indifference, and infidelity, leaving a young Betty recoiling even more inwards.
Betty, the WASP queen, was always a pleasure to watch. Her outfits were always beautifully impeccable, as she seemed to personify the essence of sultry seduction. Although rough on the outside, there were moments of tenderness, when audiences were exposed to Betty’s childish charm, passion, and deep intelligence.
A wonderful scene at the end of season 2, exposes Betty’s inner flame. Betty who was contemplating divorce with Don, finds out she is pregnant with her and Don’s third child. Betty goes to a bar to be alone with her confusion, and finds a handsome stranger. Betty approaches the gentleman, takes him into the back room, and has her way with him. When their done she gets dressed, and leaves. The scene, although juicy, shows us an inner side of Betty. Betty’s back room rendezvous with a mysterious stranger symbolized her temporary freedom. She exhibited a sense of power, control, and sensuality that she so longed for, and that audiences finally got to see.
Betty’s second marriage wasn’t much better. Although we never expressly saw her second husband, Henry, be unfaithful to her, Betty was still left unsatisfied.
Although Betty seems to get her fair share of flack from fans who think shes a cold witch, those accusations and harsh judgments are made without looking beyond her exterior. Her tough demeanor and harsh attitude seemingly deeply misunderstood.
Oh Betty, you beautiful little tortured soul. Don’t listen to the haters. We still love you.
Let us know what you think of Betty and the series.