Don Draper has to beat women off with a stick – both on screen and off. Message boards are full of women swooning over the Mad Men protagonist despite his character being emotionally unavailable, unfaithful and secretive. Even feminists.
The women in question offer fairly standard responses. He’s unabashedly masculine – he’s got swagger. Confidence is always in style even if you’re a bastard. There’s a stability that he exudes as part of his stoicism.
Over at Jezebel they try to disentangle this strange phenomenon and offer a more interesting hypothesis to explain the enduring attractiveness of assholes to women who should know better, specifically those in the NYO article who are career women with stay at home husbands. They posit that these women see themselves in Don Draper – that part of the attraction is the parallels they see between his life and theirs, his marriage with Betty and the ones they have with their husbands. The argument is compelling, calling into question ideas about gender roles and equality. This is thought provoking stuff:
When anyone’s career takes total precedence over another’s, doesn’t that automatically create a, well, 1950s dynamic? If all these women are identifying so powerfully with a philandering 1960s businessman whose work life feels unconnected to home, might they consider that their dynamic is just as binary? Not merely that a man is “not being a man” but that they are with a person who has voluntarily put himself second which is, ironically, not erotic?
But I want to consider something else. Something way more basic that may be at work here, that was hinted at in the NYO piece and over at Jezebel: “He may be an asshole, but he’s *my* asshole.”
Or rather, “I am the one person who truly understands this distant, tortured, misunderstood soul and that makes me special.”
Paula Bernstein in the NYO:
The fact that he is so emotionally withholding and mysterious is frustrating, but women are intrigued by men like that, and as much as they say they want a sensitive guy who’s going to let it all hang out, there is an appeal to a man with secrets.”
Yes. A man with secrets is initially intriguing but at some point you’re going to want to know them, at least some of them. You’re going to ferret them out and find your way into his confidences. Why? Because you’re special and uniquely qualified to do so.
To wit, over at Jezebel:
There’s a sense on the show that his wife can’t keep his interest purely because she’s so docile and subservient; we could, we think.
We will succeed where other women have failed! And in so doing will solidify our place of importance in his life. He may be an asshole with everyone else, but once he realizes how well you know him, how much you understand him, surely he’ll be different with you!
There’s nothing some women like better than a project, and an asshole can be just that. I know I can’t be the only one who could have earned a Ph.D. with the sheer volume of information I collected, analyzed an interpreted trying to “crack the code” of some of the less forthcoming objects of my affection. Talking about/digging/taking special note of minutiae that wouldn’t interest anyone else/crying/phoning friends/trying to rationalize every shitty thing he does as part of some psychological profile all in the effort to know him better, and more importantly for him to *see* how well I knew him and realize how indispensable I was, how observant, how absolutely in tune with his personality. Once he sees that he’ll be different with me. Sure, he’s an asshole with everyone else, but I know him and he’s mine…he’s different with me.
After one such encounter I thought of part of a poem by Connie Bensley called “Trespass”:
We always want more than we bargain for –
The particular tone of voice,
The special intimacy
The exclusive offer.
To appear in your mind’s eye
Couched in glowing terms
And under your hand in dreams
Was my desire.
Maybe that’s what makes assholes so attractive – the promise of a front row seat. The hope that we will be the one he will change for.