Don Draper and the Women Who Love Him

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by Peter Suderman

I'm catching up on the second season of Mad Men this week, which means I'm making an effort to avoid third-season spoilers. But I couldn't help but read through this post about how some women simultaneously find Don Draper sexy and feel guilty for doing so:

Why are we so wild for Draper? By any measure, the character's a cad. He constantly cheats on his wife. He skips town for weeks and won't write or call. He doesn't talk much, and anesthetizes any feelings with copious amounts of booze. He's an enigma, a locked box of a man who resists, maddeningly, easy explanation. And yet he excites an attraction among womenparticularly ones my age, women in their late '20s and '30s who were born after the era that Mad Men portraysthat seems unmatched by any leading man on television today...

A man's man. A virile man. A masculine man. Strong terms. And ones that would make our postmodern gender-studies professors blush. After all, we're the generation of women who grew up beating the boys in math class, reading Judith Butler (by choice or by force), celebrating "Grrl" power. Traditional male-female roles were going out the window while we were still toddlers. And maybe that's why we feel a little guilty when we stop to admit to ourselves why Draper excites us. Because we're not supposed to be using those terms anymore to describe our desires. Those words threaten a backslidingthey hint at some deep, unspoken turbulence; that, as if by saying we want a "real man," we threaten to erase all the gains our mothers made in terms of equality in the workplace and the home. After all, we don't believe in that evolutionary "me Tarzan, you Jane" nonsense anymore. We're supposed to want men who are sensitive and respectful; men who emote and help around the house, and talk openly about their feelings.

The fact that Draper is a high-powered, serial-cheating workaholic with crude, old-fashioned notions of gender roles might play some part in why he's so attractive, but it seems to me that this post overthinks the question. Draper isn't sexy so much because he's a cad or a lout or a sexist; he's sexy because he's a fictionalized, idealized fantasy of an iconic form of masculinity. 

Draper's womanizing and crude beliefs aren't what make him appealing so much as his impeccable suits -- always carefully pressed and form fitting -- and his posed cigarette smoking, his immaculately lit surroundings and the elegant way he holds a glass of scotch. As a fictional dreamboat, Draper never has to participate in the unsexy realities of life: He doesn't change diapers, or use the restroom, or spill coffee on his shirt on the way to work. Thanks to a team of screenwriters, he always has the right words to say, or not say, and those around him always provide him with opportunities for pregnant pauses and dramatic silences. We never see Draper except when he's at his most posed and perfect.

Your average cheating, borderline alcoholic sexist doesn't have these luxuries, and thus isn't nearly as charming or magnetic. Draper, on the other hand, is sexy and cool because he doesn't have to deal with any of the real world's un-sexy, un-cool realities. In other words, he's a product of TV's image-making process -- deeply and truly attractive, but in large part because he's made to be. 

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